10 Things You Need to Unlearn About Children's Ministry

When you serve in children's ministry, you pick up a lot of ideas, philosophies and methods.  Some you are taught and some you simply get by watching what someone else is doing.

But that doesn't necessarily mean that what we learn is the best way, does it?  In fact, sometimes we learn things that end up hindering the children's ministry we are leading or serving in.

Over the years, I've learned somethings that I had to go back and unlearn.  All of these were things, that at the time, I thought were helping the ministry, when in fact, they were not.  Here are 10 of them.

I had to unlearn begging for volunteers.  I had been taught or picked up on a recruiting method that often ended up being detrimental to the ministry.  If you need volunteers, then beg.  Show you are desperate.  Let people know if you don't get 3 more people to sign up, you won''t be able to open the preschool rooms.  That'll get people lining up to volunteer, right?

Actually, no.  It has the opposite effect.  It ends up hurting your recruiting.  You see, people are drawn to vision, not desperation.  No one wants to get on the Titanic.  When we beg, people begin to think, "If it's so great serving in children's ministry, then why do they have to beg for people?"

I had to unlearn this the hard way.  Years ago, I was only two weeks out from VBS and I needed 20 more volunteers.  I asked the Pastor if he would make an appeal for me at the end of a service.  He graciously agreed to do so.  He told people we needed 20 more volunteers and that after the service I would be waiting up front to talk with anyone interested.  As the closing prayer was uttered, I waited with excitement in front of the communion table.  Surely a great sea of people was about to flood to the front, lining up to help in VBS.  And then...no one came.  In fact, people avoided me the rest of the evening.  Why?  People are drawn to vision not desperation.

Stop using words like "help" or "need" or "please" and start pointing people toward a vision.  Replace begging with inviting people to a vision that is bigger than they are.  A vision of reaching the next generation and leaving a legacy.  A vision of being part of something big...something significant.

I had to unlearn talking down to kids when I'm teaching.  When there were multiple ages or grades in a large group setting, I saw people put the youngest kids up front and talk on their level.  I mean, I had to make sure it didn't go over their head, right?

Then one day, I read a quote by Walt Disney that helped me unlearn this.  Here it is...

"We're not going to talk down to the kids.  Let's aim for the 12 year old.  The younger ones will watch, because they'll want to see what their older brothers and sisters are looking at." 

When I read this, it clicked.  I should always aim for the oldest child in the room.  If I connect with him or her, then I'll capture the attention of all the kids.  You see, in the world of kids, cool rolls downhill.  In other words, if the 5th grader thinks what you are teaching is cool, then the younger kids will think it's cool as well.  You can read much more about this in the book "If Disney Ran Your Children's Ministry."  Click here to check it out.

I had to unlearn asking people to stay over and serve for an extra service.  I formed a habit of asking my key volunteers to stay over and serve an extra service if someone didn't show up.  And they willingly said "yes."  And many times, it meant they missed the worship service they were getting ready to attend.  When I did this, I was using the person to build the ministry rather than using the ministry to build the person.  And I had to unlearn this by watching people eventually burn out because of it.

I know it's a quick fix when you're short on volunteers.  But don't do it.  Unlearn it.  Take the long look and help the volunteer go the distance by making sure they are being fed as well.

I had to unlearn focusing on kids and neglecting parents.  Children's ministry is all about the children, isn't it?  I mean, we only have a small amount of time with them each week.  So let's focus 100% of our time, energy and resources on that, right?  That's what I did for years, until I realized that parents are the biggest influence on kids.  If you truly want to influence and impact kids, then you have to influence and impact their parents.  When this finally dawned on me, I started redirecting a good percentage of our ministry's  time, resources and focus in the direction of parents.

I had to unlearn large group salvation prayers with kids.  I simply followed what I'd always seen.  When you have a large group of kids together, share the Gospel, lead them in a prayer of salvation and then follow up with the parents afterwards.  Over the course of several years, I unlearned this.  Now I don't do large group salvation prayers with kids.  You can read more about what I do in this post.

I had to unlearn filling up my ministry calendar with events and programs.  Early in ministry, I was taught the more "hooks' you have in the water, the more "fish" you will catch.  I was taught to start as many ministry programs as I could.  I was taught to cram the ministry calendar with as many programs as I could. 

But over the years, I unlearned this.  I found that ministries that are successful are extremely focused on what they do.  They do a few things well.  They say "no" to 10 good things so they can say "yes" to 1 great thing.  And because of this, they flourish and grow.  Focus brings fruit.

If you need help knowing what to say "no" and "yes" to, then you can get help here.

I had to unlearn memorizing Scripture without apply Scripture.  Cram as many verses in a child's head as possible and they'll grow up to love Jesus, right?  Not necessarily.  I found it's better to have a child memorize 1 verse and take the time to help them understand it and apply it, than having a child temporarily memorize 10 verses without understanding or applying them. 

I realized that our goal should not just be Scripture memory, but Scripture transformation.  Remember what the Psalmist said?  He said, "I have hidden Your Word in my heart, that I may not sin against You."  Notice where it says the Scripture was hidden.  Not in his head, but in his heart.  That means he went beyond just memorizing it to living it.  I had to learn to slow down and take time for the Scripture to soak in and get deeply embedded in the children's lives.  That's why we only have kids memorize one verse a month instead of a new verse every week. 

I had to unlearn lecturing.  I was taught that kids were supposed to sit still and be quiet, while the teacher downloaded the truth to them.  One-sided.  Teacher does the majority of the talking.  I saw this modeled at church and at school.  But then one day, I discovered the fact that lecturing is the "worst" method of teaching.  I learned that the more you lecture, the less kids learn.  If you really want kids to learn, then you've got to shift from being a communicator to a facilitator.  You can read more about this here.

I had to unlearn thanking volunteers for what they do.   I'd always heard and said to volunteers, "Thanks for everything you do."  Nothing wrong with that, but I learned there is something you can thank them for that is much more meaningful and impacting.  And that's thanking them for who they are.

Here's an example.  Instead of saying or writing, "Thank you for faithfully teaching the 1st grade class each week" say, "Thank you for your heart for the next generation.  It is so evident in how you minister to the kids.  You are such a great role model for them."  See the difference?  When you do this, it shows volunteers that you value them more than you value what they do.  And that means so much more to them.

I had to unlearn the best way to do follow up.  I was taught the best way to get someone to return after their first visit was calling them, sending them a thank you card and maybe even showing up at their house the following week.   There's nothing wrong with these things, but I learned they are all in vain if the guests have a bad first experience.  I learned that follow up can enhance a great first visit, but it can't overcome a bad first experience.  I learned to spend the vast majority of my time, resources and energy on creating great first experiences for families.  You can read more about this here. 

So...there are a few of the things I've had to unlearn about children's ministry.  Your turn.  The floor is yours.  What are some things you've had to unlearn?  Share them with us in the comment section below.