I recently attended the funeral of Mrs. Joyce Davidson, who was my kindergarten and 1st grade Sunday school teacher. For those two years, I walked into the classroom where Mrs. Joyce and her husband, Mr. Aubrey, were always present and ready to greet me with a smile.
I sat in the classroom where they told me about Jesus and modeled what it meant to follow Him.
If you had known me at that age, you’d know that these teachers had their hands full! I can still remember her patient and gentle voice telling me that she loved me—even when I was certainly being unlovable.
Joyce and Aubrey were teachers in children’s ministry for more than 35 years. Even though I was only in their classroom for two years, Mrs. Joyce continued to love me and be an influence in my life well into adulthood.
They even went so far as to send me a birthday card every single year until I turned eighteen. Sometimes she’d even put $5 in the card and tell me to have fun with it!
After the funeral, I got to tell Mr. Aubrey how much he and his wife meant to me. I shared how big of an impact they both made in my life. I told him how I try to train leaders for our children’s ministry based on the examples they set. That’s when Mr. Aubrey shared wisdom and advice that we all need to hear.
He leaned and said, “You tell the leaders to keep loving those kids. You can’t teach kids love; you have to live it. And tell them to just keep on loving kids, planting the seed, and then you get to see what God does.”
The Davidsons lived out the definition of relational ministry. Relational ministry focuses on connecting with the heart of the child. It is being present when they arrive at church and being active in their lives outside of church. It is loving children as Christ does with the purpose of helping them to hear the truth of the Gospel.
When I was a six-year-old boy disrupting their class, I never had a doubt that Mr. Aubrey and Mrs. Joyce loved me and cared about me. They had shown it in so many ways. This relationship was the pathway they created and used to pass the message of the Gospel into my life.
We never can know just how God is using us or our teams to impact the life of a child. As we prepare our teams for the upcoming ministry year, this summer is a great opportunity to evaluate our ministry. It’s a good time to think about the power of relationships.
To help you, here are 4 steps you can take to build a more relational ministry.
1. Make People the Priority
Children’s ministry is full of tasks. Choose curriculum, prepare classrooms, clean toys, schedule leaders, and clean it all up to do it again next week. We will naturally drift towards the to-do list of tasks. These can unfortunately make our ministry more about tasks than people.
This is why the first step to building a relationship ministry is to make people the priority.
In the same way that we would create a to-do list of tasks, we need to carve out time for the relational connections that need to occur weekly. Intentionally set aside time in your week to have coffee with a leader, to call a parent, or to enjoy ice cream with a group of kids.
These relational investments pay huge dividends over time.
I challenge you to divide your to-do list into a “Task” and “People” column to ensure you make time for connecting with people. Focus on building the relationships your ministry needs. Tasks will likely be the larger quantity of our time, but our ministries need the quality time of doing life together.
2. Keep the Focus on a Few
When you read the first step, you probably had a moment of panic. You may have thought, How will I do all that?
Unless you’re a superhero, you can’t! Once the number of kids, parents, and leaders reaches twenty, you’ve likely reached a point when you need help to adequately pour into those relationships. This is when you implement the next step and keep the focus on a few.
Just to be clear, keeping the focus on a few doesn’t mean you build relationships with some people and ignore others. It means that you prioritize a few relationships to pour into with the understanding that they will also pour into a few who pour into a few…and so on.
This is the model of relational ministry that Jesus employed as He called His disciples. He spent more time with the disciples so that they could continue to minister throughout Judea, Samaria, and to the ends of the world.
A good rule is to make sure that every fifteen individuals have someone who is caring for them. This ratio ensures that every kid, parent, or leader is known and loved on more than a superficial level.
It also ensures that leaders charged with shepherding these fifteen can do so without sacrificing the time it takes for family, work, and other relationships.
3. Plan and Prepare for Connection
Relational ministry doesn’t just happen. It requires intentionality. It requires us to plan ahead so that relationships can form and grow every time our ministry doors are open.
The third action reminds us that we need to plan and prepare for connection.
Ministry gatherings can be hosted to foster relationships that help kids, leaders, and parents grow in their relationships with Jesus.
As you choose curriculum and plan for your regular programming, try to provide opportunities for kids to make friendships in the classroom. While preparing to train volunteers on your team, think about how you will create space for them to connect. When communicating with parents, create a way for them to encourage and support one another through in-person or online groups.
This upcoming week, simply walk slowly through the hallways so people know that you are inviting leaders, children, and parents to connect with you. As you walk, look closely to see where you can better plan and prepare for relationships to grow.
4. Celebrate Relationships Publicly and Often
It’s important to see our ministries grow in relationships. If this is our desire, we need to remember that we cultivate what we celebrate. The aspects of our ministry that we get excited for and talk about are the very things that our leaders will value and strive to achieve. For this reason, we want to celebrate relationships publicly and often.
A few weeks ago, I got the opportunity to share with all our volunteer team how one of their teammates, Don, invested in a small group of boys during their 4th grade and 5th grade year. We highlighted Don’s faithfulness to serve every week and how it led to one of the boys asking Don to baptize him in church.
It was such a beautiful reminder of how leaders can make an eternal impact on kids.
As we see the gospel changing lives of kids and families, it’s important that we take time to celebrate the leaders who invest with those kids and share Jesus with them. Leaders who hear these stories will better understand the purpose and goal of their service.
Find a leader this week and share a story about their impact with the rest of your team.
I pray these 4 steps are helpful in building a more relational ministry. I hope you will take the challenges given and start making steps to make people the priority, to focus on a few, to plan and prepare for connection, and to celebrate relationships publicly and often.
I have one more challenge for you. Just as I promised Mr. Aubrey, I want to train other leaders based on the example he and Mrs. Joyce set for me.
I’ll leave you with the advice he asked me pass along, “Keep loving those kids. You can’t teach kids love; you have to live it. Just keep on loving kids, planting the seed, and then you get to see what God does.”