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The Fundamental Shift: How To Engage Children In Your Faith Community

There are many tried and true strategies for building and maintaining a solid community of faith. However, one sure way to destroy it is to underserve the most important people: our children. Here are some ways to ensure the GMC points young people to Jesus Christ.

Church leaders say that laughter in the halls is the best sign that your church is strong and healthy. I agree, but I would add to that the sound of many tiny feet running, childish chatter, and the raised voices of young people happy to be at church.

Mix in some singing and guitars and a few tambourines in the hands of toddlers, and you have the ingredients for a healthy community. This kind of joyful energy builds and creates. A lack of it erodes and decays.

I was a youth/children's ministries director for over twenty years. I have such joyful memories of teaching and loving, coaching and guiding. I loved it so much!

Each day was a new opportunity to shine the light of Christ in the lives of children who, despite all the differences in their backgrounds, families, interests, etc., all had a hunger for God.

Children's ministry matters for eternity. Usually, the outcome is hidden from our eyes at the moment. This work is all about planting seeds you may not get to harvest. Planting those seeds takes so many forms.

The bottom line is to engage children and show them the face of Christ. There are endless ways to do this, but there are a few essential fundamentals.

I summarize vital youth/children's ministry in this short phrase: "The hard work of having fun." To fully engage young people, there must be an element of enjoyment. All learning is supercharged with joy and energy.

Young people need a more active learning atmosphere with their boundless energy and shorter attention spans. Activities that take them out of their seats are crucial.

Purposeful games that introduce the lesson or act as a review for prior lessons can get minds and bodies going. Anything that gets them moving can be a great way to gain energy and attention.

For those church heroes who volunteer to secure our faith by teaching our children and those who joyfully work for a small salary to ensure that the Church continues, I praise you and your dedication. You are essential, admired, beloved, and will have many crowns to cast at the feet of Jesus.

Here are some things to remember about youth and children's ministries within any congregation. Impress these on the entire Body of Christ.

  1. Budget appropriately. If you have children, you know that raising them properly costs money. This is axiomatic. Children and youth ministries should be budgeted in proportion to their importance. Look at your budget. How much is designated for children's faith formation? Is it as about 1% or as high as 2%? Do they have to do fundraising to get any resources? How well are you providing for your youth/children? This is not spoiling them or making them selfish and entitled. It is providing for your children.

  2. Cultivate respect for children. The youth and children are an easy target. It is common for some church members to blame the children for any stain on a carpet, a mark on a wall, or a nick on furniture. I have witnessed this many times. I have also seen that the truth, very often, is that spills and accidents are not the doing of "the children" but the adults. Youth and children should be taught to be good property stewards and respect their elders. They will learn this best when they are well and kindly supervised and treated with respect: love and respect.

  3. Coloring sheets? Bah. Humbug. Children learn by doing, moving, building, creating, imagining, exploring, and other active experiences. I know coloring sheets are an easy way to keep grade school children occupied and quiet, but consider the goal. Do we need another generation of quiet Christians who are not fully engaged in their faith? Develop lessons that are experiential and get the children out of their seats. Use all their senses to teach them. In this way, you are developing a generation of Christians who will see God all around them. They will have a variety of ways to express their faith if they have seen a variety of expressions.

  4. Try these games. Use games as "bell ringers" at the start of your lesson. Engage in a short, active game that reviews last week's material or introduces this week's. For example, Throw bean bags on squares of paper on the floor with questions on the other side. The student then picks up the question and answers it for points. The same can be done by popping balloons, throwing pool noodles through a cardboard target with holes, and turning any cornhole-type game into a review. All these activities reinforced what teaching. Additionally, they hold interest.

  5. Hire a creative staff person. Why can't two small churches share a children's director? This person could provide lessons and activities for two congregations and not have to have another job to provide for their needs. Consider the level of energy, creativity, resourcefulness, organizational skills, dependability, and passion for children when hiring a person. A master's degree in Christian Education means nothing without these essential character traits. Be wary of higher degrees. Look closely at where the credential was acquired. Many "Christian" schools are leading their students to deny Christ's divinity and the authority of scriptures. Just be careful. Ask many questions about your candidate's beliefs about God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit. You don't want to hire and discover your candidate's beliefs don't align with yours.

Children and youth ministry takes energy, patience, time, and money. Those are indisputable facts. Those who freely give their resources to keep these ministries going are my real-life heroes of the faith. They are the ones who "get it." They understand that without well-nurtured children, the Church is doomed to die within twenty years.

As Global Methodists, we must reexamine how we prioritize children and youth to remain an influential force for Christ. We can not neglect teaching our young people the faith of the Old and New Testaments. We must throw off the yoke of curriculum written by people who haven't spent enough time with real kids or who have an agenda not aligned with the truth of the Scriptures and the Lordship of Christ. Fill the lessons with the Holy Spirit.

I propose a renewed commitment to reaching out to our young people as the Holy Scriptures tell us. As a new denomination of Christ-centered people, I challenge us to raise the bar for our children. Get beyond Bible "stories" and cartoony coloring sheets masquerading as a lesson. Let us teach our children diligently!

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