A church about 50-miles away made the local TV news recently because they constructed a $3-million children’s indoor amusement center.  Kids play video games, shoot arcade basketball, fire laser guns, and climb the rockwall in the indoor playscape.  The children’s pastor proudly spoke about this state-of-the-art, high tech playground as necessary to effective children’s ministry.  Guess what?  He is dead wrong! 

If it takes imitating Disney to create meaningful church experiences for kids, then those of us in small churches might as well give up.  Fortunately, you don’t need a $3-million dollar amusement center or a baptistry built like a fire truck (I am not making this up) to do good stuff with kids.  Here are the 5 principles we’re following as we reinvent our children’s ministry:

  1. Keep it real.  Kids need real, hands-on, no-screens experiences.  Electronic razzle-dazzle has its place, but kids need the experience of making things with their own hands, fingerpainting, acting in their own drama, and visiting real people, like shut-ins.  A great book that makes this point is “Last Child in the Woods” by Richard Louv.  This book is not geared to church, but the argument he makes for real kid experiences is compelling. 
  2. Make it intergenerational.  Our communities, and our churches, segregate generations too often.  Kids have few opportunities to hear stories from their grandparents, much less other older adults.  Three years ago we went to intergenerational VBS, and we involved more adults and kids than ever before. Plus, everybody had more fun!  It works…try it.
  3. Let kids create.  Debbie recently taught art to kids in our summer program.  Most of the kids were worried about doing art “right.”  Coloring pages and teacher-created crafts, where everybody makes the same thing, stifle creativity.  Give kids paint, brushes, easels and let them go!  Or get a box of costumes and let kids create their own stories.  Let them create, rather than copy.  You’ll be amazed at what they do.
  4. Knock down walls or move.  Most of us in small churches are afflicted with small classrooms that we inherited from 1950s church architecture.  If you can’t knock down walls, get out of there!  Move the kids to the fellowship hall where you have room to move, sing, act, and create. 
  5. Organize into bigger groups for more fun.  No kid wants to be stuck in a room with just the teacher.  If your children’s group is small, put everybody together for large group, then move into smaller activity groups based on skill levels.  Bigger kids help smaller kids, and everybody has a great time.

Lots of resources are available that embrace the principles I’ve mentioned above.  Zondervan, Group Publishing, and others have great materials that will help you and your church reinvent your children’s ministry.   If you have a great idea for children’s ministry that utilizes these or compatible ideas, let me know.  Better still, send photos.  I’ll put them up and share your successes!