Judy Bryson is not only the president of Pioneer Clubs; as a child, she also benefited from this church-sponsored midweek program for kids. Back when the ministry was known as Pioneer Girls, Judy began attending while in early elementary school and never stopped—only changing roles from a club member to a volunteer leader and eventually to the ministry's key leader. Building Church Leaders recently talked with Judy at her office in the Chicago suburbs. The conversation covered a lot of territory, including her early involvement with the ministry, the joys of reaching and discipling children, and why she's so passionate about what she does.

Tell me about your first encounter with Pioneer Clubs.

I grew up in what I later learned was an unchurched family. However, as kids my siblings and I were all sent to church; it was very typical in those days for non-Christian parents to make sure their children got some kind of spiritual nurturing at a local congregation. I was about 8 or 9 years old, and the church I was attending began what was then called Pioneer Girls. (We were a girls' program from 1939 until the mid-'70s.) So, I attended Pioneer Girls, and it was just the perfect place for me.

Why was it the perfect place for you?

The activities, the Bible teaching, the fun, the small groups, and, of course, Camp Cherith—the ministry's summer camping program; I loved it all. When my family moved to a new community, my mother called around to find a church that had Pioneer Girls; she figured if a church had Pioneer Girls, it must be a pretty good church, and she'd send her kids there. I stayed involved throughout junior high and senior high. And then when I went off to college, I started volunteering as a club leader at a local church.

Let's shift our direction a bit to talk about the relationship of children's ministry to the local church. How does a ministry like yours fit in with a church's overall vision?

Research indicates that only one in five church members views children's ministry as an important value of the church. It's simply not seen as a priority for most people who go to church. It's not why they come to church. This doesn't mean they don't care about kids or they don't value children, but it does impact how church leaders approach such areas as budgets and church facilities. Now, I certainly think there are many churches that have an excellent children's ministry, but these churches are often doing it on a very limited budget and with limited facilities.

The key leadership simply doesn't make children ministry a top priority.

The people driving the decisions don't often see the full picture. And here is an important glimpse into the bigger picture: Eighty percent of us who have made a profession of faith did so before we reached the age of 14. That ought to tell us something.

Yes, like maybe those so-called "formative years" really are formative.

There's a wonderful story about D. L. Moody. He was out on a crusade and came home late at night. As he got into bed, his wife asked, "How'd the crusade go?" And he said, "It was pretty good, we had two and a half converts. And she smiled and she said, "How old was the child?" He answered, "Oh no, my dear, two children and one adult." He felt the adult's life was half over, but the children would have a whole life to live for Christ.

Let's focus specifically on Pioneer Clubs. What is the most important thing your ministry has to offer the local church?

I think Pioneer Clubs has a unique fit. We're able to assist the church in reaching kids who are not connected to a church, and we're able to help the church disciple those children who have been raised in the church. Our club program covers both areas: helping kids know Christ and then helping them to see how the Bible applies in practical ways. We strive to teach and model a holistic view that God cares about everything we do.

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