5 steps to more effective children’s ministry

This sobering article, Has the sun set on Sunday school?, ran in USA Today highlighting staggering declines in attendance. Sunday School is an old concept that has, unfortunately, not evolved much since the 18th century as chronicled in “Who Likes Sunday School?”

Sunday School-01Sure, we now have colorful environments, flat screen TV’s, and current music, but we are still using an outdated paradigm. If we were really honest with ourselves, it isn’t hard to see why many children are spiritually impoverished, biblically illiterate, and not loving Sunday School.

Here are 5 reasons why the outdated Sunday School model isn’t effective:

1. Not optimized for learning. Most Sunday school programs are designed for the most highly effective form of management, not engaging learning.

2. Not creative. Every week is the same. Sure, it’s a different story, but what kids “want” and “need” is determined by someone else, sometimes a whole team of someone elses, with no input or feedback from the kids themselves.

3. Not relevant when it’s not tech-savvy. For digital natives who spend an average of 4-7 hours online every day, children’s programming that is not digitally augmented is not speaking their language.

4. Not measured. Most churches simply execute their weekly program without ever gauging whether or not learning took place.

5. Not family-centric. The old model of Sunday School pandered to the 18th century practice of lax parenting, but we know from current research how critical the parenting role in partnership with the church is to the spiritual growth of children.

In our media-saturated world, culture is winning. Time spent on the spiritual development of our children is decreasing Even in the best-case scenario, a child who attends an hour of programming at their local church every single weekend only receives a total of 52 hours per year spent on spiritual development. Compare that to a recent American Academy of Pediatrics report revealing that kids ages 8-18 spend an average of nearly 8 hours per day interacting with media. Nearly ½ of that time is spent watching traditional TV.

52 hours is a drop in the bucket compared to a number like 2,920.

It’s time to create a new paradigm that bridges the gap and helps expand the influence of the Church, in partnership with parents, to increase focus on spiritual development.

5 steps to make children’s ministry more effective:

1. Rethink your programming and optimize it for student learning. Rather than expecting kids to “behave” under a one-size-fits-all definition, assess your curriculum and programming to make sure it engages the complete spectrum of learning styles in the room.

2. Be creative. It takes courage to change or try something new. There are many experienced practitioners, websites, and entities innovating children’s ministry who share their #kidmin ideas for free! This week’s challenge: figure out a way to take a learning style from #1 and incorporate it in either a participatory or co-creative way using input from the kids themselves—you can find some great resources and crowdsource creative content and ideas on CM Connect.

3. Make it relevant. Leverage technology by utilizing digital tools that speak the language of digital natives, will engage them and are accessible throughout the entire week.

4. Measure for success. Unless you are measuring success, how do you know whether kids are learning week to week, building their biblical literacy, growing in knowledge, practicing spiritual disciplines and bearing fruit? We have experienced and witnessed how shifting to an outcome-based ministry model has revolutionized the fruitfulness of our outreach and programs as we begin to measure for effectiveness.

5. Partner with family. Parents need to know what went on during the Sunday School hour and be equipped to reinforce and disciple growth throughout the week. We love what Orange is doing to better connect leaders and parents to influence the next generation—check out their weekly Parent Cue app that resources churches to partner with parents in the spiritual development of their children!


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Rob Hoskins is the president of OneHope. Since taking leadership of OneHope in 2004, he has continued to advance the vision of God’s Word. Every Child. by partnering with local churches to help reach more than 2 BILLION children and youth worldwide with a contextualized presentation of God’s Word.

9 thoughts on “5 steps to more effective children’s ministry

    1. I’m so very grateful for hearts of service to God. I’m so grateful for all the methods of ministry geared toward children. I seemingly hear mostly selling points for said methods and little about prayer, and the power thereof. I think our culture has changed but our nature has not. The power of God changes people not any method of teaching. I heard a statistic that modern children’s ministry has had virtually no effect on our children today and as a result it is actually playing a large role in young adults that have grown up in church, leaving the church.
      I knew a 16 yr old boy that led children’s church. He let God lead him. If a child had a headache, he would have kids lay hands and pray. Children were being healed.

      1. Thank you so much, Leo. I had to go back to read the text after reading your response. And truth be told, emphasis on prayers is hardly made in some of these methods of teaching by many advocates of ‘modern-day’ enthusiasts. It is very, very easy to get lost in wanting to make learning fun for kids even spiritual things but our methods really do matter. Methods that do not treat deep spiritual essentials lightly should be adhered to. The instance you gave about the 16yr-old is a beautiful example of how our churches should operate in these times. Just last Sunday also, a child in my class was running a temperature. I simply asked the whole class to stretch forth their hands to pray for her for her healing, asking that they pray for her like they would for themselves. By the end of the class, she was fine, in Jesus name. I was so happy. For me, that was easier than reaching out for the first aid box (which we are yet to have btw).

        There are so very many challenges being faced with teens/children Church here in Nigeria because everyone just wants to copy and be like the western world without recourse to the spiritual impact of these behaviours. The world’s system has been infused and accepted by the body of Christ. This menace has eaten so deep into the fabric of our Christianity that IT IS SO OVERWHELMING! There’s almost no difference between believers and unbelievers or at best, it’s a very thing line. The place of the HOLY SPIRIT has been neglected in our churches and everyday lives. What we have instead are motivational speeches, money, philosophies, new age teachings and whatever there is out there that has blinded Christians to the authentic truth. Gosh! There is just so much to say but MAY GOD HELP US!!!

  1. Am happy with what your doing in God’s vineyard,am continue to get good materials form internet,but for your idea is nice very nice,and my self am attracted to find your contact on order to be near by

  2. Am happy to read the written ideas especially in children’s ministry,from my heart my call is children ministry, a have no drought, am trying to encourage my colleague in God’s vineyard to look by Spiritual eyes this children,because are the now and future church, your well come to Tanzania dioceses of northern, Mennonite, to work entire churches with our capacity

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