A shout out to Jon Acuff at Stuff Christians Like is in order. I ran across this advertisement for the Good News Glove. A tool for children to use in witnessing to their friends. For those of you who are familiar with the “Wordless book” presentations popularized by Child Evangelism Fellowship you get the general idea. The color “black” represents sin. When it’s translated into a finger–anyone want to guess which finger is sin? You might think twice about presenting the gospel finger by finger. Just saying. I guess this was a good idea once upon a time. BTW: they are still available through Campus Crusade. You can check them out here. Just so you know: they cost a little bit more than they did in 1971 (this ad appeared in Gospel Light’s Teach Magazine, Fall 1971). I think I may need to order some! After all there are millions already in print!
Archives For Children’s Ministry
I used to play pool a lot when I was in high school and college–(I was never very good.) When we played we had the practice of “calling the pocket.” Basically it meant that when you chose the ball you were going to hit, you had to call the pocket it was going to go in–otherwise, it didn’t count. If you hit the ball and it went into another pocket–If you didn’t call it, it didn’t count. This also prevented people from just hitting balls aimlessly hoping something will go in. Our little practice really meant that we had to focus on what were trying to accomplish. And, it helped us improve our pool playing skills.
Over the past few weeks we’ve been working on “calling the pocket” in our children’s ministry environment during weekend services. We have eight services over two locations–so maintaining and evaluating our environments is a prodigious task. We believe that “calling the pocket” accomplishes a few very important things:
- It allows us to more effectively evaluate how successful we were each week.
- It helps us maintain a standard over several services in more than one location.
- It keeps a very large team with several leaders on the same page.
- It helps volunteers understand their roles.
- It gives us several things to celebrate.
- It gets everyone working together as a team
Here is what we developed (I owe Adam Duckworth at First Baptist Fort Lauderdale for the inspiration for this post. He titled each of these elements at the 2013 Orange Tour in Los Angeles. I tinkered with the purpose of each element and added my own win.)
7 Elements of an Effective Environment
#1 Prelude—Everything from the parking lot until the program actually starts.
Purpose: Setting the tone of the experience
Win: When we disarm the skeptic (the 5th grade boy, the dad who has been dragged to church, the overprotective mom who is afraid to drop off her child); When we create suspense or interest in the core message.
#2 Social—the first 10-15 minutes of the program spent in small group before large group starts.
Purpose: A time for relational connection between the small group leader and child and a child and their peers.
Win: When a child feels that there is a leader who has a genuine interest in their life and they are eager to hear the story in large group.
#3 Transitions—the time between each of the elements of the environment
Purpose: to connect what they just experienced with what they are going to experience.
Win: When a child is carried away on the journey from one element to the next en route toward one core message instead of a series of isolated random activities.
#4 Story—the Bible story presentation.
Purpose: to communicate God’s truth in engaging ways.
Win: When the small group leader is set-up for conversation about the core message.
#5 Worship—Music and singing
Purpose: to invite kids to engage in large group and/or respond to God
Win: When a child emotionally connects with the music and becomes open to hearing the Bible story (before the story) when a child responds to the message they heard in large group (after the story).
#6 Group—25-35 minutes spent with a small group of peers and a leader.
Purpose: Activities designed to help a leader build a relational bridge with a child so that they can layer God’s truth into their life in a relevant way.
Win: When a child is open and transparent and a leader is able to connect God’s truth to that child’s experience in a personal way.
#7 Home—the stuff that happens at home during the week.
Purpose: to inspire and equip parents to become active participants in their child’s spiritual formation.
Win: When a parent does something more than they did last week to help their child take their next spiritual step.
How do you “call the pocket” in your ministry?
It’s hard to say that any age group is more important than the next. Spiritual growth builds upon itself–we crawl before we walk; we walk before we run. God does something unique at each age level which makes every age level important. When we miss something at one level we handicap the next. The things we miss along the way are typically the things that become “the hurts, habits and hangups” of adulthood. Maybe a better way of saying it is, “The stage we miss is the most important.”
The reason why I singled-out childhood is because it represents the beginning of the spiritual journey for most people. We know that most people will decide to follow Jesus in childhood (sometime between the ages of 4-14). In fact, it becomes exponentially harder after age 18.
Leading kids to a relationship with Jesus is the number one task of the church and family.
We cannot stop with leading kids to a relationship with Jesus. We must lead them in a continually growing relationship with Jesus that results in a life fully committed to Him and service in the Kingdom of God. Ultimately we want all people to come to a place where they say, “Jesus, what will you have me do?”
Many people get to the place where they say “Jesus, save me!” but few reach the place where they say, “Here I am, send me.”
How do you help people get to a place where they say: “Jesus, what will you have me do?”
About a year ago I was talking with a kidmin ministry leader and mentioned something about “family ministry.” His response to me was, “Well, there are a lot of different opinions of what family ministry is, so I just don’t pay much attention to it.” He spoke this as if that was all there was to say about that . . . end of topic. As I was thinking about his response, I began to realize that there has been so much talk about how to do family ministry (i.e. whether kids should be a part of corporate worship, whether there should be children’s church or Sunday school or not, whether family ministry means family events, or just having programs for every individual in the family) that most outsiders have confused how family ministry is implemented with what family ministry really is. This is not so surprising when most pastors think of ministry in general as a program–and, most kidmin pastors present a particular program as family ministry.
We are all guilty of confusing our models with our mission and our programs with ministry.
So, here is what I believe is true north as a family ministry leader:
Family ministry means that I spend equal amounts of time on two things:
- Creating a system that ensures that every child, teenager, college student and parent is connected with someone who feels responsible for knowing their next spiritual step and encouraging them to take it.
- Helping parents become active participants in their child or teenager’s spiritual formation.
That’s it. I run everything we do through that grid. How are we helping parents become active participants in their child’s spiritual formation? How are we ensuring that everyone who walks through the door of the church is getting connected in a close personal relationship with someone who feels responsible for knowing their next spiritual step and encouraging them to take it?
We live in a world that doesn’t view the Bible the way we do. And we have students and children who come to our churches that did not grow up with the same assumptions that we have about the Bible. We must do what the 1st Century Christians did for those first generations of Jesus-Followers and give them an understanding of why we believe what we believe.
Andy Stanley–Orange Conference, Main Session 2013
7 Guidelines for Communicating the Bible in a Biblically Illiterate and Skeptical World from the 2013 Orange Conference. #OC13
1. Choose a passage of scripture and stay there.
- I know that there is major debate about whether we should teach/preach verse-by-verse or verse-with-verse, but really–nothing is more confusing to a person who doesn’t know the Bible or the Bible narrative than hopping all over the Bible and using a whole bunch of passages of scripture like a proof text for a college paper. People coming into our churches don’t know the difference between Saul the King, and Saul the persecutor, Joseph the father of Jesus and Joseph and the technicolor dream coat. When we hop around the Bible we imply the Bible is complicated and confusing. By the way–this isn’t new: Henrietta Mears called this the Hop-Skip Method and believed it was the primary reason for the “boredom and disgust” of children in the Sunday School of her day
2. Give people permission not to believe or obey the scriptures. (I Corinthians 5:12)
“When you have a crowd of people who you suspect are non-Jesus followers, marginal, or not-sure-I-believe people, you have to give them permission not to believe or obey, because this isn’t even for them. . . . When you give non-Christians an out, they respond by leaning in.”
3. Teach in a manner that emphasizes the identity of Jesus over the authority of scripture.
Even though the Bible is the infallible, inspired Word of God our faith is not based upon “believing” in the infallibility and inspiration of the Bible. The foundation of our faith is based upon believing in an event in history: the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
People must come to grips with the identity of Jesus before they can come to grips with the authority of the Bible. . . . the issue is always, “Who is Jesus?”
We shouldn’t expect rational people to believe that Jesus rose from the dead [simply] because “the Bible says so.”
“Do you know why we believe that Jesus rose from the dead? Not because “the Bible says so.” It’s because Matthew says so, Mark says so, Luke says so, John says so, James says so and Peter says so and they were all willing to die for what they said they believed.”
“Because the Bible says so” only works when the people you are talking to already believe what the Bible says. For those who don’t, “Because the Bible says so” makes us look foolish. And it doesn’t help our kids who will go into a hostile world where they will have to defend their faith.
4. Don’t refer to the Bible as a book.
It’s not a book. It’s way better than a book. A book implies that it is fiction. The problem is that most adults think the Bible is full of stories not history. Each week we share parts of history. Our kids need to know it is history not fiction.
“The Bible was written by over 40 different people over a several hundred year period and it tells one unique story about how sin came into the world and God fixed it. Isn’t that great? Now today we are going to look at this little piece of it.”
5. Cite authors not the Bible.
Every time you say something about an author you tie what you are saying to history, not stories.
“Today we are going to look at a letter written by James. James was the brother of Jesus. What would your brother have to do to convince you he was the Son of God?”
6. Acknowledge the odd as odd.
There are some odd things in the Bible. Most of what’s in the Bible is odd. We don’t need to be afraid of it, that’s just the way it is. It’s old.
We don’t have to worry about the odd things in the Bible because “the Bible says so” is not the reason we believe this but because Jesus believed this. I take the old testament seriously because Jesus took it seriously.
7. Don’t create the impression that one must choose between faith and science.
Science is the study of natural things. It attempts to find natural explanations for the world around us. Every time sciences discovers how something works we should be able to respond, “So that’s how God did it.”
How do you communicate the Bible to support lasting faith?
The church leaders who are seemingly most concerned about the dropout rate of that demographic are the very ones who create the weekend experiences that this demographic finds entirely uncompelling. To say it another way, the group responsible for connecting eighteen- to twenty-five-year-olds to local congregations are the catalysts for driving them away.
. . . somebody’s kids are attending your church. If you have kids, they are attending your church. Every Sunday you are either instilling a deeper love and appreciation for the church or you are doing what most pastors do and providing them with one more reason not to attend when they no longer have to. That’s a big deal.
Andy Stanley, Deep & Wide
That is a big deal. According to Thom Rainer in a research project initiated by Lifeway, the number of kids walking away from faith and the church outnumber the adults who are coming to faith each year. I think it is because we have missed an opportunity. We have treated the youngest ones as though they are not important until they become adults. Then we follow that up by doing church the way we like it rather than the way we can reach the next generation.
God intends that we should win people in the days of their youth while their hearts are young and sensitive. But we are apt to let the springtime pass and then with great effort create a religious fervor by our own efforts and win men to Christ. We work hard, spend thousands of dollars and at the best get disappointingly small returns. We have waited too long. That which we should do is to work with God in His seasons.
If we save every adult on the planet, but lose the next generation, what’s the point? The church is always one generation away from extinction. Not on my watch!
You’ve got a bunch of teachers in your church. The last thing they want to do is sit in circles with eight children for an hour on Sundays. But they know curriculum. They know how to organize content. And some of them would love to present the bible story in a large group setting as long as they don’t have to take ownership of a small group. You also have some folks who aren’t afraid of middle school boys, but they don’t know jack about the Bible . . . yet. They are scared to death you are going to give them Bible lessons to teach. But if they knew their only responsibility was to sit with their kids while a really good presenter did a really good presentation, and then discuss three specific questions from that really good presentation, they would be all over that. You get the point. If you create a system that divides these disciplines, you are going to recruit a different kind of volunteer. But more to the point, you will have a system that frees your engaging presenters to make engaging presentations.
Andy Stanley, Deep & Wide
In I Corinthians the Apostle Paul compared the church to the human body where every member has a role and altogether make one body. He said,
For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ.
I think we readily get this in some areas of the church. It’s not unusual for us to have people who are worship leaders and we let them worship, and people who are communicators and we let them preach, and people who lead small groups and we let them lead small groups, and people who are great organizers and we let them administrate. But somehow when it comes to kidmin we have models of ministry that expect one person to be every part of the body. Generally we call them Sunday School teachers, but “teachers” is really a misnomer, because they are often expected to do lots of things in addition to teaching. Things like collecting supplies, to crowd control, to storytelling, to singing, to connecting with kids and connecting with parents and wiping noses, to playing an instrument (which is why I think the autoharp was invented—so the musically disinclined could lead a group of kids in singing.).
I admit, that on some planet somewhere there are a rare few who can do all of these things well. But. . .
Wouldn’t it be better if we simply divided up responsibilities according to gifting, or talents, or skills or desire?
This is one of the main reasons why we do large groups for some things and small groups for others. We do small groups so we can leverage the gifts of those who are great at connecting, who have consistent spiritual journeys and who have a faith that we want our children to model and embrace. But we don’t expect our small group leaders to be great singers or great storytellers. We let our great singers and storytellers to do that in large group.
Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.
I warn people in our community not to bring their kids to our church until they’re sure they want to attend on a regular basis. When they ask why, I tell them that once their kids “come and see” the environment we’ve created for them, they’ll never be satisfied anywhere else.
Andy Stanley, Deep & Wide
Wouldn’t it be great, before a child even interacted with a small group leader or heard a Bible story that they were hooked on the environment? Or wouldn’t it be great if the environment paved the way, or set the stage, for what the child was going to experience on Sunday Morning at church? What if the environment prepared the way for the small group leader or the storyteller to create a life changing encounter with the Bible and a relationship with Jesus?
Sadly, our environments in many churches do the opposite. For skeptical 5th graders our environments are the first obstacle they see when coming to our churches. Worse, they become further evidence in a long list of experiences that reinforce most modern kids’ perspectives that church is not relevant.
I’m not suggesting that we replace the Gospel with entertainment or flashy environments. What I’m suggesting is that we leverage our environments to surprise and delight, to create the unexpected, and ultimately disarm the kids who come to church. In so doing, we set up what we really want to do, lead kids in a growing relationship with Jesus Christ.
This isn’t a new problem. Here is one of my favorite quotes from Henrietta Mears from the early 50’s.
The Church must be prepared to reach out and get the many millions of boys and girls who are still without religious instruction of any sort. Compare the marble halls of our modern school buildings with the worn out carpets of the Sunday school department, and the up-to-date books, well bound, on every school desk with the ragged songbooks and Bibles, the fine hardwood desks with the dilapidated chairs relegated to most Sunday school departments. No wonder youth thinks that the three R’s are more important than the fourth–Religion, when he goes on Sunday to a room poorly lighted and miserably furnished.
Henrietta Mears, Sunday School Changes Everything
What do you do in your environments to surprise, delight, or disarm kids when they walk through the doors of your church for the first time?
On the family ministry side of the aisle, our commitment to create environments conducive to providential relationships caused us to make several strategic decisions. The most significant was our decision to keep group leaders with their small groups as long as possible. The longer a group leader was with a group of kids, the more likely it was that a relationship would develop–and thus the greater chance of God using a group leader in a significant way in the life of one of the kids in his or her group. So when adults volunteer to lead a group of first graders, they stay with the group of children (and their parents) all the way through fifth grade. Not only does this create the potential for long-term relationships, it creates a degree of accountability that goes way beyond the weekend experience. It’s not unusual for group leaders to stay with their groups as they transition into our middle school ministry. That provides them with eight years of influence during what is arguably the most important time for a child developmentally, spiritually, and relationally.
Providential Relationship: “Two things make a relationship providential: when we hear from God through someone and when we see God in someone. When either of those things happens, our faith gets bigger.” (Deep & Wide p. 132)
8 Years ago I would have believed the idea of finding small group leaders who would invest in the lives of a group of kids week in and week out even for a school year was impossible, much less several years. Then I met Craig Jutila at a Purpose Driven Children’s Conference. He talked about elevating the commitment of volunteers–moving off of rotation to getting people who were willing to invest in the lives of a small group of kids on a weekly basis. Since then I have led two kidmin environments in two churches and coached several others to transition from large rotations of volunteers to a core group of small group leaders deeply investing in the lives of kids on a weekly basis.
Here’s a few things that I think only invested leaders can do:
- Only invested leaders can help connect a child’s faith to community. There is more childcare than community when volunteers are on rotation.
- Only invested leaders are able to show how God’s truth intersects with real life because they invite kids into their own lives and inspire their faith by example.
- Only invested leaders can create a place where kids can be known and belong.
- Only invested leaders know enough about a child’s spiritual journey to know their next spiritual step.
- Only invested leaders know about what’s going on in a child’s life to layer God’s truth into their lives in a relevant way.
- Only invested leaders can effectively partner with parents.
- Only invested leaders can create environments that supply the relational ingredients of spiritual growth: care, accountability and belonging.
Keeping children and students with the same small group leader for several years creates a healthy relational dynamic. Children and students are particularly susceptible to misinterpreting negative events. Having a mature adult in their lives in addition to their parents can make all the difference when grappling with challenging circumstances.
from Deep & Wide by Andy Stanley
At the end of the day without invested leaders what’s left on the table is life transformation. That’s unacceptable to me.
Here are some provocative quotes:
“What is education for?”
What is Sunday school for? or kidmin or church? Is it for creating reverent kids who can sit through children’s church without disruption who will some day grow up to be good Sunday school teachers who show up to church 40 times a year and drop a few dollars in the plate? Or is it to create revolutionaries who will radically pursue the expansion of the Kingdom of God–people like the Apostle Paul or Timothy, or . . . Jesus?
“If you wanted to teach someone to be a baseball fan would you start by having them understand the history of baseball . . . would you say, okay there is a test tomorrow, I want you to memorize the top 50 batters in order by batting average . . . and then rank the people based upon how they do on the test. And the ones who do well get to memorize more baseball players? Is that how we would create baseball fans?”
In the last Pew Research survey nearly 34% of 20somethings raised their hands and said, “I am not a fan” of church. If we wanted kids to be a fan of Jesus and His body, the church, where would we start? Memorizing the books of the Bible in order?
“Are we asking kids to collect dots or connect dots? Because we are really good at measuring how many dots, how many facts, they collect.”
It’s a lot easier to count attendance, how many verses were memorized, or how quick kids are in a “sword” drill. It’s also easier to fill in the blanks on a student paper, mark up a coloring page than it is to create an experience or have a conversation or invest deeply and consistently in the life of a child. We are in the business of transformed lives–not as easily measured and a lot harder. I’m grateful to be part of a generation of kidmin leaders and a legacy of people like Henrietta Mears, Lois LeBar and their modern counterparts like Reggie Joiner, Sue Miller or Jim Wideman who are dedicated to finding a better way to lead kids in a growing relationship with Jesus Christ.