Simple Children’s Ministry: Two Precious Gifts
What is the definition of an effective children’s ministry? I have to confess, when I imagine a wonderful children’s ministry I picture a bright space filled with colorful decorations, detailed crafts, games, and other activities that cleverly teach children lessons from the Bible. I picture a comprehensive program run by a large team of enthusiastic, background-checked volunteers with bright smiles on their faces, who create a safe and fun space for children who are, of course, always engaged and never bored.
I would guess that I am not alone in my thinking. Do you imagine something similar? And I wonder if you, like me, quickly find yourself feeling discouraged by the resources needed to create such a beautiful children's program, and exhausted at the very thought of trying. The truth is that most churches are small. And small churches have limited resources. The majority of churches do not have a minister or any person on their pastoral staff dedicated to creating and running a children’s program. Their children’s programs are staffed completely by volunteers who have their own families to care for and a bunch of other jobs to do.
Before we become too discouraged, perhaps we should step back and ask our questions again. What does an effective children’s ministry look like? How can a church lovingly and intentionally attend to the children who come through their doors? Does a children’s ministry have to have a large budget and full team of dedicated volunteers to be effective? There are clear advantages to a large scale, well-funded, children’s ministry, but can a small church with limited resources also creatively and faithfully nurture children? My strong answer is yes.
This post is the first in a series I am calling “Simple Children’s Ministry.” Over the coming months I will offer a variety of simple ways churches can lovingly and intentionally minister to children. As we start, I’d like to suggest that there are two primary gifts that the church has to offer for children and adults alike—two things that we all deeply need and the church is uniquely situated to provide. These two gifts are belonging and hope.
We all have a deep desire to belong. Deep in our beings we long to be known and to be a part of something bigger than ourselves. At our best, churches provide this sense of belonging for adults and children alike. I believe this is one of God’s greatest desires for modern congregations. We are called to be places of true belonging—communities of people who journey through life together so no one has to be alone. We may realize that the church has this to offer for adults, but we should consider it for children as well. A church has the potential to be the one place away from a child’s family where she or he feels truly known and loved. In the coming months we are going to consider how our churches can become communities of belonging for children.
The second gift we desperately need is hope. We live in a world filled with bad news. It is easy to lose track of hope when everywhere we look the world is shouting reasons to give up on hope. This is absolutely true for adults, but it is true for children as well. Kids today have access to more information than any generation before them. They know the world is a mess and they are worried. They desperately need people to speak words of hope into their lives. They need spaces that are filled with peace, security, and confidence. The Christian church should be an institution that offers hope to the world. We believe in the promises of God. We believe that Jesus offers us true and eternal salvation. We cling to a hope that has the potential to ease our anxiety and transform our worries. This is an important gift that the church can offer children, one that is vitally needed.
Both of these gifts, hope and belonging, can be offered by the smallest churches with minimal resources, and they can be packaged in a million different ways. We will talk about specific ideas in the coming months, but for now, take a look at your church and ask yourself some questions. What are we doing to intentionally care for children? How are children receiving a message of hope? How do children find belonging? Are children feeling known and loved as part of the community?
One important note before we move forward. American churches have a tendency to celebrate families with children, often to the neglect of those among us who are not part of traditional families. We must always be aware of the fact that our churches are filled with people who carry deep disappointments in regard to marriage and children. As we seek to minister to the children in our midst—specifically those who are currently under the age of 18—we would do well to remember that we are all children. We are all God’s dearly beloved children, and none of us is too far from our childhood needs, longings, and dreams. So as we work together to serve children better, we must simultaneously renew our efforts to celebrate God’s children of all ages. May God bless us as we seek to give good gifts, true and lasting gifts, to all of God’s children.