This past weekend, I had the opportunity to attend the Orange Tour. It was the first time they came to New England, so we made sure we were there! It all started with the Lead Small opening session and workshop on Thursday night. The main event happened all day on Friday.
For those unfamiliar with Orange, please take a moment to read my full explanation in a previous blog post (click here).
Reggie Joiner, the CEO of Orange, was joined by several other family ministry leaders to share some incredible wisdom over the two-day event. Rather than regurgitate every session and workshop for you, I thought I would, instead, share five take-aways. I learned much more than what is listed below, but most of it boils down to these five principles. I hope they can help your church’s family ministry, as much as they have helped mine.
Before I jump in, I do want to acknowledge that some of these ideas are not brand new from Orange, nor are they going to revolutionize your understanding of family ministry just by reading them. Most of them are probably important reminders—things that we already know but probably could use more attention in our ministry. Likewise, some of these might be something you already know but you’re struggling to put them into practice for various reasons. Know that I am praying collectively for your ministry, and if I can help in any way, please let me know!
We need to have a strategy.
I feel like the Orange mindset is more like a philosophy of ministry. Churches will choose to implement it in different ways, but the idea is the same—connect the church and the home. We still need a strategy, though. Without strategy, we will just be flying by the seat of our pants doing whatever with no clear end in mind. We need to know what a win looks like in order to know we have actually achieved it.
Joiner explains strategy as “a plan of action with an end in mind.” So, first we need to have that end in mind. What is your church’s end goal for children, teens, and adults? What do you hope for kids by the time they enter middle school? What will a teenager look like, spiritually, when they graduate high school? What do you want your parents to know and do? What should the other adults in your church be doing to continue their discipleship and help others become disciples? We have to start with the end in mind.
Once we have the goal, we need to develop a strategy to accomplish it. One strategy shared by Stuart Hall centers around Orange’s new “Phase Project,” which looks at the different developmental phases kids go through. The goal is to help kids be holistic followers of Jesus. Hall says that we need to anticipate what is coming next for each phase. So, through their research, they found that we must have conversations with kids in three areas: technology, sexual integrity, and healthy habits. At every phase, we need to leverage the distinct opportunity for that phase to leverage their future.
Another strategy was shared by Mike Park. His win was for teenagers to show authentic faith in light of three relationships: with God, with self, and with others. Therefore, he chooses to focus on four faith skills in middle school and high school: hear from God, pray to God, talk about God, and live for God. For example, middle schoolers need to learn how to use the Bible and develop devotional habits. High schoolers need to further their devotional habits and learn how to relate Scripture to their present circumstances. This keeps both groups focusing on hearing from God, but it looks different depending on their development stage.
Your strategy may look different than either of these. That’s okay. The important thing is that we need to have a strategy instead of randomly doing ministry. So, if you don’t yet have the end in mind, figure out what that is first. Then, develop a strategy around that goal to help you achieve it.
Move priorities to the rest of the week.
The themes of the Orange Conference earlier this year and all the Orange Tour stops this fall is based on the idea that “Monday is Coming.” Far too often, churches operate with the mentality that Sunday is coming, which means that most of the leadership’s effort goes into making sure Sunday morning programming goes well. Joiner says, “If we are Sunday minded, we are no Monday good.”
We need to move our focus from the programs that happen inside our walls to all the things that happen outside our walls the rest of the week. This does not mean we stop focusing on our programs altogether. It simply means our priority goes to the rest of the week, and we let that influence our teaching, activities, and programs.
To move the focus onto the rest of the week, we need to prioritize those who aren’t yet coming. We need to think about what happens to kids and teens outside of our church. We need to spend our week investing in kids, parents, and volunteers. And we have to be okay with making some people uncomfortable. Joiner states, “If you want people to come who aren’t yet coming, you’re probably going to have to make people who already come mad.”
When we change our mindset and our priority, though, more children, teens, and adults will come to know who Jesus is. For an example, we don’t have to look any further than Jesus, Himself. This is exactly how He ministered. He didn’t prioritize a weekly one-hour gathering. He was with people, teaching and ministering as He lived life alongside them. He got to know people, and He taught them based on their given situation. He used examples that really meant something to them.
Joiner says, “If you want to influence a kid’s everyday faith, you need to start thinking about their Monday world.” Jesus was definitely not Sunday-minded, and we shouldn’t be either.
Relationships are really important!
You have probably heard it said many times that the reason people stick around your church is not because of the amazing music or preaching. Maybe they initially came because of those reasons, but the reason they stick is because they connected with someone.
One of the best ways to get people in relationships with one another is to provide small group environments where they can meet others and help each other grow. Hall says, “What happens in a group cannot be replicated by the world or culture.” This is incredibly freeing to those of us who do not serve at churches with massive budgets to create some incredible weekly program with lights, smoke, etc. Instead of thinking we need to create some huge program to attract kids, we should focus on creating small group environments where they can connect.
What people of all ages are really looking for are those meaningful connections with others, and we can provide that within the church. Starting in your kids ministry, small groups need to be an integral part of what happens. And each of those groups need at least one (preferably two) dedicated and committed leaders who will make it a priority to be there every week.
Within those groups, critical conversations can take place regarding all aspects of life. Group leaders can really get to know their members—something that is difficult in a large group environment. They can create a place where individuals can express their doubts in a safe place, they can ask for prayer, and they can hold each other accountable. Even more, they can connect outside of their weekly meetings for even more relationship-building opportunities.
We must connect with parents.
Far too often, churches have operated in silos. The children’s ministry does its own thing while the student ministry does whatever it wants, and the adults are doing something completely different. Church leaders don’t even communicate with each other to develop a common strategy, encourage one another, or even know what the other is doing. The Orange philosophy is all about connecting the church and the home. In order to accomplish this, one thing that needs to happen is that children and student ministry leaders need to cross over and minister to the parents of their kids.
One thing we can do for parents is make sure they are informed about what we’re discussing in our weekly programs and small groups. We also need to provide resources for them to become better parents. Joiner says, “When your church changes how they see parents, parents will change how they see the church.” We must prioritize connecting with and resourcing our parents. If you’re not sure if you’re focusing on parents enough, take a long look at your calendar, curriculum, website, and small group leaders.
When I thought of this, though, I initially thought that meant that I, as the student minister, need to take initiative and meet all the parents of our teens. I thought it meant that I need to be the one who is not only pouring into the students, my weekly messages, and planning activities, but I was also partnering with parents. That is not entirely accurate, though. This responsibility needs to be shared with the students’ small group leaders. Children’s ministers and student ministers need we equip and empower their volunteers to connect with the parents of their students.
Kristen Ivy gave six simple, yet important, ways for small group leaders to connect with parents. First, she said we need to meet the parents. It’s amazing how many parents we have not even met yet. Second, we also we need to give them access to us. Third, we need to leverage technology to connect with them on a regular basis. Fourth, we need to show up when they show up. That means to be where parents are. Fifth, we need to help parents find answers. This often involves connecting with with other parents. Finally, we need to say positive things to parents about their kids and visa versa. Similarly, we also need to encourage parents in their parenting. If we focus on these six ways to connect with parents, we will definitely be in better shape!
Involve students in service.
Those of you in children or student ministry have probably heard or even used a phrase similar to the following: Kids are not the church of tomorrow; they are the church of today. Unfortunately, we often say that but don’t put it into practice. The church is not some organization where only adults can serve. In fact, even Jesus didn’t go after only a group of adults to follow Him and be the church. The Apostles were most likely teenagers.
If you want to include students in the life of the church, you need to do one simple task: include them! We are seeing more and more statistics proving that teenagers stick with their faith and church-involvement when they feel like they are needed. We cannot allow children and teens to merely come to church. We need to help them find their place and become the church.
Through the years, I’ve realized less and less teenagers are excited about the “traditional” outreach events (i.e. amusement parks, lock-ins, concerts). Instead, I talk to more and more student ministers who say their students are more excited to invite their friends to service opportunities. The same goes for our group. This next generation wants to serve. They want to make a difference, and the church can help provide those opportunities.
Often, most churches think this means to have a “youth service” every once in a while, where the teens run the worship service. While this is not inherently bad, I urge you to consider an alternative. What if teens were involved in the life of your church every week? What if they played instrument, ran the sound board, and greeted people right beside the adults? What if we were purposeful in connecting them with younger kids to allow them to lead? Would they not feel more connected and a part of the body? Would they not learn more about what it means to be the church and how to do church?
Bonus: Share it with your team!
All of these points should not be kept at a “top tier” leader level. We have to share them with our team. When we develop a strategy, pass it on to your other leaders. In fact, maybe you should even include them in developing the strategy. We need to build relationships with them and help them do the same for others. Specifically, we need to help them pour into the parents of those in their small groups. We have to help them move their focus to the rest of the week. And we need to help them recognize the gifts and abilities within their group members, so they can help get them plugged into service opportunities.
If we want to do a better job in family ministry, we must knock down the silos, work together with others, and share the responsibility! And as a leader of leaders, I urge you to be what one of my mentors, Doug Fields, calls a “Spotlight Leader.”