Growing a Youth and Family Program is an achievable goal. What happens when a new family with children visits a ministry that doesn’t have anything for young congregants? Easy—they usually don’t return. But the same answer holds true if there is a program available that doesn’t meet the young congregants’ needs.
Having been raised in Unity, I can extoll the virtues of being raised in Truth. If you weren’t, can you imagine a childhood where your first nature was to say in your mind “I behold the Christ in you” to the child who cut in front of you waiting for the slide at the park? Where your first nature was to affirm your connection with the one God-Mind before you took any test, including college entrance exams? Where your first nature was to visualize yourself healthy and whole, singing “every little cell in my body is happy” when you began to feel sniffly? These are just a few benefits Unity has to share with young congregants.
The first step is to have the minister and board of trustees set the intention that young congregants have a place in the ministry. Setting aside a few moments for a special prayer and affirmation, as well as visualizing engaged young congregants as a part of the ministry, is extremely helpful.
Setting the intention begins the process. Choosing a qualified Unity Truth student who is good with people of all ages to organize, oversee and direct the program is next. Unity Worldwide Ministries’ Youth & Family Ministry Guide can help with that process.
So now the intention is set and we have someone in charge, what do you do first? That’s a trick question, because there are many things that need to happen. Are you going to start with having the young children have an object lesson on the sanctuary stage with an activity bag to engage them during the rest of the service? Or do you already have a space for the young congregants to meet? If you have a space, the next step is to look at your facility to be sure it’s appropriate for the young congregants.
Unity Worldwide Ministries’ Youth & Family Ministry Guide can also help with that process. Make sure you have enough spaces and large enough spaces for each age group, as well as strive to have appropriately sized furniture for the youngsters. Just as adults would be frustrated and uncomfortable in a kindergarten-sized chair, kindergarteners will find it difficult to focus and get any spiritual nourishment if they are expected to use adult-sized furniture.
Okay, so now you have a director and know where the children will meet. Next you need to determine what curriculum you are going to use. It’s important to have a fun, engaging, age-appropriate curriculum for each age group (preschool/elementary age and preteen/teen). A young congregant who did not have fun in Sunday school will not wish to return, just like an adult who might not have felt nourished and uplifted by the service. One of the simplest things I ever did was augment an existing curriculum with games. A child’s locus of control shifts from family and caregivers to peers at about 10 years of age, so the focus of Creative Expression needs to shift to interactive games.
Next on my checklist is the training of consistent volunteers. Young congregants will thrive in a program where they have the opportunity to bond with the same adults on a regular basis. Just by the nature of being a spiritual organization, we have the opportunity to truly make a difference in the lives of at-risk youth according to Search Institute’s research findings on the 40 Developmental Assets.
Having a significant non-parent adult role model in a youth’s life can really tip the scales towards towards success for young people. However, having willing warm bodies won’t do the trick. You have to empower volunteers with the tools and know-how to do what you are asking of them. Once trained and in the classroom, volunteers will stay longer and become more effective and impactful if consistently paired with the same adult partner, as they develop adult community in the microcosm of the youth community. Please know that while Unity Worldwide Ministries’ Youth & Family Ministry Guide offers a tremendous amount of information and training, your regional education consultants are your local go-to source for training of your volunteers.
Okay, so now you know what to do with your young congregants as soon as they arrive, but how do you attract young families? Several ideas which I’ve seen successful over the years are offering community festivals/events, parenting classes and family-friendly activities and events.
- Community festivals/events are open to those in community beyond the church with information packets available to families with young children (back-to-school, Fall, Christmas, Easter, Summer fun).
- Parenting classes help parents blend their growing spiritual knowledge with their parenting.
- Family game day allows children and parents to interact as a family with facilitators to guide the fun, spiritually-based play.
- Also consider offering family-friendly service projects, spiritual cinema and field trips, all with a spiritual twist.
Every ministry can create an environment in which you can effectively serve the young congregants in your community, grow a Youth and Family Ministry Program, and grow your ministry as a whole. It begins with intention and vision, followed by tools and support. Again, if you need support, please contact your regional consultants.Take our survey about ideas presented in this article. View the survey results of your peers.