If a church has children, then it has a ministry to children. That is, even before a program is established, a leadership team raised, a curriculum sourced, and resource bought, kids’ ministry is happening. The primary way a church establishes an effective children’s ministry is by equipping the primary shepherds of children—their parents.
Too often parents are a long way down the list of priorities when it comes to establishing an effective ministry to children. At best they are in our peripheral vision.
Scripture however places parents front and centre. Deuteronomy 6 instructs parents to make God inescapable in the family home. To talk with your children, to impress, to write, to bind… and to do it morning, noon and night. Parents’ primary ministry is to raise their children to fear and love the Lord.
A study across a number of US Evangelical Churches  found that 96% of parents agreed or strongly agreed that they were the primary shepherds of their children (11% said the church, 1% said the school). However, 35 % of parents surveyed said they’d not read or discussed the Bible with their children more than a couple of times in the last month. Another 20% said they’d not done it at all in the last month.
Australian Evangelical Churches tend to have similar trends to our US counterparts. If this is the case, then we (like the US), have a significant percentage of parents who know they are the primary shepherds but are doing very little about it. The result of such disparity can result in guilt. And guilt tends to paralyse rather than motivate us to action.
Three questions are worth asking.
1. How do we address this guilt and help parents become the God-given shepherds Scripture intends them to be?
The person who has the most significant voice in any church is the Senior Pastor. He is the one who not only shapes a church’s attitude to children, but shapes parents’ understanding of their privileged position. So preaching that regularly addresses the shepherding of children and seeks to illustrate what that shepherding looks like, is vital. Ministry to children by parents needs to be addressed from the pulpit.
2. Are there any ways we encourage parents to abdicate their role as shepherds to the kids’ leaders of the church?
For the past 24 years our pattern has been to have a children’s spot in our family services that unpacks the passage being taught that day (our school age children’s program follows the adult sermon series). The primary aim of the children’s spot has been to equip parents by giving them the language with which to discuss the big idea of that section of scripture with their children. This purpose was clear in my head. However, as I found out recently, the aim was so clear in the minds of most parents.
I asked parents why we had a children’s spot in church each week. They said things like: because the children like it, it engages the children, it teaches the children. I pointed out we could achieve the those things by running the children’s spot in Children’s Church.
All these years I thought I was equipping parents – giving them the language with which to talk with their children. All the while, parents were sitting back, thankful that their children were being taught by others. So how do we move parents from a passive to an active position?
I realised I needed to state (and repeatedly state) why we do what we do.
3. What purposes are we hoping to achieve?
So at the beginning of this year, instead of addressing children with the children’s spot, I addressed the parents and listed all the ways we seek to support, resource and equip them.
- I began by stating why we do children’s spots in church each week: to equip them with child friendly language they can use to unpack that passage of scripture; to tell a story they can discuss as a family that teaches the big idea.
- Each term we produce a Parents’ Newsletter . These have a ‘Ten Tips’ section addressing a specific area of shepherding (usually tied to what we’re teaching that term). For example: Ten Tips On Developing A Generous Heart In Your Child during our studies on Philippians.
- A variety of helpful resources are listed at the bottom of each ‘Ten Tips’ and these are made available each term on our church’s bookstall.
- Each Newsletter poses the same question. “Why not ask your child what they’ve been learning or discuss the Children’s Talk with your child on the way home from church?”
- When we looked at the book of Genesis, I emailed parents the ‘question of the week’—questions asked by children aged 8 to 11). The aim was for children, with the help of their parents, to read Genesis and look for the answer.
- This year we begun to produce a monthly Bible Reading Plan for each age group based on the passages we look at in Children’s Church. 
- We also make recordings of memory verses taught in each age group and email these to parents. Parents are encouraged to download them and help their children learn them.
- Both toddlers (18 months to 2 year olds) and pre-schoolers (3 and 4 year olds) take home scrapbooks full of Bible stories they’ve been taught and the craft they’ve done for each story. It is essentially a homemade Bible that parents can read with their children.
Think intentionally about resourcing and equipping parents and remind them repeatedly why you’re doing what you’re doing.
4. How can we practise ‘good gossip’?
When you hear stories of families shepherding their children well, with their permission, pass on the stories. For example, one Mum shared recently she’d always struggled to regularly read the Bible and pray with her children. Since using our Bible Reading Plans, her children now refuse to go to bed until they’ve read the Bible story listed on the plan, prayed and checked it off each night. What a great bedtime problem to have! Sharing stories like these helps other parents see how they too can use these resources to help their own children develop a daily devotional life.
The list above is only just beginning to scratch the surface of what we can do in our churches.
I recently heard of a Children’s Minister in New Zealand who is systematically visiting every family in her church to discuss how her team can help each parent best disciple their own children. To sit with parents and hear first hand how best to support and equip them for this vital ministry—what a great idea!
 Youth & Children’s Ministry by Sarie King for Effective Ministry, page 13-14.
 Parenting Newsletters are available on the MBM web site. If helpful, I’m happy for the Ten Tips to be used in non-profit church publications, as long the copyright information remains attached.