Safe ministry requirements in our churches are an important part of loving and caring for our smaller church members. Yet the Rev Kate Haggar, a children’s ministry advisor for Youthworks, encourages us not to see compliance with safe ministry guidelines as the end of the story.
“We make a bit of a mistake when we aim for the bare minimum for safe ministry standards,” she says. She suggests that, instead of asking what child-to-leader ratios are needed to meet our legal obligations, we should be asking the more important question: How many leaders do we need to effectively disciple these kids?
Here’s why your church should consider aiming above the minimum child-to-leader ratios in your ministry to children..
Discipling kids matters
The statistics are clear: with 78 per cent of Christians coming to faith before they turn 20, kids’ ministry really does matter. For many believers, the foundations of their faith are laid in their early years of life, through Sunday school, family devotions and youth group.
“‘It is more than reading Bible stories,” Miss Haggar says of children’s ministry. “It is making disciples.”
This means we need to reframe our view of kids’ ministry from trying to fill in time while the adults learn. The lessons, games and craft we share are part of actively fulfilling the Great Commission under God.
We want to consider how we can best minister to the kids in our care. That may mean having one or two more leaders on our team to have one-on-one conversations and make sure every child understands the good news of Jesus.
The gospel is for everyone
We know nothing is perfect this side of heaven, so disability and neurodivergence (that is, conditions such as ADHD, autism and dyslexia, which affect a persons’ sociability, attention span, and the way they learn) will always be a reality. But another reality is that each one of us has inherent worth by being “fearfully and wonderfully made” in God’s image (Psalm 139:14).
Just as Jesus did not discriminate in his earthly ministry between race, religion or ability, we need to make it clear that the free gift of salvation is open to everyone – including those who look or think differently.
Sadly, many of our churches are not equipped to reveal the love of Jesus to children with neurodivergence. Miss Haggar says the churches don’t have bad intentions, just not enough time or leader resources to treat every kid as an individual. Yet it’s important that we don’t let these barriers get in the way of helping each child understand the gospel.
“We could be turning them away from Jesus if we aren’t able to stop and think about what the child needs,” she says. Reconsidering how many leaders we have on our teams may be one way of practically improving our ministry to kids with different needs.”
Every child is unique
“Just because something works for one child, doesn’t mean it will work for others,” Miss Haggar says. Rather than thinking, “How do I get them to do what everyone else is doing?”, we should get to know what each child loves, struggles with and engages with.
She encourages kids’ ministry leaders to think about where one-on-one conversations and relationships can happen. It may not help all kids, but there will be some who will benefit from it immensely. This is where improving our child-to-leader ratios can be a helpful way to personally love each child. We want to remove every possible obstacle to children grasping the amazing reality of God’s grace.
There are plenty of educational resources available for your team to keep thinking about effectively discipling children. You can also reach out to Kate Haggar at email@example.com for further advice.