Kids Ministry: A look at four British children's ministries

Thursday 1st April 1999

We spoke to four of Britain's leading exponents of children's ministry, JIM BAILEY, DOUG HORLEY, SAMMY HORNER and ISHMAEL, asking them some tough questions. Here are their illuminating answers

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"Simplicity also doesn't have to equal 'naffness'! Ishmael has written some brilliant, simple songs with qualify lyrics. I've memorised more Scripture through Ishmael songs than any other means! I also believe that children, especially eight to 11s, are becoming more aware and sophisticated in their musical taste at a much younger age, as they are being bombarded with music on CDROMs, etc, etc. If we are to be relevant to them we need to recognise what they enjoy and cater for it. That's why, as well as writing action songs, I've been experimenting with dance music, funky grooves and various other styles. It costs a fortune to do it well - but kids are worth it!

"I also really try and avoid clich├ęs and religious jargon in my songs. Sure, this lands me in trouble -'Great, great, brill, brill, wicked, wicked, skill, skill' is a good example of that! But I want to be relevant to kids and produce music and lyrics they can understand and relate to. Dance songs, fun songs, action songs - we need them all!"

Sammy Horner
Sammy Horner

I: "Two reasons. The first, a good song for children has a simple catchy melody with simple lyrics, it really is beyond criticism and analysis because even the most trite song is guaranteed to be a favourite of one age group between 0-11. How many reviewers has Cross Rhythms got who can really put themselves into the shoes of a child in this wide age bracket? Now to review 'adult' songs is a piece of cake... Secondly, they have not attended one of my seminars!"

What do you think when the Cedarmount Kids win Dove Awards?
SH: "I don't even think I know what I think about the Doves. As far as I can understand, Doves are an industry thing, which means sales, popularity and of course profit all come into the decision to give an award. Cedarmount Kids sells loads of records....that really scares me more than anything else. The answer to Q2 applies here...big time."

JB: "That's nice for them. Have they heard Doug Horley's CD?"

What is the main musical difference between American and British kid's ministry?
SH: "Several things...the most obvious, money. Love or loath, the kids albums that come from the States are usually well put together - good packaging, production and usually well played, (hard to believe that they can still make it sound so bad). Marketing is also a lot better and the market is vast. Guys like Carman sell 10's of thousands of kids records in a few months. Can you imagine what will happen in about 10 years if DCTalk release a kids album when all their teenage fans of today are parents...huge. Also, kids ministry in the USA has a real solid profile in the local church - there are tons of outlets for the music and a wide diversity of tastes.

"America has a very strict fundamentalist section of the church. That may explain the success of things like Cedarmount Kids. The country is so huge that a travelling worker could work, say, Vineyard churches all year and never touch the same one twice. The UK by comparison has a lot less cash, and so in measure production, etc suffers somewhat, but that doesn't mean that our efforts are worse. In fact I think that in many ways UK kids music is on the whole better. The sense of fun that someone like Doug Horley adds to his music is very British, but a lot more down to earth than the corny jokes on the US alternatives. Guys like Steve Fischbacker have really tried to tackle subjects that kids have to face rather than treading the same safe old ground. Sure there are limitations in production and packaging, but in fact the albums fare better simply on honesty and content. But no one is going to sell 50,000 kids albums in this country simply because it ain't a big enough Christian market...which makes you wonder if we shouldn't take a leaf out of the mainstream market's book....don't just stay in a Christian market."

JB: "The only experience I have had of American kid's ministry is through the videos and tapes that have been listened to and oh, once dressing up as a big blue song book! The Christian scene in the States is massive with already established children's ministry and market for children's products. In Great Britain it's just emerging and developing and it is a much smaller number of people. If a popular children's ministry worship leader sells 5000 albums they are a major success!

"I think that British kid's ministry has much more of an edge to it. It takes more chances and is not tied as much by tradition. I find it disappointing that American kid's music seems to flood Christian conventions and bookshops but that the traffic is all one way. When Ishmael goes to the States he always sells out of his tapes and CDs, but the American Christian market as a whole does not seem to be interested in British children's Christian music. I think it's time for a change and I think that change is coming."

I: "American children's music generally speaking is very safe and successful, they have no need to be adventurous and stretch the boundaries. British kid's music has a relatively small market and within the small budget they work with are very open to be creative...and even flop. Also the Americans find it very hard to mix Biblical songs and humour, so you either get a very silly song that says nothing or a biblical song that is very serious. The loony Brits seem to have no trouble in combining the two."


In general, does children's work get 'adequate support from the local churches in Britain?
I: "In general, no...but it's a million times better than when I started 30 years ago."

JB: "That depends on the local church leaders. One usually finds that if the leaders have children of their own there will often be support and encouragement for the children's ministry of the church. There is a low amount of church leaders who understand children and how to communicate to them. We emotionally respond to the needs of children, and as any parent will tell you freely give to children's work. In the past though I do not think, that the best use has been made of the money poured into children's ministries of local churches. Often those left to run the work are not the best when it comes to administration and money management. Consequently local churches children's ministries have shot themselves in the foot, as the leaderships refuse to keep giving more and more money to the children's ministry of a local church."

DH: "I think it's a mixture. The number of full time children and youth workers is growing which is encouraging, but I suspect that we are still a long way behind the USA. At the Kingsway Children's Ministry conference in Eastbourne in January it was great to see a good proportion of male delegates. Children's ministry has traditionally been a female activity - but there are signs that this is changing. And it needs to. Children need quality female and male role models.

"Very often children's workers can feel neglected and discouraged in local church because children's ministry isn't always at the top of the local church agenda. Encouragement and finance are two areas that we need to ensure are given attention so we are resourcing and nurturing people in this vital area of ministry."

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