deep wide andy stanleyI warn people in our community not to bring their kids to our church until they’re sure they want to attend on a regular basis. When they ask why, I tell them that once their kids “come and see” the environment we’ve created for them, they’ll never be satisfied anywhere else.

Andy Stanley, Deep & Wide

Wouldn’t it be great, before a child even interacted with a small group leader or heard a Bible story that they were hooked on the environment?  Or wouldn’t it be great if the environment paved the way, or set the stage, for what the child was going to experience on Sunday Morning at church?  What if the environment prepared the way for the small group leader or the storyteller to create a life changing encounter with the Bible and a relationship with Jesus?

Sadly, our environments in many churches do the opposite.  For skeptical 5th graders our environments are the first obstacle they see when coming to our churches. Worse, they become further evidence in a long list of experiences that reinforce most modern kids’ perspectives that church is not relevant.

I’m not suggesting that we replace the Gospel with entertainment or flashy environments.  What I’m suggesting is that we leverage our environments to surprise and delight, to create the unexpected, and ultimately disarm the kids who come to church.  In so doing, we set up what we really want to do, lead kids in a growing relationship with Jesus Christ.

This isn’t a new problem. Here is one of my favorite quotes from Henrietta Mears from the early 50’s.

The Church must be prepared to reach out and get the many millions of boys and girls who are still without religious instruction of any sort.  Compare the marble halls of our modern school buildings with the worn out carpets of the Sunday school department, and the up-to-date books, well bound, on every school desk with the ragged songbooks and Bibles, the fine hardwood desks with the dilapidated chairs relegated to most Sunday school departments.  No wonder youth thinks that the three R’s are more important than the fourth–Religion, when he goes on Sunday to a room poorly lighted and miserably furnished.

Henrietta Mears, Sunday School Changes Everything

 

What do you do in your environments to surprise, delight, or disarm kids when they walk through the doors of your church for the first time?

When we lead small we simply make a choice to invest strategically in the lives of a few over time so we can help them build an authentic faith.

from Lead Small by Reggie Joiner and Tom Shefchunas

Lead Small

 

Lead Small is one of the best summaries of what it means to be an invested leader. I created this prezi for use in a small group leaders’ training I did a few months ago.  Feel free to use this as you develop small group leaders.

When we lead small we simply make a choice to invest strategically in the lives of a few over time so we can help them build an authentic faith.

from Lead Small by Reggie Joiner and Tom Shefchunas

 

deep wide andy stanleyOn the family ministry side of the aisle, our commitment to create environments conducive to providential relationships caused us to make several strategic decisions.  The most significant was our decision to keep group leaders with their small groups as long as possible.  The longer a group leader was with a group of kids, the more likely it was that a relationship would develop–and thus the greater chance of God using a group leader in a significant way in the life of one of the kids in his or her group.  So when adults volunteer to lead a group of first graders, they stay with the group of children (and their parents) all the way through fifth grade.  Not only does this create the potential for long-term relationships, it creates a degree of accountability that goes way beyond the weekend experience. It’s not unusual for group leaders to stay with their groups as they transition into our middle school ministry.  That provides them with eight years of influence during what is arguably the most important time for a child developmentally, spiritually, and relationally.

from Deep & Wide by Andy Stanley

Providential Relationship: “Two things make a relationship providential: when we hear from God through someone and when we see God in someone.  When either of those things happens, our faith gets bigger.” (Deep & Wide p. 132)

8 Years ago I would have believed the idea of finding small group leaders who would invest in the lives of a group of kids week in and week out even for a school year was impossible, much less several years.  Then I met Craig Jutila at a Purpose Driven Children’s Conference.  He talked about elevating the commitment of volunteers–moving off of rotation to getting people who were willing to invest in the lives of a small group of kids on a weekly basis.  Since then I have led two kidmin environments in two churches and coached several others to transition from large rotations of volunteers to a core group of small group leaders deeply investing in the lives of kids on a weekly basis.

Here’s a few things that I think only invested leaders can do:

  • Only invested leaders can help connect a child’s faith to community.  There is more childcare than community when volunteers are on rotation.
  • Only invested leaders are able to show how God’s truth intersects with real life because they invite kids into their own lives and inspire their faith by example.
  • Only invested leaders can create a place where kids can be known and belong.
  • Only invested leaders know enough about a child’s spiritual journey to know their next spiritual step.
  • Only invested leaders know about what’s going on in a child’s life to layer God’s truth into their lives in a relevant way.
  • Only invested leaders can effectively partner with parents.
  • Only invested leaders can create environments that supply the relational ingredients of spiritual growth: care, accountability and belonging.

Keeping children and students with the same small group leader for several years creates a healthy relational dynamic. Children and students are particularly susceptible to misinterpreting negative events. Having a mature adult in their lives in addition to their parents can make all the difference when grappling with challenging circumstances.

from Deep & Wide by Andy Stanley

At the end of the day without invested leaders what’s left on the table is life transformation. That’s unacceptable to me.

 

Loved thinking about how this video on education by Seth Godin should also challenge the way we do kidmin.  Here’s Seth’s book called Stop Stealing Dreams for those of you who want to read about it.

Here are some provocative quotes:

“What is education for?”

What is Sunday school for? or kidmin or church? Is it for creating reverent kids who can sit through children’s church without disruption who will some day grow up to be good Sunday school teachers who show up to church 40 times a year and drop a few dollars in the plate? Or is it to create revolutionaries who will radically pursue the expansion of the Kingdom of God–people like the Apostle Paul or Timothy, or . . . Jesus?

“If you wanted to teach someone to be a baseball fan would you start by having them understand the history of baseball . . . would you say, okay there is a test tomorrow, I want you to memorize the top 50 batters in order by batting average . . . and then rank the people based upon how they do on the test. And the ones who do well get to memorize more baseball players? Is that how we would create baseball fans?”

In the last Pew Research survey nearly 34% of 20somethings raised their hands and said, “I am not a fan” of church.  If we wanted kids to be a fan of Jesus and His body, the church, where would we start? Memorizing the books of the Bible in order?

“Are we asking kids to collect dots or connect dots? Because we are really good at measuring how many dots, how many facts, they collect.”

It’s a lot easier to count attendance, how many verses were memorized, or how quick kids are in a “sword” drill.  It’s also easier to fill in the blanks on a student paper, mark up a coloring page than it is to create an experience or have a conversation or invest deeply and consistently in the life of a child. We are in the business of transformed lives–not as easily measured and a lot harder. I’m grateful to be part of a generation of kidmin leaders and a legacy of people like Henrietta Mears, Lois LeBar and their modern counterparts like Reggie Joiner, Sue Miller or Jim Wideman who are dedicated to finding a better way to lead kids in a growing relationship with Jesus Christ.

 

 

deep wide andy stanley

I agree with Howard Hendricks, who was fond of saying, “It is a sin to bore a child with the Word of God.” To present the Scripture to a child or a teenager in an unengaging manner is to teach the very opposite of what is intended:

Lesson #1 The Bible is boring.

Lesson #2 The Bible is irrelevant

Lesson #3: Church is irrelevant

from Deep & Wide by Andy Stanley

For the most part, the Bible isn’t boring.  Which just means the Bible isn’t the problem.  For my piece, here are some common ways we make the Bible boring and its results.

  • We teach in a way that ignores basic age-characteristics of children (We use words like “mortification” with High schoolers) They think the Bible is confusing.
  •  We teach Bible content that is inappropriate (Maybe because we want to teach the same things everyone else is learning at the same time.) They think the Bible isn’t written for them.
  • We don’t leverage a child’s felt needs to lead them to their real needs. They think the Bible isn’t relevant.
  •  We don’t teach from a context of deep, meaningful or consistent relationships that model a life under Biblical authority. They don’t think the Bible intersects with their lives outside of Sunday morning.
  •  We don’t build common ground when teaching. They think the Bible is moralistic and feel preached at.
  •  We teach the facts of the Word, but don’t introduce them to Jesus who is the Word. They think Christianity is a religion and not a relationship.

I wonder what would happen if we took the time we spend bemoaning the entertainment industry’s affects on attention-spans and behavior and spent that time more introspectively examining the role we play in engaging or boring children.  What if we invested our time in communicating in a way that captures the imagination of child with the radical truths of the Bible and the person of Jesus Christ? We might see the church drop-out rate decline. We might see unchurched people come to our churches and the de-churched, burned-by-church or anti-church people return.

“It is a sin to bore a child with the Word of God.” Howard Hendricks

peopleIn most churches we have programs, curriculum, even positions built around specific age groups. We often talk about how many fifth graders we have, or junior highers, or high schoolers.  All of this specialization is good.  It allows us to shape what we do around age-characteristics, felt needs, even unique spiritual opportunities that God has hard-wired into human development.
However, with all of our specialization, (and departmentalization in most churches) it is easy to miss the reality that we are really dealing with people who are only going to spend a small slice of their life as a preschooler or kid or student.  At the end of the day we are dealing with people, not preschoolers or kids, or students.  What that means is we need to do our planning, our programming, build our curriculum around, what we want people to become.
Basically, we need to have an integrated strategy  aimed at what we want people to become.  You can’t do that if your children’s ministry leaders don’t talk with your student ministry leaders. And while you are all working together it might be helpful to get the adult ministry leaders in on the game.
The child is the father of the man. William Wordsworth, The Rainbow

Aero Vodochody L 29 Delfin Jet CockpitThe average airplane can have over 40 gauges.  But only a few of those gauges are critically important at any given time.  And maybe the most important is the one right in the center.  Like the speedometer on a car, the attitude indicator may be one of the more important flight instruments on a plane because it shows the aircraft’s “attitude” to the horizon.  In other words, it will tell you whether you are flying upside down or not.  Kind of important.

Kidmin, like the cockpit of a plane, has lots of dials and gauges—lots of things that demand our attention like scheduling, team training and curriculum to how many popsicle sticks we need for VBS.  It can be overwhelming.  But what if some things are more important than others?  What if there are some systems that require our attention more than others?  What would be the attitude indicator for kidmin?

Apart from the basics like Jesus and the Bible—we know we need to point kids to Jesus and we do that through the Bible—, what would be the top five gauges we should give our attention to?  What systems are really critical to the effectiveness of kidmin?

Here is a great top five from The Orange Leader Handbook also known as the Orange Essentials:

System #1: How we integrate leaders.

We can’t expect people to follow us if we are not on the same page going in the same direction.  This is especially true when working with children and students.  We are laying the foundation of a person’s life so we must all be working with the same end in mind.  Having the same strategy to get there is a good place to start.

 

System #2: How we communicate truth.

How we say what we say is as important as what we say. Maybe we should communicate as if what we have to say is the most important thing that can be said.  Since it is.

 

System #3: How we connect people.

Spiritual growth happens best in the context of close personal relationships.

 

System #4: How our church partners with families.

Parents have the greatest potential to influence the life of the child.  Lasting impact begins with a system to effectively partner with parents to help them leverage their influence during the week.

 

System #5: How we mobilize every generation to be the church.

We have a lot of people doing church, but not a lot of people being the church.  If kids are not being the church while they with us, how can we expect them to be the church when they are not with us?

 

You are in the cockpit of your ministry at your church.  The gauges you give your attention to will determine the effectiveness of your ministry.

What do you think are the top five gauges we should be looking at?

Todd Henry just posted his TEDx talkon his blog outlining the five areas we need to monitor in order to remain prolific, brilliant and healthy as creatives.  Great talk.  Check it out.