Starting a children’s ministry from scratch can be a big challenge. You have to navigate parental expectations, curriculum options, and hundreds of little questions about how things should work. For this discussion, I’m assuming you are at a smaller church with no paid children’s ministry staff.
There is no one ‘right way’ to do children’s church. In fact, what works for your ministry this year will need adjustment next year. Like most ministry programs, kids church is always a working experiment.
This article is a road map to help you get started. I’ve broken down the process into 9 manageable steps to bring clarity. In reality, several of these steps overlap and require tweaking over time.
1. Gather a Leadership Team
Having the right people in place from the beginning is essential. I would include key people who would lead the program, interested parents, and your pastor. This leadership team is the group that will direct the program and make the major decisions to get the program started.
2. Determine the Age Group
You need to ask, “What aged-groups of children will participate in this program?” Churches vary widely in this respect. Many kids church programs cap the age around 3rd grade. Others extend through the end of elementary school. This largely depends on your pastor’s opinion about who can benefit from the preaching in his adult worship service. You also need to determine where the preschoolers will go. Some churches have a class just for them during church, while others include then in children’s church.
3. Determine the Format
There are several important issues to be decided about the format. Will the kids attend a portion of the adult service and then be dismissed? Some churches have individual classes more like a second Sunday School period. Others have a single gathering where children sing worship songs and learn in something like a VBS worship rally. Often this comes down to preference and space available. I personally like where kids worship with their families, then come back for age-appropriate Bible teaching in a large group. When possible, we finish our time in smaller age-graded groups for prayer & discussion.
4. Choose Curriculum for Children’s Church
Once the format and age-range is settled, you can begin to choose curriculum. Most major Christian Education publishers have a curriculum for Children’s Church. Many will include worship music on CD or DVD. If you budget is tight you can use our free Bible lesson or learn how to build your own Bible-teaching plan.
5. Establish Discipline & Safety Guidelines
To begin, you will need to adopt some basic policies for safety and behavior management. If you are just starting out, begin with a simple one-page document. Brainstorm with your leadership team and create a working draft. Post it in your room and make sure all the weekly children’s church follow these guides. You might find my article on Children's Ministry Safety & Security helpful.
6. Plan the Order of Service
Decide on the basic elements and general order you will follow. You can put this on a poster board in your children’s church area so the children will know what to expect. This can add consistency if you have multiple volunteer leaders. Some elements to include: Call to Worship (short bible reading), Prayer, Worship music, Bible lesson, discussion, flexible closing activities (craft, games, snacks, bible trivia).
7. Recruit and Train Volunteers
Now you’re ready to identify church members to become leaders in your program. Many churches work out a four-week volunteer rotation schedule for kids church. To begin, ask people who have served in other children’s ministry programs. If possible, mix in new recruits with your long-time workers for in-ministry training.
8. Communicate the Program to the Church
It’s important to let the church and parents know about the program several weeks in advance. This is especially true if your congregation has never had a kids church. If you are in a small church, talk to all the affected parents one-on-one. Be aware of any concerns that parents raise and ensure then the program is optional for each family.
9. Evaluate with the Leadership Team
Once you are a few weeks into the program, meet with the leadership team to re-evaluate. Walk through all elements of your plan and talk about what is working and not. Brainstorm ways to improve the program.