In September 2016 my husband and I planted a new multicultural service at Chester Hill Anglican. We started with 8 kids under 4 (not all ours!). Now we regularly have 30-40 kids on Sunday and many more at mid-week activities. Our kids come from very diverse ethnic backgrounds, many are refugees. My role in the church plant was to establish and grow this kids ministry.
Describe your kids ministry in 3 words.
Multicultural. Fluid. Valuable.
What has been your major challenge?
Church plants with small teams (like ours) have very limited resources. Our biggest challenge was to figure out how to best spend our precious resources. It seemed counter-intuitive to spend it on a few kids. However, we decided to invest a significant portion of my time (and other’s) in kids’ church even though it meant taking us away from other important ministries.
Furthermore, we didn’t really have any kids! Some weeks I would work hard on a K-6 program and no one would show up. I wondered ‘is it worth it?’ especially when people said to wait until more kids came and then sort it out. It was discouraging. As the team leader, I had to train up a team and keep up morale when I felt like it was a bit of joke. I just kept telling them the kids would (probably) come!
Under God, what has been your biggest win?
We had a hunch kids ministry would be strategic but it’s been far more strategic than we originally thought.
We knew that (roughly) 75% of people who become Christian do so before 18 and that we lose about 35% of kids before they are 18. So we knew kids ministry was important. We also knew kids attract kids. In a church plant you need momentum and kids can be a great way to get that. In God’s grace we watched that play out. They just started to multiply.
Not only that, as we got to know the area, we realized how important kids are in Chester Hill specifically. Firstly, we have more kids than the greater Sydney average. Just last week, two new mums joined us at playgroup. One had 7 kids, and the other had 9. Soon after we started our new service, a family of 10 joined us. It was so important at that point to have kids’ church up and running.
Secondly, it’s hard work establishing unity in a multicultural church, but kids can act like glue. Many of our new parishioners speak very little English. A conversation is painfully difficult, but they love to hang around and bounce a baby on their knee. Furthermore, kids are color blind. While the adults find it hard to cross cultural lines, the kids are teaching us a thing or two. My children are yet to realize they are (often) the only white kids there. They have no trouble getting their tongues around names that stump me. They bring us together through parties, play-dates and trips to the park. Kids often make good mediators in communities. While they are raised in traditional ways, they go to school in the dominant culture. That makes them ideal to help their parents connect with other cultures.
What three pieces of advice would you have for people running or starting a program for kids from a wide range of backgrounds?
1) Think as a whole
Inter-generational ministry is a buzzword in kids’ ministry circles at the moment. I’m so glad we’re starting to see its importance, and in multicultural ministry it makes even more sense. Many ethnic groups don’t see children as separate parts of the family unit – they play a key role in the church family community. This is good for everyone and needs to be encouraged.
2) Maintain the delicate balance between ‘professionalism’ (if that’s the right word) and flexibility
If you are starting a new kids ministry, it’s hard to look legit when you have two kids. However, it’s still important to have the formalities (e.g. good welcoming and sign-in processes, good kids spaces). You need to give parents confidence so they are happy to leave their child with you. Also, some cultures don’t cope well with informality. Its important things are run properly.
However, at the same time if you’re not a big church, you don’t need to act like one entirely. You have to adapt and be flexible depending on who comes.
3) Love what you do
Let’s face it – kids’ church is not glamorous. For many of us it’s a chore or a gap in the roster, not a passion. God has had to work in me over the past ten months from when I begrudgingly felt I’d been lumped with kid’s church.
However, over time I have got to know these little people. Many have faced more hardship in their short lives than we ever will. They have lost houses, family, the comfort of their homeland and more. These kids will grow up with real questions about God. It is a privilege to try and answer them.
 Bill Salier, ‘Three Numbers that convinced me to work with young people’ April 2016. Available online at: https://www.youthworks.net/articles/three-numbers-that-convinced-me-to-work-with-young-people
 Andrew Schatel, Choon-Hwa Lim & Michael K Wilson, Changing Lanes, Crossing Cultures, (Sydney, Great Western Press, 2016), 58.
 See Sarie King’s excellent paper on Inter-generational ministry at: http://www.effectiveministry.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/05/Intergenerational_Min-Research_Paper.pdf
 See chapter 3 of Patty Lane, A beginners Guide to Crossing Cultures, (Downers Grove, InterVaristy Press, 2002), 47-60.