youth ministry

The “No Drop-Off” Thing

Sometimes I hear about a thing. And the thing is attached to such a good sound byte that it sticks. And then that thing kind of takes a life of its own before you’ve really thought about it much.

And that’s what I think happened with the “no drop-off” thing that’s found favor in family ministry circles. (The best I can tell it started as part of the kids ministry at Northpoint and gained steam via Reggie Joiner’s book, Think Orange. But it’s also taken on a life of it’s own, you see it expressed in a lot of ways in churches who “do the Orange thing” in their churches.)

On the one hand I get it. I think there’s good reasoning and good research that churches need to better partner with parents to create ministries that don’t consistently separate people based on age alone.

But I don’t think the “No Drop Off” thing ever really addresses these three items of push back. When I’ve pressed into it I ultimately get a response based on accepting a philosophy of ministry without actually addressing how or why the philosophy is better.

  1. One reason drop-off programs work is because parents legitimately want a break from their children. Embedded in the “no drop off” concept is the idea that dropping kids off at a program at church is automatically bad. This is coming from people who work at churches who don’t actually get to enjoy the benefits of dropping a child off. Don’t dismiss that! I can’t tell you how awesome it is to drop a kid off at a program and have 90 minutes to myself or a date with my wife. If I can’t do that, I’m not sure why I don’t just stay home.
  2. The “no drop off” thing has a program-centric view of the role of parenting. In other words, it assumes that it’s best for me to come to a church program to connect with my kid spiritually and further assumes that I’m not going to do anything at home if the program doesn’t exist. In reality, people who self-select into  a “no drop off” program were highly likely to already connect with their kid at home, you’ve just made them busier. And people who aren’t connecting with their kids spiritually at home are just going to opt-out of the program altogether. They are busy enough and don’t need another thing to do.
  3. The “no drop off” thing eliminates people like me. I remember when I first read Mark DeVries book, Family-based Youth Ministry. On so many levels I deeply connected with the idea of parents as mentors and found hope in it. But I couldn’t shake this reality: If I needed a parent present for me to feel like I fit in at youth group, I would have never found Christ in high school. I would have walked into a room and realized it wasn’t really “for me” but church was for people from “good/church” families. My parents loved me, my parents wanted what was best for me. They were even very supportive of my religious activity. But they weren’t going to be involved. Had this been a thing when I was in high school, I wouldn’t have felt comfortable and I wouldn’t have gone back.

My first two push-backs are practical or philosophical. They are also grounded in trying very, very hard in 2007-2008 to make the “no drop off” thing work in my own church and seeing it fail. We restructured our entire church to support it… and it tanked. Hard.

But the last push-back is theological. It begs the question, “Is a ‘no drop off’ mantra from church leadership putting a hurdle in front of children and teens, preventing some from finding Christ? Are you making access to Jesus conditional on something a child can’t control– parental involvement?

By Adam McLane

Kristen and Adam live in the San Diego neighborhood of Rolando with their three children.

15 replies on “The “No Drop-Off” Thing”

I didn’t know this was a “thing” – but I have to agree, big time, with your thoughts on it. At least 75% of the kids in my youth group either don’t have a parent to be there, or they wouldn’t come if their parent(s) did. And as a parent, I think both parents and kids need a break from each other sometimes. Just my two-cents worth – but I think you’re right on.

I find validity in all three points, but I particularly resonate with number 3. It is personal to me as well, for the very same reasons you mentioned. I would have never found Jesus in middle school without a youth group, and I would have never found youth group if a parent had been required for my participation. And in 28 years of student ministry, I saw that same scenario repeat itself hundreds of time. It is indeed a philosophy that needs careful consideration more than universal implementation.

How does “no drop off” address new students and children attending? They wouldn’t just be bringing a friend. it makes it seem like 1 family would have to invite another family. Plus students act, talk, and behave much differently when their parents aren’t around. You get a more authentic look at the student in that way.

Interesting. One of the most “successful” youth groups I know has a no parent rule for volunteers. Parents might help with bringing food or something, but the rest is done by people who really love youth. Plus, most of the youth are unchurched so to have a no drop off rule would have killed her program. I am working toward this in my ministry.

My children have been active in Young Life- no parents are involved other than a handful of us who send food for meetings from time to time, might provide financial support and certainly support through prayer for the kids and their leaders. I love that my children have had a chance to further develop their faith away from me and under the leadership of other kind, caring adults (the leaders are young adults but they are adults). What wonderful examples volunteer youth leaders, Sunday school teachers and such are to us and our children!
For the younger kids- Yes, sometimes children’s ministry is a form of baby sitting. But let’s not diminish the how important 1.5 hours of uninterrupted spiritual rest can be to a weary mom and dad.

The central idea is that there are parts of the kids ministry where parents participate in the kids ministry with their child as opposed to dropping them off at a program and either going to church, another church program, or leaving altogether.

Just in case it’s not clear – that’s not the only part of the children/family ministry. They have other sessions with small group leaders and children (without parent). The family ministry hour is actually in-between the two services and functions as a separate event.

In this way, you don’t have problems 1 and 3, at least when done with the same level of strategy that Orange and NorthPoint do it.

As for #2, the driver comes from the notion that left on their own, kids have about 30 hours of programming a year (when you take into account illness, vacations, etc). Parents, on the other hand, have about 300. So the idea to create programming that engages both adults and children, and equips parents is a strategic focus on extending what happens on a Sunday into the rest of the week.

Obviously, a lot of people talk about the “Orange” thing while doing it in a less strategic way, which leads to a lack of understanding by staff, parents, and everyone else about why they’re doing what they’re doing.

@chris – that’s a great point. At NP they are only asking families to come on Sunday AM. (Mid-week, go to a small group) KidStuf might happen at other times, but families are only expected to go to the church 1x per week and it’s all integrated together. It’s in their DNA.

Ultimately, that’s the weakness of picking any philosophy not engrained in your DNA. Even if you were to copy everything they did minute-by-minute, you couldn’t emulate what’s happened organically there. For example… NP itself has had some pretty spectacular failures trying to replicate what works in the Atlanta burbs elsewhere, I’m thinking of the Detroit plant about 6-7 years ago.

And churches trying to add this in to what they already do? Yeah, it’s not going to work.

Ethnography. Ethnography. Ethnography.

great post adam! I would have never found Jesus either in high school if I had to bring my parents. I think the “no drop off” thing is for huge churches with tons of christian families. If you are trying to reach students in your community, this will won’t work. I find parents struggle to drop their students off, let alone join in the midweek program.

Love your heart for the lost!

You might be interested in the “Killing Sunday School/Birthing Cross+Gen Worship” Facebook group, and in the book “Holding Your Family Together”, and in the “every night in every home” concept of faith inkubation.

Great insight! I’m passionate about families worshipping together, but not convinced that has to happen specifically on Sunday morning, for reasons you said and more. Each church does have such a unique dna, as others have stated, and it is important to be tapped into the specific needs of your church/community. Thanks!

My parents would literally drop me off at Church as a young child, drive home and pick me up later. Now, I only got a foundation at the Church, it wasn’t until later that Christ REALLY became my Lord and Savior, but if my parents couldn’t drop off, I probably wouldn’t have ever gone…

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