Let’s go a bit further before offering some suggestions and solutions.
If you or an outside consultant were to analyze your church programs, my educated guess is you or they will find very active churches with many enjoyable programs. But what is being accomplished toward true discipleship (another good CE word!). You will find Sunday school and other times children and youth meet. What coordination is there between these groups? Are the youth leaders sitting down with the children’s leaders to see what the other is doing? If a child is in those groups for several years will they receive well rounded, well planned training enabling them to know, be, and do what is needed for living in God’s Kingdom? Isn’t this what we demand from our schools? Then why are we not trying to accomplish something just as effective in our churches? Do we not think that discipleship is as important as what they learn in school?
A question for pastors: do you know what curriculum is being used in Sunday school? If not, how do you know it is not contradicting what you are teaching from the pulpit? Is your Sunday school using several different curricula? Why? Every curriculum has a different philosophy of what it wants to cover and when it will cover it. The use of multiple curricula means the same material does not allow a pattern in which a child naturally progresses from one stage to the next in a logical sequence. Pastors, we encourage you to PLEASE know and review what is being taught in your churches! (Christian Education and Publications and Great Commission Publications have regional trainers to help you with this).
It is a trend for colleges and seminaries to offer either a Youth Leaders’ program or Children’s Leaders’ program. Are these future leaders being taught that their group is part of a whole church? Or are we encouraging programs where each is doing their own thing? This approach teaches the groups to think individualistically instead of strategically. Do you want a church where every program does its own thing, or one that is united and striving to serve Christ’s Kingdom – together? Also, who are you training to pull together all the ministries so they are following the stated purpose of your church? Are you aware of what is being accomplished? If not, then you need to ask if your people are being discipled to live and advance the Kingdom of God. Don’t confuse busyness with growth; an active church does not mean it is accomplishing anything.
Bottom line: How does all this fit with your church’s mission or purpose statement? Does your church have such a statement? This statement tells everyone why your local church exists and what it is trying to accomplish. If you don’t have one, how do you know what you are accomplishing in the process?
Here pictured below is a sample of a typically active church. Note that each ministry is in place, but their ministries are all going in their own directions, and may or may not be accomplishing your church’s overall purpose and mission.
In the next image, each ministry is fulfilling the overall mission/purpose statement of the church in a coordinated and unified manner. Each ministry is aware of what the other is doing because all is coordinated. This strengthens each ministry and the church as a whole.
Does your church have a mission or purpose statement? If so, does every ministry leader know what it is? If not, how will they know if they are moving in the direction the church wants to go? If you don’t have one then try this: Ask each of your church leaders to write down what they believe to be your church’s mission. Then have them rank the five most important things they believe your church should be doing. Compare them. If you have five leaders you will probably have five different lists. What you have is chaos because each one is under the assumption his list matches everyone else’s.
How does this work in practice in your children and youth ministries? Both leaders should meet with the elders to make sure each is in line with the church’s goals. They will have to determine what they want their ‘graduates’ to know, be, and do. Once determined, it is time to work backwards to see what must be taught at each grade level in order to achieve this goal. What is the goal of your adult discipleship? It should be to see that every person in your congregation has a Christian worldview setting the direction of their lives according to the Bible. Disconnected sermons and Bible studies that jump from subject to subject or book to book without any planned objectives won’t accomplish this!