Why Fun and Games Won’t Lead to Lifelong Faith

I want you to read this blog post. Because I think the message incredibly important. But I’ve learned if I don’t have a catchy title, people don’t click on the link and read the content. And I was stuck. So I plugged my post into ChatGPT and asked it to give me an irresistible title. Here’s what it came up with:

  • “Why Your Children’s Ministry Is Failing (And What You Can Do About It)”
  • “The Shocking Truth About Discipleship: It’s Not About Curriculum or Programs”
  • “Are You Making Disciples or Just Entertaining Kids? The Disturbing Reality of Children’s Ministry”
  • “The Great Ministry Myth: Why Fun and Games Won’t Lead to Lifelong Faith”
  • “Breaking Free from the Sunday School Mentality: How to Make Disciples That Last”

I find these titles interesting if only because this artificial intelligence seems to get it…but do we?

The other day, I was blessed to have a wonderful conversation with a new Children’s Coordinator in India. His brand-new role was to oversee the ministry to about 1,200 children in several churches in a large area. This was essentially the first time this particular denomination had tried to build a ministry like this and he basically asked, “How do I start a children’s ministry?” He had a laundry list of ideas—curriculum and programs that he could possibly use, resources he might need—a lot like the original birthday list that my son put together.

So, I asked him a simple question: “What is your goal?”

Over the last few years of working in children, youth, and family ministry, I’ve heard lots of goals articulated like “Make the Sunday school hour the best hour of the week!”

I have come to the conclusion that the only goal we should have in any ministry, no matter what age it is aimed at, is to make disciples. Disciples that are on a journey of lifelong faith formation as followers of Jesus.

Here’s the thing: A lot of the things on our list, things we think we need, we actually don’t need. Things like curriculum and programs and crafts and fun activities and missions trips and lock-ins and family movie nights and VBS. Those things are all tools we can use, but they are not what we actually need. We can make disciples without any of those things!

But there are some things we actually DO need if we are going to make disciples who are on a lifelong journey of faith formation. Non-negotiables. Essential things. Not tools to help us reach the goal, but things actually necessary for the completion of the goal. However, it is often these things that can take a backseat as we focus on the tools rather than the goal.

3 Things We Need

In 2017, Dr. Richard Ross, a professor at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, asked that question. Specifically, he states, “The issue really is not: How is our youth group doing today? Instead, the core question is: How will our youth group be doing for a lifetime?” (Source).  In answering that question, he proposed three needs that must be met for the goal of making disciples to be achieved. He based those three needs directly on Scripture consistent with the best current research concerning teenagers who follow Jesus for a lifetime.

1. Parents/Caregivers who adore Jesus, love the church, and are actively on mission.

2. An integrated community of believers where old and young interact in relationships and worship.

3. A Bible-drenched peer group who actively live out the gospel together.

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