In April of 2013 I stepped down from my children’s pastor position due to the issues that arise when you can no longer hide your depression and anxiety disorders. It’s been just over a year since I’ve prepped a service, led a game, worked a puppet, preached an illustrated sermon or taught a memory verse. I miss the kids… but not Easter, Halloween and Kids Camp! But that’s a topic for another post.
These days I find myself on the other-side of children’s ministry. Now I take my two children, 9 and 6, to someone elses kids church. We’ve been to several in fact. The view is quite a bit different out here than it was in there and I’d like to share as much as I can remember with you. It’s a unique perspective. I’m not another quirky parent demanding fundamental changes that only benefit my particular child. I’m a 13-year children’s ministry veteran who for now is standing in your check-in line. Here are some things that I noticed that were important to me:
1. I want to know who’s teaching my kids
I know how impossible this would have seemed for me. Pre-service was easily the most hectic time for me as a CP trying to tie down loose ends, sending volunteers here and there, trying to get the projector turned on and cast out whatever demon was in the sound system that week. But as a parent visiting for the first time, I wanted to at minimum see who would be teaching my kids. This meant I wanted them right there at the drop-off point ready to introduce themselves and shake my hand. I never, never, never did this. After church maybe, but never before.
2. I Want to See the Room
As a CP I never thought that the stage set really mattered much. I believed that the ministry done on the stage was the most important, and it is, but parent’s don’t see the ministry, they see the set. When I visited a church with a nice, bright, clean room with a stage set that didn’t look like it was built by pre-teens 10 years ago, it made me feel a heck of a lot more comfortable leaving my kids there. A great room tells me that this church values my kids. That all the money isn’t going to the “big show”.
3. I Want to See the Room (II)
I do actually want to be able to see the room my kids will be in. Several churches we visited, in the interest of security I’m sure, took my kids at a drop-off point out of sight of the actual kid’s ministry location. I never once liked this. I understand the need for security. I’m security’s biggest fan, but parent’s aren’t the bad guys. Drop-off is not a security risk… picking up is. If we’re that concerned about first-time visitors stealing kids then have a volunteer walk us back.
4. I Want a Computer Check-in System
Even with my unique perspective and having dealt with computer-based check-in/out for years (definitely a love-hate relationship) I now realize that the sense of security is what I want. I’ve been processed through five different check-in systems. Each has their bells and whistles. The most important thing to me as a parent was that the church had one and that the volunteers followed a procedure. I didn’t really care about the details: how it worked, what the symbols meant, that my family had a unique code. The bottom line when you’re five minutes from service starting and new is: There’s a computer and a system is in place. We visited one rather large church who surprisingly didn’t have a computer-based system. It was a system, but it was a bit like a raffle ticket. The kids had a badge with a hand written number and we got a ticket with the same number. Simple, but it worked… but I will say that. If you don’t have a computer-based check-in system, have a system of some kind… and if it’s not electronic, I want to know how it works… and someone has to tell me verbally. A half-sheet handout isn’t going to make me feel more comfortable with your security creation.
5. I Want to Keep My Kids Together
But only the first time! This was always a huge beef I had with first-time visitors. “I want my kids–one is three and the other is 13 but very immature–to be able to stay together so that the little one can distract your kids and the oldest can teach them curse words!” I always answered yes, but insisted that the oldest go with the youngest to class. This helped little-guy find friends and made big-guy want to get out of there ASAP. As a first-timer myself I now realize why we want them to stay together. It’s because I’m dropping both of them off into a huge room with blaring music full of random kids all doing god-knows-what. It’s not that I want to break your rules. It’s not that I have wimpy kids that can’t bear to be apart. I just don’t want my kids to be alone. At one church the kids were led into a classroom setting for pre-service. Neither of my kids thought twice about entering. It was a setting they were familiar with… school. They knew what to expect just from the look of the place. Were I do start over again I would have drop-off in Sunday School rooms then bring them to service 5-10 mins later… then take them back for pick-up! Parents can visit the Kids Church because there’s no kids there. The chaos of a kids church is just an overwhelming, unwelcoming place. Totally the opposite of what I believed as a CP.
6. I Want to Know What My Kids Learned
In short, I want my kids to have a half-sheet of paper that tells me what they learned about. It needs to have the series title, message title, main scripture reference, a recap of the story/sermon… and maybe even some bulleted highlights. These things will help me find out what my kids learned. They’re going to say “Ummm” every time until I say, “But what did she do with the cup illustration?” and then they’ll talk for 45 mins about every detail of the service. Give me the half-sheet. I used to hand them out and believed that they were never read. I may have been right… but it’s not your job to get them read… it’s your job to put them out there.
7. I Want Them to Have Met Someone Their Gender and Age
When I did kids church I didn’t sit the kids boys-and-girls. I sat them by grade… and they sorted themselves into separate boy and girl clumps within grades without my help. I did this for one reason. When a first-timer came in I had a pre-sorted group of kids her age to introduce them to and sit with. For my kids to say they had a good time, one of the components that seemed most important was “I made a friend!” Some churches kept the kids so busy from drop-off to pick-up that no child had time to talk to another. We went 9 weeks to two different churches and my kids made zero friends. In one case there wasn’t time… and in the other the seating didn’t allow for it. Church kids should be coached on greeting and accepting new kids… then kicked in the pants every single time to actually do it. You’ll need a few in each grade… from each gender.
8. I Don’t Want Them to Have Candy
I love candy. I love using candy in kids church. I used to say, “God is a rewarder of those who earnestly seek him… and so am I”. Ha ha! Funny joke right? Now that I’m on the other end I hate candy after church. They’re about to eat lunch, they’re teeth are rotting out of their heads as it is and they are bombarded with candy everywhere! When I was a kid I got candy at halloween, easter and my birthday. My kids have almost unlimited access to the stuff. I hate that I’m so anti-candy… just like I always hated the snarky way those parents would say, “Oh, my kids don’t eat candy.” But I understand it now. There are tons of ways to reward good behavior in kids church without resorting to food or candy. We visited several churches who didn’t use candy and not once did my kid’s complain or even notice. If you have a tight, well-prepared service behavior issues are minimized right out of the box… and for those special cases… you know what I’m talking about… does the candy really help? Nope. Get rid of it. “What do I use instead?” you ask. A great time.
9. I Want Them to Have a Children’s Pastor
Some of the hipper churches we visited had a group of wonderful volunteers who led the children’s service. There was a kid’s director… but they coordinated and we never saw them except on the website. I’m not a fan. My kids deserve their own pastor. The big-church pastor is intimidating. No child in the history of the world has ever approached a big-church pastor with a problem. A group of volunteers who can carry a service alone is a rare and wonderful thing… but call me old school… I think kids need a children’s pastor. Here are a few more: Dark rooms are scary. So is loud music and crazy lights. Sometimes I want to check on my six-year-old without them noticing, this should be okay. I want to visit kids church to see what my kid’s are experiencing. This does not make me a pedophile and I shouldn’t have to complete a background check. Pastor, I know you think none of us likes you, but you need to greet every parent every week just like the big-church pastor does. It’s not that we don’t like you… we don’t know you… and you’re a pastor. It’s your job to show us you’re approachable. So there’s the short list. How did this information strike you? I know my experience has changed the way I will do children’s ministry (if I do) in the future. I’d love to chat about it in the comments or email me directly: firstname.lastname@example.org.