To Thrive Chlidren's Ministries Will Have to Do These 3 Things Moving Forward

Recent years have seen a decline in church attendance in the average church in America.  There are a number of factors contributing to this, some of which are cultural shifts that can be seen in other declining institutions as well.

Many large stores are losing relevance according to Harvard Business Review.  Here are some examples.  Linens 'n Things, Circuit City, Sports Authority and Borders have all gone bankrupt. Office Depot / Office Max is closing 400 stores this year.  Barnes and Nobles continues to struggle.  Kohl's and Old Navy are posting negative comparable store sales.  All of these stores have something in common that should be noted.  They are big box retail stores.

People vote with their feet and pocketbooks.  And the church must take note of what families are voting for and be willing to shift accordingly.  We must remember...the message is sacred...the methods are not.  If children's ministries want to thrive, here's 3 things these trends are telling us we must do moving forward.

People no longer want or need to shop as anonymous costumers in large stores with large quantities of supplies stacked aisle upon aisle.  Instead they want to be able to craft their own, custom shopping experience.  This is why e-commerce and specialty stores are growing in popularity.  For e-commerce, people can select their own digital tools to easily navigate to products that are personally selected just for them.  And specialty stores can provide the superior, personalized service that big box stores cannot.

What this means for children's ministries moving forward...

  • Anonymity must be replaced with personalization.  We must make sure every child is personally known and connected to a caring adult. 
  • We must provide discipleship tools and options that allow kids to craft their own personalized discipleship pathway within defined parameters. 
  • One-size-fits-all learning must be replaced with personalized learning.  The days of lecture-based learning are over.  Kids must be allowed to choose what learning styles and techniques best resonate with them.

Studies show that people are spending less on goods and more on experiences.  Millennials (who are the young parents you are trying to reach) are spending a larger proportion on travel and entertainment than previous generations.

Bottom line.  Experience drives growth.  Bass Pro Shops is a great example.  They are a big box store that is bucking the first trend mentioned and experiencing growth.  Why?  They fill their 100,000 square feet with wildlife displays, archery ranges, oversized aquariums, and marine centers so customers can try out products and sample the lifestyle it promotes.

Ikea is another example.  They use their warehouses to stage fully furnished rooms where people can experience products and get decorating ideas. Outdoor retailer REI goes even further by holding events, classes, and service projects to engage with the local communities around its stores.

What this means for children's ministries moving forward...
  • Children's ministries must create unique learning experiences for kids.  Kids want to experience the truth.  Here's a quick example.  Last weekend we were teaching the kids at our church that fulfilling God's plan for your life is not about you, but about how it will help others.  We were teaching from the life of Joseph.  God's plan for him to become a ruler in Egypt was not so he could brag about being in charge.  It was so he could help his family and nation.  To help kids experience this truth, we gave each of them a package of Skittles candy with a note attached that said "God's plan for your life."  We then gave them a choice.  They could keep the candy or give it back.  If they gave it back, it would be given to children who live in a poverty stricken area of town.  The experience of this...the tension they felt...helped them experience the truth we were teaching them.  Bottom line...children's ministries must become venues that stage immersive, memorable, share-worthy experiences.

Large institutions that are thriving offer great prices on products that are constantly changing.  Here's two great examples.  TJ Maxx and Marshalls.  Why?  They offer the "thrill of the hunt" for people who enjoy discovering trending products at prices well below market value.

What this means for children's ministries moving forward...
  • Families are looking for the best value for their time.  Time is the most precious commodity today's families have.  They will not spend it on mediocre, ho hum ministry.  They are looking for churches that can add significant value to their family.  Children's ministries must be prepared to minister to families and make it worth their while to attend.  This includes everything from strategic spiritual growth pathways to relevant curriculum to a focused, clear vision.
  • We must keep kids and families curious.  This includes lesson cliff-hangers and changing up your order of service, programming etc, on a regular basis.  Curiosity may have killed the cat, but it grows a children's ministry.  Families should leave excited to see what is going to happen next week at church.
One of the healthiest institutions in the country right now is Costco.  Their financial performance is stellar and customers are giving them rave reviews.  Why?   Because they are doing all 3 of the things mentioned above.  They create great shopping experiences with food concessions, gas stations, and sampling stations.  They offer great value with their prices and quality of merchandise.  And they offer great customer service.

Children's ministries that thrive moving forward will rethink everything they do and will be willing to change as needed to meet the needs of the kids and families they are seeking to reach and disciple.