I was recently asked by Glenn Woods (glenwoods.wordpress.com) to join in on a conversation about the missional church movement and the implications it has for children’s ministry. This morning he posted his first thoughts:
Along with my colleagues Henry Zonio, Anthony Prince, and Shauna Morgan who will be posting today (April 25) on their respective blogs, I intend to introduce in this article the essence of my ministry philosophy specifically as it pertains to missional outreach to children and families. Along with that, I will point out the various ways this philosophy has expressed itself in my ministry up to this point, as well as plans for the near future.
A few years ago, I began hearing the term Missional Church more and more as I traveled to conferences and networked with other church leaders. As I wrestled with what implications a missional mindset had for ministry in my current context, I began to find that not many people in the missional conversation had much to say about children’s ministry.
In order to understand some of what I had to wrestle through, we should first look at what it means to be missional…
What is Missional – A Short Answer
“Jesus told us to go into all the world and be his ambassadors, but many churches today have inadvertently changed the “go and be” command to a “come and see” appeal. We have grown attached to buildings, programs, staff and a wide variety of goods and services designed to attract and entertain people.
“Missional is a helpful term used to describe what happens when you and I replace the “come to us” invitations with a “go to them” life. A life where “the way of Jesus” informs and radically transforms our existence to one wholly focused on sacrificially living for him and others and where we adopt a missionary stance in relation to our culture. It speaks of the very nature of the Jesus follower.”
At it’s core, children’s ministry typically exists in a “come to us” format. In many churches, children’s ministry grew out of a need for the kids to have “something to do” while parents were in church and Bible studies. So, how do you shift from a “come to us” to a “go to them” paradigm? That’s the million dollar question in churches wrestling with what it means to become missional.
Our church’s children’s ministry program has a foot in both worlds.
We truly invest in creating an engaging environment for children and their families to come and hear about the Good News of Jesus Christ on our church campus. We run large events that welcome visitors onto our campus and intentionally leverage those events to create and foster relationships between Christ followers and those not yet connected to a local church.
At the same time, we run multiple off-campus after school clubs in local elementary schools that do not push our church as the only next step to what happens during those clubs. All told, over 300 children gather weekly on multiple campuses in the programs that our church funds and provides oversight for – yet, we do so with a very missional mindset. I self censor myself as the main teaching voice on these campuses so that we do not push my church and our programs as the natural next step for every child in attendance. Our goal is to place a small group leader in the life of every child in our programs so that the children in attendance have at least one person in their life loving them and caring for them in a way that Jesus would. We’re proud of the fact that on our local public school campuses we pray with children, teach them stories straight from Scripture, show them God’s love for them in tangible and relevant ways, and do so with an end in mind that doesn’t directly feed our church’s attendance numbers. At the end of each club, we encourage kids to get involved in a local church community… but, we try to not reveal which church is mine. If a parent asks, I tell them. Other than that, we let families decide their next step.
Missional ministries are risky. As a church staff member, I recognize that my paycheck doesn’t come from people who aren’t attending my church. However, I am a part of a church that realizes that Sunday mornings are a launching point for the ministry that happens weekly outside of our church’s walls. We will always provide engaging experiences on our campus that meet the needs of families in our community. At the same time, we know that Jesus calls us to take the Good News of salvation to the world… not simply place it in a box and invite people to come and see it.