Recently, I was invited to be a guest lecturer (that word lecturer always cracks me up for some reason) at my alma mater, Indiana Wesleyan University. Since the campus is only ten minutes from my office, I do this frequently. I spoke to a group of 30 young people in an Intro to Christian Education class. I asked the question, “What word comes to mind when you think of children’s ministry when you were a kid?” Here are some of the responses I heard:
One student raised his hand and said, “The answer to every question was ‘Jesus.’” Chances are, you smiled when you read that, because kids still do that today. Who built the ark? “Jesus.” Who got swallowed by a whale? “Jesus.” I then shifted the question to this, “What word best describes children’s ministry today?”
Children’s ministry has changed since we were kids. It’s changing for my three daughters and it’s going to change for their kids. One thing I like to do is keep my ear to the rail, so to speak, as far as what is happening in children’s and family ministry today. Then, I enjoy forecasting, based on our current trends in the church and in the world around us, what I think is going to happen in children’s ministry down the road. Here are ten predictions of what I think children’s ministry is going to look like in the year 2020.
Prediction #1: Early childhood will become a greater priority in the church.
There weren’t many children’s pastors in the 70s. The position was the exception, not the rule. Today’s church society is beginning (albeit slowly) to shift toward a different mindset where ministry to the littlest ones is seen as a higher priority. More dedicated staff positions for early childhood directors will be established similar to all the children’s pastor positions today.
There are two reasons for this shift: 1) Today’s society values kids and youth more than anything else. Kids are valued, and the more time that passes, the more even younger children will be valued. 2) There will be more and more research to show that even more important than what we do with tweens or middle schoolers, and more important than what we do with the second and third graders, is what we do when they’re three and four years old. (There’s already all kinds of research out about the importance of getting kids grounded in the Word, and that the earlier you start, the better.)
Prediction #2: Programming will minimize and specialize.
Once it was very common for a church to have three services a week. But today’s trend is to drop Wednesday and Sunday night activities. The move is toward the Sunday morning only and/or small group model. Whether or not they should is a whole other point. But even though churches drop Wednesday and Sunday nights, they still think that they have several hours with the kids each week when, in reality, they only have one hour a week.
So programming in children’s ministry will be minimized to about an hour each week, which means it must be more specialized. If I only have the kids for one hour on Sunday morning, I need to get real creative with any other potential times I have them. If my church has small groups, for example, I should be very intentional as the children’s ministry leader to ensure that there is something going on for the kids during small groups so they’re not just in the basement playing video games. There needs to be something structured.
Prediction #3: Kids won’t bring their Bibles to church.
Instead, they’ll bring their device to church. I love when kids carry their Bibles to church. I give them candy for bringing it, but the reality is that more and more kids are getting their own device. And so I think you’ll see in 2020 that kids will bring devices to church and not Bibles.
Prediction #4: Kids will experience church online.
We’re all familiar with churches that say they have an online campus or an online venue where people can be a part of the church. People watch online. They give online. They relate to each other online.
As the world gets more and more digital, kids will have the same opportunity to participate in kids’ church, in Awana, and in these other venues on their own device. And they won’t only engage in the service on their own device, but will be part of social networking platforms where they can engage with the other kids online.
Prediction #5: Security and safety will become priority #1.
When we were kids, parents may not have even dropped us off. We just ran from the car to our class. And then when church was out, the teacher said, “Okay, you’re dismissed,” and we ran out the door to find our parents.
That already has and will continue to change drastically. Parents want that change. Churches need to make that change for liability reasons. Things such as check-in programs, IDs for kids and teachers, matching numbers and tags—all these help to ensure that kids only leave with whom they are supposed to leave with.
Prediction #6: Apps (or electronic delivery systems) will become a primary delivery tool.
In the near future, teachers won’t get quarterlies handed to them by the Sunday school superintendent. Lessons to teachers will be delivered electronically, perhaps by an app from the church’s children’s ministry.
Apps are getting cheaper and cheaper to create. The reality is that a church won’t be limited to only developing one app because of cost considerations. The children’s ministry can have an app, too. And there can be this whole experience for the volunteers, for the parents, for the kids themselves. The take-home sheet may be delivered in this app format and so on. More will happen with apps being the delivery system of how the church communicates to the teachers, the volunteers, the parents, and the kids.
Prediction # 7: Special needs ministry will be an integral part of every church.
Ministry to those with special needs won’t simply be a consideration or something that gets added on. It will be as core as Sunday school and nursery. Why?
First, there are always going to be special needs kids. Second, churches are going to recognize the great outreach tool we possess when our children’s ministries are special needs friendly. The reality is that no one wants to exclude kids from their ministry. But thinking about special needs can be intimidating and overwhelming because special needs are all over the map. Questions and concerns like, “So as a church leader relies on volunteers, how do I train and equip them to handle this? I already don’t have enough volunteers the way it is.” There are many issues the church will have to wrestle with.
You’re going to see two things happen in this area. 1) Special needs kids will be streamlined, so to speak, into the children’s ministry. In other words, it’s not as simple as offering a separate special needs class. 2) There will be an influx of special needs ministry directors on church staff just like children’s pastors, children’s ministry directors, preschool directors, etc. They may be part-time, but you’re going to see them.
Prediction #8: The demographic of the children’s ministry volunteer will continue to shift.
Typically, volunteers have been stay-at-home moms or parents who step up to teach Sunday school, lead kids’ worship, work in Awana, or whatever children’s ministry context it may be. This is going to shift. It’s already shifting as more and more families remain dual income families after the kids come along, so you have less stay-at-home moms as the main demographic. And because of the economic pressure and the need for women to provide income for their family, teenagers and empty-nesters will become a bigger part of the volunteer demographic.
Now, I could be totally wrong on this one. But this is my gut reaction to what I see happening at my church, what I hear happening in other churches, and what I see when I look at the trends of what’s happening with the average American citizen because everyone is being forced to go back to work.
Prediction #9: Churches will expect curriculum to be delivered digitally and created with flexibility.
The curriculum model is going to be forced to shift. There is going to be an expectation for digital delivery. This creates great dilemmas for curriculum developers because they make their money by selling printed material. Any book publisher will state that this is the biggest thing they’re struggling with: how to go digital and be sustainable. Sunday school curriculum developers will certainly wrestle with this one. The fact is that church staff and volunteers will want curriculum delivered digitally. They will expect it to be FREE, and they will want it to be created in such a way that it is flexible.
Prediction #10: Parents and churches will partner like never before.
We’ve all heard the research that proves that discipleship with kids happens best when the church and parents work together. This goes back to Deuteronomy 6 where the Scriptures point out that parents are to be the primary spiritual leaders of their kids. As we move ahead, there’s going to be even greater engagement between youth pastors and children’s pastors as they see parents as allies.
For kids, the big catalyst or push point that moves them into spiritual formation and life change is when they do ministry or service projects together as a family. The broader principle is that Christianity is not just something I go and watch on Sunday mornings or listen to one or two hours a week, but it is something that I do, and I do it with my parents through the week.
There you have it! My ten predictions about children’s ministry for 2020. Mull them over, talk with other kidmin about them, and get excited as we continue to serve the precious little ones who have been entrusted to us.