Missional Children’s Ministry Discussion

25 Apr


I was recently asked by Glenn Woods ( 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.

Click HERE to read the rest of his post

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.”

—Rick Meigs

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.


Posted by on April 25, 2010 in Kidmin


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21 responses to “Missional Children’s Ministry Discussion

  1. glenwoods

    April 25, 2010 at 4:27 pm

    Hey Anthony,

    Thanks so much for contributing to this discussion! I appreciate your insights about missional outreach and your specific example of how that looks with the after-school clubs.

    I do have a few questions concerning details on these clubs. Do other churches help you? It kind of sounded like it was mainly your church, although you do not push your church to the attendees.

    Secondly, do kids come on their own or do you have a check-in/check-out procedure? Or is it right after school so they are already on campus, in which case it would just be a check-out procedure?

    Do you write your own material? If not, what do you use?

    And finally, what kind of response are you getting from the community, both parents and children? I know you have about 300 kids, but by response I am referring to general attitudes of people and the development of relationships between your people and the community?



    • Anthony Prince

      April 25, 2010 at 5:52 pm

      I’ll tackle your questions in order, Glen!

      1) As much as possible, we try to collaborate with other churches in the area. Though my assistant and I are the only church staff from the community involved, we have volunteer team members from just over 10 other churches in our community helping us run these clubs. We believe that sustainability to these clubs relies on them being parent driven and church supported. The parents and students involved in making the clubs happen are a mixed bunch… many are from our church, but there are definitely others involved. Though other churches have not been interested in helping us staff and coordinate our clubs, they are more than interested in placing fliers and materials out for parents to look over during our check-out process.

      2) Children must be registered for our club through the school office. Parents sign kids up by picking up registration cards available at school. A few times a year, we also send home information through the school in the kids’ backpacks.
      Check in and check out look different on each campus, but we basically use a paper check in system where kids check in with our registration team when school gets out and authorized parents and guardians must sign kids out at the end of club. It’s nothing fancy, but it gets the job done.

      3) I hijack every material I come across for every program that I provide oversight for. Good News Clubs are no different. We follow the scope and sequence (kind of) that Child Evangelism Fellowship suggests for Good News Clubs. Our clubs are registered and verified through that national organization. However, I rely heavily on materials I’ve developed over the years as well as resources like Group Publishing’s IT (innovative tools) in order to help make our Bible stories come alive and our small group time hit home.

      If anyone else has more questions, I’d love to tackle them!


  2. Henry Zonio

    April 25, 2010 at 9:24 pm

    I think that what you are trying to do to get more into the community is great!

    You mention that your church approaches the after school clubs “with a very missional mindset.” Can you expand on that?

    You also mention “missional ministries” as risky. I’d be interested to hear what would be the contrast to missional ministries.


    • Anthony Prince

      April 25, 2010 at 9:42 pm

      I’ll hit your thoughts in order:

      Missional mindset has to be a loose definition. Again, I’m using a quick understanding of “missional” as defined by Meigs… his primary indicator of whether or not a mindset is missional is the shift between “come to us” and “go to them.” Our after school programs address a need that we found in our community. In order for families in our community to survive financially, many families have two working parents (that is, in homes with two parents. In single parent families, many of these moms and dads hold down multiple jobs to make ends meet). Families were looking for a free alternative to childcare that would be in a non-threatening environment. After school programs allowed us to go into our local schools with the primary motivation of building relationships with families in the community while sharing the love of Christ. An attractional mindset would leverage this experience to measure the success of these clubs in a transition to church attendance. That’s not our motive.

      I call this mindset risky because it has no measurable ROI (return on investment). We spend thousands and thousands of dollars to keep these programs running at a high level and, at the end of the day, our church has to value the work that we’re doing off-campus and understand that their investment may never translate back to our church. I’ve had numerous other children and family pastors in our local area speak highly of our programs but shy away from lending us hands on support because of the filter we place on the person leading the large group time. In a culture where prominent VBS publishers are pushing their programs as a way for churches to “make money” (I kid you not… this is a legit VBS publisher, telling churches that running a Vacation Bible School can make money for you church… ROI is a big deal these days in the hearts and minds of many in the senior leadership of the church-at-large), I think that a missional mindset is a risky ministry method if your Senior Pastor and church family isn’t 100% behind your strategy.

      Love the dialog. Keep it up!


      • Henry Zonio

        April 26, 2010 at 6:32 am

        I think your last sentence is crucial. If the ethos of your church community isn’t primarily missional, then trying to work out of a missional paradigm will be difficult, to say the least. When leadership works from within a missional framework, then metrics go from strictly numbers based to trying to measure transformation in the lives of people… are more ppl involved in service (church-based and not), are ppl taking ‘next steps’ in their relationship with God, are ppl sharing their faith journey with others, is our church a ‘safe place’ for ppl to explore faith, are we helping make our community better in the eyes of the community…


  3. glenwoods

    April 25, 2010 at 9:31 pm

    Anthony, I noticed you mention the ongoing importance of your campus ministries, which I affirm. Obviously, this is an expression of attractional ministry. I wonder how you and the others feel about the place of attractional ministry in the missional mindset. Or is it an addon? I am praying that my church campus will become a lighthouse of hope for the local neighborhood through its efforts to benefit the community. Henry and Shauna (and any other readers), I welcome your input on this, too….


    • Anthony Prince

      April 25, 2010 at 10:01 pm

      I think it’s not a this or that discussion, but a discussion of how to balance both.

      I think the next step for some people will always be getting plugged into a church community – it would be a shame if a church stopped putting effort into their weekend gatherings because they’ve shifted too far on the missional pendulum.

      For us, we try to keep a pulse on the community at large and attempt to meet the needs of those outside our church walls in real and relational ways. Our church launched a local food pantry a few years back ( because we saw an unmet need in our community. We do not push “church” as the next step for these families… instead, we offer financial and emotional counseling for many as well as job placement tools and strategies for families looking for assistance. Through relationships that are built, we may offer a church community as a next step for a family, but that’s not our primary objective. At the same time, we do want to offer family ministry options and worship experiences for those who are ready for that step.

      The balance is a delicate one… and we don’t have it all figured out. I’d love to hear other’s thoughts on how they balance attractional and missional strategies.


    • Henry Zonio

      April 26, 2010 at 6:40 am

      Our senior pastor talks of Redwood becoming a missional cathedral to our community. The initial thought with the Catholic cathedral was that it would be a hub of culture and service to its community. I think this goes beyond mere attractional vs. organic. It entails discovering how to best love those in your context in a way that they are looking for. In so doing, we strive to help people catch glimpses of God’s Kingdom here, now… While the Kingdom of God will not be fully realized until Christ’s return, I believe that we can partner with the Holy Spirit in creating pockets (or intersections) where God’s Kingdom breaks through into our reality. People much smarter at this than I like N.T. Wright and Dallas Willard do a much better job of explaining this than I do 🙂


      • Henry Zonio

        April 26, 2010 at 6:45 am

        One other thing that I wanted to mention is that I think we’ve created a false dichotomy between “attractional” and “missional.” To compare these terms is like comparing apples and oranges. Again, these terms seem to have their own meanings depending on who you read and the context that is interpreting these words. In my understanding, though, “attractional” speaks more to style whereas “missional” speaks to ethos.


  4. Glen Alan Woods

    April 26, 2010 at 8:27 am

    Henry, you speak of the creation of a false dichotomy between attractional and missional. I think this is an important observation. Indeed, I think there is a false dichotomy which has yielded unfortunate consequences, especially for Western evangelical churches. Attractional metrics are based on bringing people to be saved on a campus and thus growing numerically (and I do praise God when people are saved anywhere!), often with the consequence of ignoring the local neighborhood(s) in which the church building is based and/or where commuting worshippers are located.

    On the other hand, missional ministry (esp in the evangelical stream) breaks down those walls, seeking both to exhibit the love of God and others through actions and words. It allows for organic expressions of ministry to emerge, often outside the initiative, control, or even knowledge of church leadership. People love, give and serve because that is what Christians do. They don’t feel the need to wait for permission to do so, and they certainly don’t perceive it must only happen on a church campus, although it can, to be sure.

    Having said that, I do think that church leaders can set the tone by their example, and by communicating the stories of people who are involved in such initiatives. Some of the most inspiring missional stories I know about in my context are lived out by regular people who would not readily understand the missional vocabulary we are using. Yet, they instictively live it out. Still, others have been raised in an attractional-based church culture, so it takes time to change mindsets and transform the prevailing ethos into one that is missional.


  5. Shauna Morgan

    April 29, 2010 at 12:02 am

    Anthony- I love your honesty!
    I absolutely agree that our churches should function as a hybrid of “missional” and “attractional”. I think we all know we are talking about putting our faith into action rather than just keeping it to ourselves. This is something that Tim and I have been trying to figure out for years. It is clear that Jesus modeled both. Currently Ethos Project ministry is functioning as a “para church” ministry working alongside churches with their missional efforts (as well as businesses, artists, other benevolent individuals/orgs) – and it doesn’t bring in a paycheck, not easy. However, we think that it would be very effective to work on staff inside a church to team up with all ministries to infuse the DNA of Gods mission into every part of the local church body. It has been a challenge for us, personally, in such a transitional time in the Church.
    We are currently helping a friend out with a church plant that is primarily college age/young adults which is being launched from a local coffee house. They occasionally volunteer with EP. It seems to be easier for newer churches to be both attractive and active. What is your experience?


  6. Glen Alan Woods

    May 1, 2010 at 12:41 pm

    Shauna, I have been wrestling with how attractional can become missional. That is, how can we posture the church campus and its resources so that out lives outside the walls of the church and our ministry expressions on the campus collaborate to benefit the local community, both in terms of gospel proclamation and the meeting of everyday needs? I know many churches have achieved think is various ways. It is a goal my church is considering on a more intentional level.


    • Shauna

      May 1, 2010 at 7:23 pm

      So funny, our church is trying to find out how we can incorporate an attractional element to our missional outreach/gatherings. Ha! I would love your thoughts on this. I mean, what we are doing is attractive to the younger population, but we know we need to add more…or do we? As far as attractional becoming missional…I have some thoughts. As a musician and a lover of the arts, I think we must use these “attractional” mediums to inspire people to live a missional lifestyle. We all have something to contribute to society- and God wants us to partner with him on his mission of love. It really does have to start with leadership casting a vision, instigating a new mindset and inspiring individuals to discover what their role is. I will be blogging about learning about our local cultures next…


  7. Glen Alan Woods

    May 1, 2010 at 12:42 pm

    Sorry, the next to last sentence should read, “I know many churches have achieved this in various ways.”


  8. shauna

    May 1, 2010 at 7:34 pm

    Glen- what about starting some type of think tank? Like an experimental\creative wing to your outreach ministry…maybe have a group. And do some research on what the needs are in yor community? I don’t know how far along you guys are in this process. Maybe finding a cause for people to get involved in and contribute to??


  9. Glen Alan Woods

    May 1, 2010 at 8:43 pm

    Shauna, great points, both regarding attractional and the think tank. Let me tackle both briefly.

    1. Attractional: I think Henry is right in pointing out the false dichotomy issue between the two. To me, attractional which is missional looks at the needs of the local community and meets those needs, whatever they may be while not ignoring the needs of those who come from a distance. Attractional that is inward focused looks at the needs of the membership (typically people who commute from short to very long distances to participate inside the facility) with little regard for the needs of the local community. So, to answer your question, I think that the suggestion you offered me in your second comment regarding think tank, etc could have application as well for you concerning becoming more attractional to a broader base of people in your community. My second point will extrapolate on this.

    2. Think tank, research, etc. Great idea. I have done quite a bit of sociological research in my community using available resources, plus primary ethnographic field research. This has included accessing data, direct observation, interviews, conversations, focus groups, experimental outreach initiatives, etc. Basically what I have learned is that people tend to gravitate toward the familiar. As giving, loving, hospitable as they are, most (not all) of those who commute to my church from outside the immediate neighborhood are very homogenous. Nothing wrong with that. It is simply a reality. Most who are within the immediate neighborhood are very diverse, speaking many languages in the context of many ethnic, religious, socio-economic (many are primarily considered poor, but they don’t hesitate to spend what money they have on luxuries such as flat screen tv’s, smart phones, and other assorted items), and cultural backgrounds.

    Continuing with the think tank idea, various people in my church have led in this regard over the years, although there has been very little sustained focused attention. I have drawn others from my church into the conversation concerning the two nearby apartment complexes. Indeed, my team and I meet again next Friday night to discuss this and other issues. I suppose my primary cause is to try to posture our church so that is tangibly makes a beneficial impact on our neighbors.

    I definitely will take your input to heart and see what might be done with it. Thanks!


  10. Carla

    May 11, 2010 at 4:12 pm


    I’m just jumping in on this conversation and really enjoying what you all have to say. I love reading about the ways that you all are trying to be missionally minded in your approach to the children and families in your communities.

    I’m wondering, though, what you do to teach the children in your ministries to be missional? When you are gathered together with the children in your ministry, are there things you do or teach, or actions you take together to be missional? That’s where I’m looking to focus right now… not so much on my intentions to live a missional life or be missional in the ways I reach out to kids… but to teach the kids how to live missional lives. Any thoughts?


    • Henry Zonio

      May 13, 2010 at 9:58 am

      I think it begins simply with how we talk. We always make sure that children understand that we are put on this earth the love God AND love others. That means we are to be an active part of changing this world around us for the good. When we talk about Jesus’ death and resurrection and salvation, it isn’t just about “being saved” or “getting to go to heaven.” We let kids know that God intended for the world to be good and not broken. We can’t fix that. Jesus did by dying and beating death. While the world we see around us still is broken, we can be a part of helping people see what God intended for the world to be like by changing the world. We also make sure that children value all people regardless of gender, race, age, or lifestyle. We let kids know that we can all learn from each other. The shortened version of the ethos for what I believe CM should be is “helping kids and families know the Story of God, find their place in that story, and how they can be an active part of that story.”


      • Carla

        May 17, 2010 at 12:33 pm

        Thanks Henry! I always enjoy what you have to say. You are a refreshing voice in the world of CM!

        I’m really looking for ways to get my kids in on the “active part of the story” that you mention. We do activities together as a church community where families are involved in service and missional activity. I definitely agree with you on the language being important. I make a huge effort there every week in how I approach teaching the kids. But, I had one of my team leaders recently suggest doing things with the kids so that they can experience what they’re learning (which we all know is important) and I guess I’m on the hunt for good ideas for their age-specific times!



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