We had a wonderful church community in our hometown, but then my husband had a job offer in Nashville that moved our family to a new city, and we began our search for a new church family.
Trying out churches can be intimidating in any city, but in Nashville—a city appropriately deemed the buckle of the Bible Belt—I was overwhelmed with the choices. With so many amazing churches in one city, how could we know which one would be right for us? Of course worship, teaching, and community outreach were a big part of our decision-making process, but as a mama of two tiny humans, my main concern with finding a church was finding a stellar children’s and youth program that would cultivate child development and a growing relationship with Jesus.
We visited a handful of churches that had great community. When we checked our kids into one children’s church in particular, we could see giant bounce houses and a balloon artist making animal balloons for all the kids. I just knew this would be the church my kids were going to be the most excited about.
But to my surprise, I asked my 5 year old daughter after our first visit how she liked the children’s church, and her response was “Well, we had a lot of fun but they didn’t talk about that guy Jesus at all.”
I was shocked for a couple of reasons. First, she could care less about all the fancy entertainment the church offered. She was curious about Jesus and was looking for her church experience to teach her. And second,it seemed from this visit that the church was not making teaching a priority. The children’s ministry appeared to be more of a supervised kids playground experience. I felt sadness in my heart in that moment, because I knew that no matter how awesome the adult experience was, I would never be able to fully invest my heart in a place where my children’s faith was not being intentionally cultivated toward relationship with God. Needless to say, we did not return.
I’ve shared this experience with several friends, and I know I’m not alone in making my children’s faith a priority when it comes to church membership. It can be hard for Christian families to know how to choose the right church or youth ministry. A great place to begin is simply to talk to the church’s youth ministers and children’s pastors to gain insight on their approach to teaching kids about the Bible and Jesus. You could call, email, or even schedule a church visit/tour.
We have created a list of a few things you could ask about in order to help get you started on the right path when it comes to your own church hunt.
Ask children’s pastors, “What are your church’s core values? What types of teachings does your church focus on, and how are they a part of your children’s and youth curriculums?“
What Makes Your Church Different?
The need for quality children’s and youth programs is real. This is an impressionable time of their lives as they grow in their faith. Find out why they feel their church is special. Ask questions like, “How did you know this was the right home church for you?” And, “What sets your children’s curriculum and programs apart?”
How Do You Handle Volunteers and Staff
I once attended a church while I was single and childless. I had attended only one month when I received an email that said the following Sunday I was scheduled to volunteer in children’s church. The problem was, I hadn’t applied to volunteer, nor had anyone formally invited me to do so. Upon further investigation, I learned that it was church policy that every single person who attended their church be placed on the “childcare rotation.”
This made me uncomfortable for many reasons, mainly on a safety level. I was still pretty new to this community, and while I liked children and had experience teaching Sunday school, no one at this church really knew me, no one performed a background check, and no one discussed bringing me into their program prior to my assignment. It felt completely irresponsible to me that a church would just invite anyone in off the street to be in charge of their most precious members.
Be sure to ask children’s and youth ministers about how volunteers and ministry workers are trained, if they complete background checks, and how volunteers are added to their roster. We want people teaching our children who have beautiful relationships with Jesus, who are passionate about children, and who are safe and trustworthy to be in charge of these tiny humans we love so much.
If youth group activities, ministry opportunities, mission trips, and community service are important character building elements for your family, find out what types of outreach the church offers for their youth groups. Ask, “How involved are the youth in other ministries and activities?”
Beyond Sunday Mornings
Your home church should be a strong and thriving community that does more than just meet on Sunday to sing a few songs and read a passage from the book of James. If you have young children, you’re probably interested in a Parents Day Out program or VBS. Your teen may like to know about an upcoming youth group lock-in or retreat. Ask, “Besides Sunday School, what other activities are offered (retreats, VBS, Mom’s Day Out, and so on)”
Creating a space to learn and dialogue with the church staff about their core values, how they manage volunteers, their youth group outreach opportunities, as well as what is offered beyond attending Sunday services is a great place to start and engage with church leadership. Finding a space to worship that engages our children and teaches them about God’s love is totally possible. Using the questions above has certainly helped our family find an amazing place to land in our new city.
Let us know what you think! Head over to our Instagram and Facebook pages and tell us how you found your church and what you love about the community you share there! If you’re still hunting, let us know what you’re experiencing during your search! We are here for you and will continue to bring you quality Christian parenting and Christian homeschooling resources to support you on this journey.