We see the phrase in many places. Commercials, billboards and specialty license plates tell us “Children First.” School systems, toy companies, video manufacturers and fast-food restaurants get it—but does your church?
Quality ministry to preschoolers and children—and their families—plays a major role in the growth of the church. A crucial window of time exists from birth until about age 12 when the majority of spiritual foundations are laid. During this critical time in spiritual formation, children deserve the best the church has to offer.
If your church already places a high priority on children and younger generations, keep it up! However, if your church needs to move your children to the next level, consider the following in relationship to your ministry to preschoolers and children:
Location of Classrooms
Preschool and children’s areas should be visible from the main entry point of the church facility. For a family visiting with children, the priority is to find where they need to take the children. If the children’s area is already far from the sanctuary, proper signage should be installed to direct parents to the area for their children. Close proximity to the sanctuary increases safety and accessibility for parents when needs arise.
Condition of Facilities
Welcome areas and individual rooms need to be clean and well-organized. Furniture in each room needs to be age-appropriate and in good repair. Each age group should be given the recommended square footage per child (Birth-Kindergarten: 35sq. ft. per child; First-Sixth Grade: 25 sq. ft. per child) to provide a safe and inviting place to experience God’s love.
Power of the Pulpit
Staff members can raise awareness and publicize all they want, but when one particular person talks—everybody listens. The pastor has the power and position to communicate whether children are important to a church. Children need to be welcomed and encouraged by the pastor and leaders of the congregation.
It takes money to run any ministry. Often, it takes more money to run effective ministry with preschoolers and children than any other ministry of the church. Endless supplies and proper training are needed to take care of children. Allocating appropriate money for preschoolers and children is an investment in the future of the church.
Include Children in Worship
Children are just as much a part of the body of Christ as anyone else and should be treated as such. Age-appropriate worship experiences for children can enhance Bible learning and relate to children on their level. However, when children are constantly excluded from the main body of believers, part of the body is missing. Children can learn true community from being with the whole group of believers no matter how old or young.
The Best Leadership
Preschoolers and children need the best the church has to offer, including leaders. It is essential that teachers are in place who not only have a heart for children but also know who God is and can communicate His truths to younger generations. Teachers should not just be thrown in a room with a teaching book, but given proper training about how to teach preschoolers and children properly.
Most children like surprises, but when it comes to church their experience needs to be predictable. That means the same teacher each week in the same room with minimal change to the schedule. Consistency helps children build strong relationships and trust with their teachers. Consistency also provides an earthly example of how God is consistent in His relationship with mankind. So do away with rotation of teachers and trust God to provide the same faces and loving arms in classrooms every week.
Tell the Truth
When children come to church they should know everything they see and hear is real. Children have incredible imaginations and creativity; in a world full of make-believe, fantasy and cartoon characters, children must know that what they learn at church is truth. Churches must communicate that Jesus is much different than Larry the Cucumber or Batman.
In an adult-driven world, decisions usually are made based on what is best for adults. When making church-wide decisions, consider if and how it will affect children first. When planning the church calendar and space allocations, consider the needs of children before those of the adults. Constantly ask, “Is this decision what is best for children? Placing children first when making church decisions will show that your church values not only the child but the family as a whole.
Sharing God’s Word with a lost world is serious business. However, it can be fun and exciting at the same time. When preschoolers and children come to church, they need to know it is a safe, biblically sound and fun place. Laugh, play and create to make learning about Jesus exciting!
All people are important to God—including children. Make children a priority in your church by giving them the best you have to offer of yourself, your resources and your time!
Amy Carter is Associate Children’s Minister at Brentwood Baptist Church in Brentwood, Tennessee.