Andy Stanley, in his book Visioneering, writes: “Every God ordained vision is born out of a concern. It is a clear mental picture of what could be, fueled by the conviction of what should be.”
So how do senior pastors, youth leaders and children’s ministers create a dynamic environment where kids not only are growing in their faith, but also participating and using their gifts to bless others? Aren’t these the questions every church leader is constantly grappling with?
In Think Orange: Imagine the Impact When Church and Family Collide, Reggie Joiner suggests that if we want to “experience a different outcome, we need to embrace a different strategy.”
Kien Do, children’s pastor at The Rock (Anaheim Foursquare Church) in Southern California, believes that part of that strategy begins with a clear vision that is initiated from the lead pastor and encompasses youth from birth through college.
“Without buy-in from senior leaders who promote and endorse a comprehensive vision, effective ministry is difficult to sustain,” Kien tells Foursquare.org. “Everything has to be cohesive, and the vision must be clearly communicated to all volunteers.”
Lynn Sawyer, the lifestage pastor at New Hope Christian Fellowship (Hilo Foursquare Church), concurs.
“Don’t wait until children are tweens,” encourages Lynn, who also serves as the NextGen representative for the Hawaii Distirct. “Start at the very beginning, and don’t segregate children’s ministry.”
She explains that, at every age, it’s important to pay attention to transitions—especially the transition between the elementary ages and the tween years—helping everyone who is involved in a child’s life to get on board with the same vision.
Chris White, NextGen pastor at Fountainhead (Carson City Foursquare Church) in Carson City, Nev., describes how he “blurs the lines” between age groups as children transition from one age group to the next.
“I look at age groups as a whole continuum, where transitions are seamless,” he explains. Chris describes how NextGen ministry becomes more of a “pipeline,” where typical lines are blurred and traditional “silos” broken down, and where ministries work in conjunction, not competition, with one another.
People, Not Programs
Janet Hattem, NextGen representative for the Northeast District, puts it succinctly: “Ministry is connected to people, not to programs.”
NextGen ministry works best when it is family-based rather than program-oriented. It’s vital to create a culture of mutual support where churches focus on extending their vision outward to the parents.
“No one has more potential to influence a child than a parent,” Lynn asserts.
Sometimes churches look at tween and youth ministries as the most important places to focus resources, but it’s equally important to resource younger children and their parents. Lynn promotes spending time with parents around a table, engaging with them face-to-face and finding out their needs.
Just as they rely on coaches and teachers to teach specialized skills, parents have traditionally “outsourced” the spiritual development of their children. Parents often feel ill-equipped to handle their child’s spiritual education, so they default to relying on the Sunday school “experts.”
In contrast, Lynn asks a potent question: “Can we imagine a scenario where parents are equipped to train their children at home with an understanding that they have a vital church family who wants to be involved in every transition, reinforcing scriptural and home values?”
In addition to the “family factor,” another equally important component is developing fundamentals of doctrine in ministry to young ones. As a 2006 Barna report noted, the church is falling behind in the areas of discipleship and developing lasting faith formation.
Heidi Strickler, assisting minister at Harbourtown Community (Vermilion Foursquare Church) in Vermilion, Ohio, comments: “The church as a whole has gotten weak on discipleship.”
Heidi makes the observation that, in trying to become more relevant to a younger and more sophisticated generation, the church has sometimes moved away from systematic Bible teaching. She is working in her own church to create standards and benchmarks, so that assessments are in place at each level to gauge how successful teachers and pastors are in their disciple-making.
“We must have a mechanism by which we grade ourselves,” Heidi states.
Children are like sponges, and everything we teach them is absorbed. But a sponge can only hold so much before it needs to be squeezed out. As children transition from early elementary school into their tween years, they need real opportunities to put their faith into practice. The common trend of children pulling away from the church during their tween years happens when they are not effectively engaged.
Brian Goodell, senior pastor of The Bridge (San Mateo Foursquare Church) in San Mateo, Calif., admits that tween ministry in his church was not a novel idea, but he had to define a vision for tweens that was born out of an observation that the 4th- and 6th- graders in his church were becoming disinterested and disengaged. They clearly wanted something deeper—deeper worship and deeper connection to the Living Word of God.
John Cox, NextGen representative for the Pacific Coast and Valleys District, looks at NextGen ministry as a three-stranded cord—it should involve parents, and it should release the unique gifts of each individual through a powerful encounter with the Word of God.
“Connecting kids to the Holy Spirit,” notes John, “comes experientially—not from a ‘talking head.’ When children serve and feel that they are part of a larger community, it sets them up to hear the call of God on their lives.”
Laurie Paterline, children’s pastor at New Hope (Fairmont Foursquare Church) in Fairmont, W.V., would agree. She equates some of her daughter’s spiritual growth to the level of service in which her daughter engaged.
She explains that allowing her teenage daughter to contribute to church ministry and take part in leadership roles has kept her interested and keen about her faith. Her gifts are recognized, and she experiences being an active contributor and valued participant—all in the context of community.
Laurie echoes a sentiment that will always ring true: “Children are never too young to hear and act upon what they hear from the Lord.”
You are reading Part 2 of a three-part series.
Read Part 1: “The Challenge”
Read Part 3: “Creating an Alternative to Culture” (available Sept. 6)
Get Resources » We’ve compiled a helpful list of NextGen resources, as recommended by fellow Foursquare leaders across the nation.
By: Amy Swanson, a pastor’s wife and director of women’s ministry at New Life Church, a Foursquare church in Santa Barbara, Calif.