Children's ministry has changed so much, even just since I was at Sunday school (which was approx 25-30yrs ago) In fact even just the term 'Sunday School' has become redundant. I've noticed a shift as I look around different churches, from the traditional Sunday morning sunday school sessions to a whole heap of different options for families. Weeknight messy church, Friday night tweens groups, Saturday night family games nights as well as the Sunday morning groups.
Families tend to be busy nearly everyday of the week now with afterschool activities and sports that even finding time to stop on a Sunday morning can be hard for them. It is sad but at the same time it is also the reality. So the question now is how can we as small churches within our communities engage with local families and share Gods message of love with them in a way that is inviting and relatable to them.
At our beckenham Loopy church program (our name for Sunday school) we have tried different things over the years to engage with our children who come on a Sunday morning. We've done music sessions, taken themes from the bible and explored them over a few weeks/months, played games around the bible, watched video clips and so much more.
The one thing I have learnt is that although every thing we teach is important, what is more important is the relationships we build with the children and the atmosphere we create.
If you think back to your days in Sunday school, what are the things that stand out for you the most? For most it will be those special moments and activities you did, the church anniversaries where you got to dress up and meet people from other churches, the annual pooh stick races down the river, the church picnics or just running and sliding on the mat in the church hall! What ever the memory was, if it was a positive experience, it came with it a feeling that will stick with you. You may have been taught a million songs and stories but it's that overall feeling that you will remember. Now this can obviously have the adverse effect and if you have a negative experience, then that too can stick with you for a long time.
Now this is not to say, let's scrap teaching the kids stories from the bible or lets stop singing songs. These are the core of our ministry, but we just need to make sure that the children are engaging with the stories and the songs in a fun way.
I remember a story from a visiting american pastor and he said his memory of Sunday school was him and two others on a couch, a pimply teenage Sunday school teacher and a plate of cookies. He can't remember everything he learned but he remembered a feeling of comfort and belonging (and of course fulfillment through the cookies!) Now his family left the church in his pre-teen years but was invited by a friend to attend youth group with him several years later. He said because of his memory of Sunday school he jumped at the chance.
So you see, that pimply teenager had no idea at the time that he had planted a seed in this young boys life that would later bloom. The pastor is now running youth groups of around 300 youth and travels around the world preaching to all who will listen.
Although we may not always be present to witness the full fruits of our labour as childrens ministry workers, we must never forget the importance of seed sowing and nurturing that seed within a loving and caring enviroment.
So don't be discouraged by numbers. As small churches we can feel like we are struggling with only a couple of children each week. Even if you only have one child turn up, treat that child the same as you would if you had 10 or 20 or 30. Because we don't know what Gods plans may be for that child and you can be that seed sower for that child.
Have fun, keep your message simple and enjoy the work that you do. Although it can feel like a thankless job, it is one the most important ministries in the church.
Have a blessed week,