By Jeremy Shambach
Two years ago, I transitioned from leading and overseeing our church’s youth ministries to overseeing and leading our children’s and youth ministries. Practically, that’s an eighteen-year gap of kids under my care—not to mention their older siblings, parents, and grandparents.
At first, running both ministries was a daunting task. It felt like Sunday mornings were a marathon instead of a time of worship. Even though our philosophy of ministry aligned with our church’s, they functioned as separate entities in the church. When families entered through the doors, I almost felt like an air traffic controller, where I would direct the parents to worship in one direction, kids in another direction, and youth in another.
Now our focus is one ministry: family ministry. The question is not, “What is children’s ministry doing? What is youth ministry doing?” but “How are we discipling this whole family?” We are more tuned into the development of children. We are more tuned into the rhythms of family life. And we strategize and execute our ministry together for a more cohesive discipleship program that keeps families rooted in Christ as they walk through life together.
Below I offer some guiding principles and practices, mostly by way of discussion questions for your team to answer, that can help you achieve a unified family ministry.
Evaluating your philosophy of family ministry
Gather your lead pastor and children’s and youth ministry leaders and discuss the following questions.
What is your philosophy of children’s ministry? Of youth ministry?
• On a scale of 1–10 (1 being not cohesive at all), how cohesive are these philosophies?
• In what ways could the philosophies come together?
Tip: Don’t be afraid to use the same mission statement and philosophy as the church, because these ministries are a limb of the unified body of Christ, not a separate entity.
How do your children’s and youth ministries function currently in your church?
• Do you ever have overlapping goals of events?
• Has there ever been good overlap in the past? What made it good?
• How might they be competing against each other?
• What areas or programs can be changed to further unify your ministry to families?
What does your transition from children’s ministry to youth ministry look like?
• Do your youth pastor or middle school and high school students ever interact with the children’s ministry kids?
• What are the milestones you’d like to see a child go through at your church if they attended from infancy to graduation?
Hopefully, talking through these questions revealed how siloing your ministries could be disrupting the unity of your church. The body isn’t supposed to look like a toddler’s Mr. Potato Head, with body parts plugged into the head with little rhyme or reason. We are to be unified and intentionally ordered, with Christ as the head and all of us working together to further the gospel as one church family.
Practical strategies for a more unified approach
There are a number of ways to unify children’s and youth ministries, but I see no better way than to get families serving together. Here are a few practical ways you can start unifying things as you plan for this next year.
Stop seeing programs and start seeing families
Don’t make ministry hard on your families by dividing them among several programs. Instead, bring them together as much as possible!
• Ask a whole family to help greet on Sunday mornings or join the teardown team.
• If a family is already serving in your ministries, ask them to encourage another family to serve alongside them.
• Consider events that can foster Christ-centered, whole-family discipleship, like day retreats or family camp.
Observe and create opportunities for your students to lead
People often say that children’s and youth ministries help develop the next generation of the church. I challenge you to think deeper about this idea. Yes, they are the next generation of leaders, but they are a part of the church now. They have a place in the body of Christ (1 Cor 12) now. They can lead now!
• Know your students and families well enough to see the gifts and strengths they have and affirm those gifts as you challenge them to take more ownership. For example, a student who loves the Word and is a great leader was asked specifically to join our Scripture-reading team in the main service. This student filled a significant need in our church and blessed our congregation.
• Level-up their leadership. For example, a student was given an opportunity to lead songs and motions in our Awana Cubbies program last year and then was challenged to lead our youth group worship team this year.
• Develop them. Children and youth won’t lead perfectly (and neither do adults), but walk alongside them and encourage them with specific ways to grow.
Pray that the Lord would continue to work
“Unless the Lord builds the house, the laborers labor in vain” (Ps 127:1). Pray that the Lord would continue to build your church, provide the right leaders, and strengthen families for ministry.
Pull a chair up to the planning table, and don’t be afraid to evaluate your family ministry philosophy. Trust in the Lord as you move forward. God has called you to “equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ” (Eph 4:12).What he has called you to do he will equip you to do.
This article first appeared in the April 2021 issue of Ministry Team magazine.
Jeremy Shambach is the director of children’s and student ministries at The Orchard, a multi-site gospel church in the Chicago area. When he’s not running back and forth on a Sunday morning, he loves his wife, the Cubs, and spending time with friends around a bonfire.