5 Ways to Reinvent Your Children’s Ministry

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!

3 thoughts on “5 Ways to Reinvent Your Children’s Ministry”

  1. Okay, you can’t just blurt out “Intergenerational VBS” without a little more explanation than that. I think that’s a great idea! But can you share more details about how that worked out in your church? Do you mean to say that the parents attended with their kids and did the same activities that their kids did every single day? How did it go over with the kids?

  2. Well, you’re right, of course, so here’s how we did it. Actually, it was really easy because we used Group Publishing’s Jerusalem Marketplace the first year (2005). It was such a great hit that we used GP’s Bethlehem Village in 2006, and Galilee By the Sea this year. This is the best VBS stuff I’ve seen and here’s how it works:

    — Kids and adults (under 5s had to be accompanied by a parent; we did not have a “nursery”) were grouped into the tribes of Judah with about 8-12 to a tribe;
    — The 2-hr evening schedule went like this — gathering for everybody 15 minutes; tribe time 15 mins; synagogue school or playground (organized) 15 min; marketplace 30 mins (10 theme-related shops — crafts, candy shop, herb shop, jewelry-making, carpenter, etc); tribe time 15 mins; closing gathering 15 mins.

    If while some tribes were in synagogue school and playground, others were at the marketplace. And, adults and kids did the same stuff or the adults watched the kids make crafts.

    So, it worked really well. What I am really interested in is doing intergen SS. I have a link in a previous post about intergen SS on my blog somewhere (I’ll try to findi it and throw it up here).

    Here’s my passion on this — churches should be bringing people together in face-to-face groups, not separating everyone all the time. Kids used to be with adults for a lot of family, church, and community activities and that’s how we learned what adults did. Some of it boring to be sure, but we still learned. Kids need to know adults other than their parents and adults, especially seniors, need to know kids.

  3. Wow!! That is really great! What better way to show kids that the Bible isn’t just a bunch of made up stuff than to plop them, and their families, right into the middle of it.

    My husband and I totally agree with your last paragraph. That is our philosophy. The parts of the body have a lot to learn from and offer to each other. It’s hard to fulfill Titus 2 if we’re segregated by age more often than not. Kids need to learn from the more refined gems among us and the more refined gems need to realize they still have something to offer because they’re not dead yet.

    We’re learning with our kids that “boring” is a matter of exposure. The more they see or hear a thing, the more they develop a grasp of the thing and can follow along in conversation. It may not be something they love hearing about, but at least they’re not catatonic.

    Alistair Begg said something once that really impressed me. He received a letter of apology from a little girl in his congregation. She was sorry for being wiggly and not paying attention and would try to do better. He was moved to call or visit her, I can’t remember which. He thanked her for her letter and told her that he understood how hard it was to sit in the service sometimes, and relayed some things about himself as a kid and the trouble he caused his own mother. He went on to tell her that he wasn’t that concerned about her wiggles, and in fact didn’t expect her to “get” everything that was said, but that he was very glad that she came to church because it was so important for her to be in God’s house. I have no doubt that he made a huge impression on that little girl. That’s the kind of impression all children need to have, that God wants them there in His house.

    A great book on helping kids in the service (and helping adults help them) is Parenting in the Pew: Guiding Your Children into the Joy of Worship by Robbie Castleman. I loaned my copy to someone and I think I can kiss that book goodbye. It was very good, though, and was more about the attitude of bringing children into God’s presence in worship than actual parenting techniques during church.

    Thanks so much for sharing how you implemented your VBS. It sounds exciting! I can’t wait to tell our VBS people about it.

    Take care!

    Mrs. N

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