I began a music internship at a church when I was sixteen, and I have been in ministry ever since. Working in and with churches is the only thing I have ever really done. I am like a lot of church leaders who simply believe the church is our best hope to influence a generation to follow Jesus.
Honestly, I am a little skeptical about non-profits or parachurch organizations (even Orange) unless I understand how they support the local church. There’s a lot I don’t know how to do: I can’t fix a car, grill a steak, ice skate, or even debate soccer or enneagrams intelligently. But fortunately, I have been surrounded by some of the most incredible thought leaders who continue to confirm that investing in kids and teenagers should be a priority.
So, that’s what I will keep doing for the rest of my life. That’s also why I challenge every leader I meet to Think Orange.
Thinking Orange is basically an invitation to look at how the church can partner with families to influence a generation. Whether you use an Orange resource or not, the work you do as a kids ministry or youth ministry leader is the most important work on the planet.
There are plenty of great children’s ministry and youth ministry curriculums designed by amazing leaders who give their life to developing curriculums. But, I believe so strongly that most churches shouldn’t try to write their own curriculum that I will gladly recommend others besides Orange.
If you and I were sitting at a table having a conversation about curriculum, here is what I’d tell you.
Prioritize Developing Volunteers Over Creating Curriculum
If I was your lead pastor, I wouldn’t want you to write your own curriculum. I would want you to develop leaders who love kids.
I know you think you can do both.
But, you can’t.
Even if you think you can write it a little better than an organization that spends hundreds of thousands of dollars to write it, the cost to your team and your church will not be worth the difference. I would rather you use a curriculum that you don’t think is as good as what you can do, so that you can leverage most of your time and budget to develop better leaders.
Great volunteers are much more important than incrementally improving your curriculum.
Simply put, the time, energy, and resources it takes to create ongoing weekly experiences could actually hinder you from focusing on the relational and strategic goals of your ministry.
I understand that some of you have an itch to create what is taught every week. You can accomplish just as much and more if you tweak a curriculum that has editable documents. If I were you, I would also do some customizing, tweaking, and editing of whatever curriculum I choose. Just like some of you, I think I can improve something someone gives me. I even customize Orange curriculum when I use it to best serve whatever audience I am communicating to.
One of the greatest compliments we get as an organization is when a kids ministry or youth ministry leader says, “Thanks for giving me my life back. When I stopped trying to do everything and partnered with Orange, I was able to do the most important part of my ministry again.”
A good curriculum will actually save you money, and hours every single week.
Design a Comprehensive Strategy, Not Just a New Curriculum
The curriculum you teach on Sunday morning or Wednesday night or whenever you put kids in a room is just a small part of your plan. Sure, the curriculum is important. But, if you are going to disciple kids you need to look at more than just what you teach. You have to consider managing and monitoring at least five different systems if you’re going to create an effective ministry.
That’s what we mean when we say, “Think Orange.”
We have spent over a decade training churches to think about their strategy. Being strategic is harder than creating an engaging presentation each week. I am convinced that the distinction between churches that have lasting influence and those who don’t is their discipline to implement an effective strategy. I would even contend that it’s your strategy, not your mission that ultimately determines your success.
There are a lot of churches that have shut down that prove my point.
Churches usually don’t close their doors and sell their buildings because they were not preaching the Gospel. They were probably preaching plenty.
The reason they stopped having influence is because they didn’t have an effective strategy. That’s why championing a kid’s or youth ministry strategy is so important. Any smart strategist will tell you that reaching kids and teenagers in your town will keep your church alive. That’s why you need to think strategically, not just missionally. Your discipline to implement an effective strategy could determine how successfully you disciple someone.
Crafting a comprehensive strategy is key to effective ministry. It’s about going beyond curriculum selection and considering multiple dimensions that contribute to your discipleship process. Here are five core elements we think are essential to incorporate into your strategy:
Five Essential Strategies for Your Ministry
Before you settle on a curriculum, you need to decide what you want kids to become. If you are leading them into a growing relationship with Jesus, you should take a shot at defining what that relationship looks like. Make a list of what you want them to understand before you transition them to middle school, high school, or college. We do that with our 3-year plan, called a scope & cycle. Built into our plan, we have identified NINE CORE THEOLOGICAL INSIGHTS that we believe every kid and teenager needs to understand if they are going to develop an authentic faith.
A few years ago, we defined our messaging strategy in a book called It’s Just a Phase. It was written to help parents and leaders understand how child development should affect how we present theology to kids at every phase. The point is If you have a messaging strategy it means you have thought through what you want a kid to know when they exit your ministry. Then you adopt a curriculum that complements that approach. It’s up to you to ensure that what you say every week is connected to what you want them to know at the end of any given year.
It is also important to consider how you will expand the voices and perspectives required to influence an effective curriculum. Most theological leaders are skilled at teaching the Bible to people who think just like them. So, they tend to produce a curriculum that it is actually written by one or two people. But, effective curriculums engage a process that adds cultural context and childhood development expertise to teaching Scriptural principles.
Momentum happens when the key influencers and decision-makers on your team understand and champion the priorities of your ministry. Before you can expect your average volunteer and parent to get on the same page, you may need to make sure your lead pastor, key staff and leaders are on the same page. Too many churches are characterized by team members creating competing systems. Again, that’s why consistently articulating a common language and common values is so important.
I always tell young leaders, “You never have to work at getting misaligned. It just happens. But alignment as a team takes work. You have to be intentional if you want to keep moving together in the same direction.”
If I were oversimplifying what you do, I would remind you, “You are leading kids into a growing relationship with Jesus.” If you are “leading” kids, that implies that you are moving them in a direction. So, the obvious question to ask is, “Where are you moving them relationally?”
Here’s the reality. You can’t force kids or teenagers to have a relationship with Jesus. The only thing you can really do is to create an environment that gives them a better opportunity to move relationally toward God and others.
Sometimes in my ministry, I have actually forgotten that one idea. Your energy as a pastor or leader is actually focused on designing a consistent place for people to grow spiritually. The majority of your time is spent producing an environment where people listen, learn, worship, pray, share and connect. If “two or three are gathered,” then it’s an environment. Unfortunately, it’s easy to get so programmed or production-minded that we economize on leveraging what we do to move people relationally. If you want to disciple kids, then you need to lead them into a relationship with a consistent leader where they can become disciples.
If you have been around Orange you have probably heard us say, “Two combined influences will make a greater impact than just two separate influences.” Something powerful happens when the church is successful at partnering with parents to influence a kid’s spiritual growth. You are thinking Orange if you simply believe the church plus the home equals greater influence in a kid’s faith. It’s not a complicated idea and I’m sure most of us don’t need to be convinced. The hard part, however, is implementing a strategy that is actually designed to engage every parent.
The word “every” bothers most leaders because it sounds impossible. That’s actually why I like it. It’s a challenge to rethink how we see families in this current generation. It also acknowledges that every parent hopes to influence their child in a positive way. The realist in you may reject that notion, because you know a parent who doesn’t seem to care. But that’s not most parents. On the other hand, if you try to engage every parent, then chances are you will engage more parents than you would have. What would happen for example if you simply decided to work harder on a strategy to engage parents outside your church? It could actually change the way families see your church. Better yet, it could change the way your church sees every family.
You don’t have to agree with this, but just think about it. Kids will get over what we teach if it never becomes a part of their personal experience. Every statistic suggests that most kids who start out in church will quit going one day. A large percent will leave the church before they ever make it to their teenage years.
There is a lot of research that suggests one important way to help kids develop a lasting faith is to give them consistent opportunities to serve. I was fortunate to have spent several years learning from the late Dr. Diana Garland who was a professor for over a decade at Baylor. I was sitting in her office one day when she explained, “Everything I have researched suggests that service can have a greater impact on someone’s spiritual growth than Bible study, prayer or worship.” Her implication is that ministries need to make service a bigger deal. What if your priority as a leader isn’t simply to help kids know something, but it’s to convince kids to do something?
That’s why we think one of the most important things you can invite a generation to do is to actually live out the Great Commandment. If you say Jesus is the center of your ministry strategy, then it should make sense that what Jesus said is most important should be a priority in your ministry. Jesus was clear when He said that the “greatest commandment” is to “love God and to love your neighbor as yourself.”
Connect Kids to Leaders, Not Just Teachers
If the environments you create resemble a class or a concert, then you have a teaching model, not a discipleship model. Yes, it’s ok to teach or present truth in the context of your environment. You should. But please remember that the essence of discipleship should never be defined by how you present content.
There is no curriculum that will make disciples. Disciples make disciples.
Your best chance to disciple a kid is linked to the consistent leader you recruit to be in their life. I don’t care how good you are at communicating, your presentations can never be a substitute for the relationship kids and teenagers need.
Before COVID, I spent most of my weekends volunteering for small churches in a rural community outside of Atlanta. It reminded me every week how much kids really need a place to belong and a leader who consistently cares. But most churches have been programmed to create Sunday school classes that attempt to educate kids. Finding a presenter for a room is easier than developing a leader to disciple a small group of kids.
Besides, if you can’t find a communicator, we can give you a video that will be far better than most communicators. What we can’t give you is a leader who will personally engage in the life of a few fourth-grade boys. You have to recruit and develop that leader on your own. We actually do what we do, so you can do what only you can do. But please don’t miss this last point. Kids don’t need a teacher, they need a leader.
They need someone who . . .
knows them and cares about their faith.
will give them a place to belong.
shows them how to love and forgive.
believes in their potential.
If you are reading this right now, chances are, you believe what you believe and you do what you do because of the way someone influenced your faith.
More than likely, it wasn’t just one person, but several.
You are called to do more than simply make a presentation of the Gospel. You are called to invite leaders to engage in the messiness of humanity because of the Gospel.
Strategy, not your mission will determine your success
Regardless of the style or size of your church, your greatest asset to building faith in the next generation is not your Bible study, worship, facilities, or budget. The most valuable resources you have to help kids see God are the people in your church who know God. And if you hope to help a generation of kids know God, then you have to be strategic about how you connect them to leaders who believe in God and leaders who believe in them. We know recruiting volunteers to invest weekly in the lives of kids or students is not the only thing you have to do as a ministry leader. But we do believe it may be the most important thing you do.
- Act like it’s your strategy, not your mission that will determine your success.
- Prioritize what you teach around what Jesus said matters most.
- Try to engage every parent to influence their own kid’s spiritual growth.
- Give every kid a consistent leader and a safe place.
Just for the record we define an Orange leader as “Anyone who influences those who influence the faith of the next generation.”
So, if you are investing in volunteers and parents so they can lead kids or teenagers into a growing relationship with Jesus, then you are an Orange Leader. At least that’s the way we see it. Even if you don’t use Orange.