Before I get comments that this sounds a bit political – maybe I should state it more as a creed – what I believe about including / involving children in church …
1) Have a real message that they can grasp
Children know a mile off if they’re being patronised. Credit them with the God-given intelligence they possess (I have learnt so much from the honest and personal musings of my daughters – their straightforward and trusting grasp of faith that puts me to shame sometimes) and don’t talk down to them. Even small children can grasp something of the love of God … although you may want to keep it simple for really small ones. Does it matter if they don’t understand the Trinity yet (do many adults?!)? But if they grasp something of how big, awesome, amazing, epic (to use just some of my daughter’s favourite words!) God is, then you’ve done your job.
2) Keep it Biblical … but keep it relevant
I am so grateful that my mum got me to go to a church that focused on learning Scripture as it is now stored away for use in time of trouble / thanksgiving / temptation. Kids can learn passages of the Bible – maybe not great big chunks at a time – but in learning this in a fun and interactive way, you are giving them treasure for the future.
But you will need to find some application – what does this passage mean for their life, here and now? Adults benefit from this too! Joshua marching around Jericho – persistence, faith, claiming God’s promises. Esther – being bold and doing what we know is right. Kids look to us to help them make meaning. Once they have gained an access point – they can go from there. But you have to bring it to a level they can understand / empathise with first. It’s like trying to teach Shakespeare (one of my favourites) – kids will understand that there are family tensions / arguments between children and parents – and suddenly, they understand something of Juliet’s predicament and how Shakespeare meant them to see her.
3) Keep it interactive
Kids learn by doing. No longer is it good enough to expect children to passively absorb the material that you are giving them. Maybe twenty years ago and maybe some children up to a certain age. But children in schools and in society expect to engage, have their say, demonstrate, discuss – and learn from doing this if they are guided. Risky? Certainly! But also incredibly rewarding for you.
The last part was a collaboration with my youngest, who is currently sat on my lap, telling me if I’m doing any of it wrong! 🙂
Having arrived in my village nearly two years ago, in two churches (more of that in another blog, possibly!) where there were very committed people but few children, we have built up some great work with children that includes:
- audiovisual material (lots of Hillsong Kids songs and relevant video clips chosen from the web),
- bible readings and activity,
- discussions especially for the older ones,
- games that demonstrate a spiritual truth,
- food-related activity (for Joshua we made walls out of wafer biscuits sandwiched together with cream cheese then knocked them down and ate them! For Palm Sunday it was an edible donkey – had to be seen to be believed!)
Lots of different activities, all focusing on the same theme, and all ….
Children will learn best if they are enjoying themselves. Working in school everyday, it’s hard not to come over all school-teacherly in Sunday school – but I resist the temptation. Children will take the lead from you – if you’re prepared to have a laugh (and not take yourself too seriously – the Bible / Christianity yes, but yourself, no. Something I still have to learn sometimes!) they will follow. Above all, do we want them to think that God is some kill-joy who expects them to be silent and never smile in church? Some things are sacred but there is a lot about God’s pleasure in the Bible – and when I look at some of the children in church, I glimpse something of his pleasure in that situation.
Sometimes there needs to be a quiet word if things get a little too chaotic, yes. But if you have the activities that engage the children, and if you have enough helpers to manage things, and importantly, if you keep a sense of humour (not everything will go right!) then your children will learn it’s ok to enjoy church as themselves, rather than little mini-adults.
I know that a lot depends on a) your confidence in dealing with kids and b) the amount of kids / amount of helpers available. But if you have kids / spent any time with kids ask them what will help them learn / what they find boring and what switches them off. We went through this exercise in one of the churches I attend and the results were fantastic – the children demonstrated a mature understanding of what was reasonable / what was possible and what perhaps was not. Kids don’t have any agenda to pretend that something is helpful or not – if you approach them openly, they will tell you. And if you tell them what the limitations are, they will take that on board.
The second issue of people – whether kids or adults – is harder. But where kids are, other kids will tend to congregate. We sometimes have two kids, other times twenty-two. But as long as one kid hears about God in a service, then that’s ok. We know that ‘where two or three are gathered …’ Yes, it’s tempting to focus on numbers and to rejoice when there are lots of kids, but it really is about the quality than the quantity.
When there are not a lot of adults (as often tends to be the case) it can feel like the whole weight falls on your shoulders – but if you can encourage / persuade / bribe (!) others to come alongside you, each one can encourage the others. There is a mass of good material out there if you don’t have experience in planning Sunday school (I will post some of the sites I have found useful below.)
And remember: you are not on your own. Where you are attempting to engage younger members of the church community with faith, God is there with you every step of the way!
Sites I have found useful:
These are some of the sites I have used – I’m sure there are many others. Veggie Tales can be great for younger ones and there are a whole host of other sites for videos. Take care that they are good quality, not patronising (if they make you cringe, they may do the same for kids) and reinforce the message you want to teach.
- http://ministry-to-children.com/ – has a lot of ready made lesson plans.
- http://www.mssscrafts.com/ – good overall search site links to other sites – note some of the links are outdated though and no longer work!
- http://worshipingwithchildren.blogspot.co.uk/ – has links to the Anglican/Methodist lectionary readings but she also sorts ideas by Scripture reference.
- http://www.sermons4kids.com/ – good for ideas / object lessons / some games
- http://www.biblewise.com/ – good for older kids as well as younger