In a recent ChurchPulse Weekly episode, Matt Markins (President and CEO of Awana) sits down with Carey Nieuwhof and David Kinnaman to talk about the impact of children’s ministry, changes that have occurred in children’s ministry over the years and how to disciple kids towards a resilient faith.
On The Impact of Children’s Ministry
Recent Barna data demonstrate that over nine in 10 children’s ministry leaders (95%) believe that the home is the source of discipleship, while parents look equally to both the church and the home.
Reflecting on this data, Markins states, “What surprised me [about the data] is the lack of confidence that children’s ministry leaders have in what’s actually happening at the church… the children’s ministry community is saying, ‘We don’t have a lot of confidence that what we’re doing at church is really influential on kids.’”
He continues, “With the limited time available [on a Sunday or on a weekend], there’s a lack of confidence that what children’s ministry is doing with that time is making an impact. [But the data show] that there is stuff children’s ministry is doing at church that is having a big impact. I think we just need to shine more light on those areas.”
On The Primary Motivation of Children’s Ministry
Recent Barna data show that over three in five children’s ministry leaders (64%) strongly agree churches cannot grow without effective children’s ministry.
While the data highlight that effective children’s ministry aids in church growth, Markins cautions against viewing children’s ministry only as a way to boost attendance. He explains, “[In] the old map of children’s ministry, the primary motivation was closely connected to the attraction model, or church growth model. It’s not a bad motivation that we would want to have a thriving children’s ministry to get more people at our church. That’s just common sense.
“But unfortunately, what happened is that we closely linked [children’s ministry] to entertainment, so a lot of the driving force behind children’s ministry was entertainment,” notes Markins. “Because of this, children’s ministry has been framed with a motivation to get more people, numerical growth, high levels of entertainment and then a light Bible teaching.”
Markins shares a better emphasis for children’s ministry, saying, “Rather than being motivated primarily by numerical growth, I think [that the new map of children’s ministry] should be motivated by fostering lasting faith and forming children in the image of a resilient disciple. So then we can have good conversations around, ‘Well, what does that look like? What should those key areas of children’s ministry be that are going to lead to lasting faith in children?’”
On The Ways to Foster Faith in Children
Discussing the ways individuals help with children’s faith formation, Markins explains, “We found the three areas [that foster faith] to be what we call ‘belong, believe, become.’ Belonging is highly relational, believing is deeply scriptural and becoming is truly experiential.”
Markins states, “[When it comes to belonging, we should] design our entire children’s ministry, ecosystem, experience and system to be highly relational, to where we see children, know them and understand what their needs are… Our system cannot only be about facilitating a large group time; our system has to have small group structures where kids are known by a loving, caring adult.
“[Believing takes place around] Bible engagement,” he continues. “We often teach the Bible through digital devices and even on screens, which is fine, but kids can also be confused if they never see that the Bible is God’s Word and that it’s an inspired book. So even holding a physical object, reading it together and singing it together are key tactics and behaviors that we can teach children to participate in.”
Markins concludes, “[Becoming has to do with] experiences. Children need people to engage and interact with their lives consistently, whether that be a parent, a coach, or a community. They need someone who’s looking out for them and helping them navigate a very tricky world that’s far different from the one that you and I grew up in. … These experiences teach children the practices of living out their faith, connecting with God relationally, engaging his Word and experiencing God’s presence, all while an adult navigates and walks alongside a child.”
About the Research
This study included a set of quantitative online surveys. The first survey interviewed 2,051 U.S. adults who attended church at least once in the last six months. They were surveyed online between June 11–July 6, 2021, through a national consumer research panel. Included within the sample of churched adults is an oversample of 1,021 parents with children between the ages of 5 and 14 years old. The data has been statistically weighted by age, gender, race / ethnicity, income, education, region and parenting. The estimated margin of error is +/- 1.8%.
Additionally, Barna surveyed 600 U.S. Protestant church leaders who indicate they have decision-making responsibility for their church’s children’s ministry. Within this sample, 481 leaders are specifically on-staff children’s pastors, on-staff youth pastors or volunteer children’s leaders, and 119 leaders are senior pastors who don’t have a children’s ministry leader. For recruitment, Barna Group reached out to senior protestant pastors through Barna’s Pastor Panel and asked them to forward the invitation to whomever is responsible for children’s ministry in their church. The data has been statistically weighted by church size, region and denomination. The estimated margin of error is +/- 2.5%.
Barna is a private, non-partisan, for-profit organization under the umbrella of the Issachar Companies. Located in Ventura, California, Barna Group has been conducting and analyzing primary research to understand cultural trends related to values, beliefs, attitudes and behaviors since 1984.
© Barna Group, 2022