How to run an effective and engaging Sunday children’s ministry

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“The effectiveness of St Bart’s Sunday children’s ministry largely relies upon an intentional approach to teaching the Bible, so children of all ages can read, understand and grow in their love of God,” say Children’s Ministers Bettrys Lowe and Amy Norman from Resource Church St Bart’s, Toowoomba, who also offer resources for interested churches and ‘Top 10 tips’

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Since 2014, the St Bart’s Kids ministry has grown from seven children to an average of 81 children participating in Sunday children’s programmes.

The effectiveness of St Bart’s Sunday children’s ministry largely relies upon an intentional approach to teaching the Bible, so children of all ages can read, understand and grow in their love of God.

At the start of every week, we sit down with the rest of the ministry team to read the forthcoming Sunday’s scripture and discuss the direction of the preaching. This conversation involves unpacking the tricky parts of the text, identifying the key theological themes and clarifying the Biblical context. This assists us to identify the core message of the teaching for all people. From there, the St Bart’s Kids team meets separately to discuss how to shape the teaching for children, and simplify the scripture in a way that is accessible to children aged from one to 12 years old.

Our ministry team meets together at the start of the week to read the scripture and workshop the theological, contextual, pastoral meaning and implications of that week’s text. The Children’s Ministry team then go away to further brainstorm the types of teaching and learning that will occur within the Sunday School and Early Childhood rooms (L-R): Bettrys, Amy, Michael, Adam meeting in July 2020

It is important that the pedagogy is approached with different ages in mind. For example, at St Bart’s, we break down the scripture in a way that is suitable for different age brackets, these being Early Childhood (Crèche and Pre-school children up to four years of age); Lower Primary (Kindy and Prep-aged children); Middle Primary (Years 1-4); and, Upper Primary (Years 5-6).

We find it easier to break down the scripture in descending order of age, starting with adults (along with the wider ministry team) followed by the Upper Primary, Middle Primary, Lower Primary, and Early Childhood age brackets.

As we get to know the children, the activities are chosen based on both the age bracket and the kinds of activities they like. For example, the activities for the Early Childhood group are very simple and sensory, such as water play, gross motor movements, or play dough. The Lower Primary group enjoys colouring-in, in-house developed jigsaw puzzles and hands-on group learning. While, the Middle Primary group prefers more active activities involving gross motor skills, including competitive team-based pursuits.

Playdough can be a great tool in reinforcing the teaching concept for the day within an Early Childhood space (L-R clockwise): Noah, Leon, Judy, Sia, Annabelle, Giovanna (March 2020, SBK in Crèche)

One thing the children do have in common is their love of routine and rhythm, so we follow a particular ‘formula’ (as per this sample run sheet) each Sunday regarding what we do and where we do it, with different activities week to week giving the necessary variety. This routine is even more important for kids with special needs.

For example, we begin with a brief three- to five-minute Kids’ Talk, which is given with the broader church present and usually involves drama and dressing up.

Kids’ Talks are essential in setting the scene for the day’s learning. Here, Kate interviews some key characters from the Bible to demonstrate that God used ordinary faithful people through the power of the Holy Spirit, like Simeon and Anna, to point to the baby who would save the world…Jesus! (L-R): Kate, Trish, David, Caitlin, Lyndell, Tish, Jodie, Bettrys, Michael in Dec 2019 (SBK images)

From there, the children move into their allocated rooms (either crèche, preschool, or the hall for Sunday School). Within these rooms, we give what we call the ‘all in teaching’, which is more targeted and extended, with bigger concepts unpacked. During this period we often show a video, such as from the Saddleback Kids YouTube channel. There are a lot of great Biblical resources available that can be used for any number of children. We find that the addition of multi-media content helps bring that week’s scripture passage to life, keeping the children engaged and interested.

Within Sunday School, our Kindy and Prep kids head off to join in a simple game or physical activity that helps reinforce the main point or aid in teaching more about that week’s topic. Our Middle and Upper Primary children remain together to engage in more fast-paced, team-oriented games that either focus on a particular scripture verse or concept linked to that day’s reading.

Games are a weekly part of our programme and are used as a teaching tool. Here our Year 3-6 children play a Scripture relay (June 2019, SBK in Sunday School)

After our games time, the children break up into small groups (based on their school age) to read the Bible together, discuss it using Small Group questions prepared, complete a related activity, and pray together. This is a fun time going deeper with their peers.

These groups are led by a team of dedicated small group leaders. The same core leaders for a given year-group rotate week to week so the children are discipled by the same three to four leaders across the year, while also allowing the leaders to stay in the 9.30 am service on the Sundays they are not rostered on. This format enables intentional discipleship across generations.

Each year level has a designated space within the hall and they sit around different coloured mats, with each mat colour representing a different year level.

At the end of each St Bart’s Kids session, we pray together. Sometimes we use aids, such as prayer dice which have illustrated prayer prompts on each side, to help guide the groups’ prayer time.

We put considerable time into selecting existing online or print resources and creating original resources. For example, we find The NIRV Adventure Bible a great resource for our upper primary aged children, modifying it to make it more accessible for kids under 10 years of age.

Upper Primary (Year 6) students read the NIRV Adventure Bible and engage in a small group discussion together (L- R clockwise): Michael, Josh, India, Nathen, Emily, Sophie (January 2020, SBK in Sunday School)

The resources we create ‘from scratch’ usually contain simple and engaging original illustrations that are designed with free apps like Adobe Fresco and Adobe Draw. We tend to design vector-based illustrations, meaning they are created with lines rather than pixels, enabling the illustrations to be used in both small sizes (e.g. on cards) and large sizes (e.g. posters or slides on the projector).

Images drawn as vectors can be used to create posters, PowerPoint slides, games and more (May 2019, SBK images)

Illustrations are used to draw attention to the main themes or characters, rather than to tell an entire narrative. The illustrations are especially helpful when reading Bible stories to very young children, as we often point to the illustrations when saying key words so children can learn word association and symbolism (for example, that a dove symbolises the Holy Spirit). The drawings are used in a wide variety of activities, including jigsaws, snap card games, word search puzzles, crosswords, spot-the-difference sheets, match activities, craft, with all the illustrations at the end of a given Biblical series used in the ever-popular bingo game.

Giant Match Activity – using St Bart’s Kids custom-drawn images and simple captions relating to the day’s teaching. A great way to teach through play and aid children’s understanding of the Scripture for that day (L-R): Bethany, Giovanna, Tobias in June 2020 (SBK in Crèche)

To help connect weekdays to Sundays, we create additional resources, including videos, activities and, most recently, one- to two-minute scripture e-books. The e-books adapt Old and New Testament scriptures for young children, with simple messaging and bright illustrations. The e-books are designed to encourage children to read the Bible more at home and to aid parents in story telling at bedtime. We create the e-books using Apple’s Keynote (which is similar to Microsoft PowerPoint), copying and pasting text from Apple Pages (similar to Microsoft Word) and inserting illustrations (as PNG files) and a recorded voiceover directly into Keynote. The completed e-book is then uploaded as a video file to Vimeo.

Importantly, we are also very intentional in the recruitment and training of children’s ministry leaders, setting expectations from the start. We, of course, adhere to legislated ‘Blue Card’ and safe ministry checks, and all children’s ministry leaders undergo child protection training. Parishioners interested in joining the St Bart’s Kids team complete an expression of interest form and are then provided with a position description for each role. We then chat with the prospective leader to chat about their motivations, experience and the age group they are interested in leading. They are then provided with a letter, explaining the role and any formal requirements. All children’s ministry team members are asked to wear a team shirt when serving, comprising of a bright blue t-shirt with ‘St Bart’s Kids’ on the front and ‘Team’ on the back. St Bart’s Kids Team lanyards are also worn to identify which room or space they are serving (e.g. ‘Year 4’ or ‘crèche’).

The St Bart’s Kids team meeting for a team briefing at 9 am, before the service and children’s programmes begin at 9:30 am. The team members are clearly visible by their blue shirts – letting children, parents, and visitors know that these are dedicated and safe people who will support and help disciple them (February 2020, SBK Team)

All St Bart’s Kids team leaders are given easy-to-follow instructions for each session, along with suggested answers to the discussion questions so they are informed and feel supported.

On our Team Wall near the entrance of the hall, the children’s ministry team members’ photos and short ‘bios’ are featured along with other St Bart’s team members. This helps to build camaraderie and a sense of being part of a bigger picture. The older children also love reading the team leaders’ bios and finding out what work they do and what hobbies they enjoy. We are so thankful to have a team from a range of ages and backgrounds who serve and love the children of St Bart’s.

Our new team wall showcases the diverse range of volunteers we have working with children on a Sunday morning (July 2020, SBK images)

By Thursday of each week, we upload all of the forthcoming Sunday’s St Bart’s Kids resources on to our website. As a Resource Church, we are very happy for other parishes to download and use our resources (and accompanying instructions). We are also very happy to provide churches with all of the resources for any of the previously taught series at St Bart’s. If you would like access to any material that you cannot find on our website, please email us via amy@stbarts.com.au or bettrys@stbarts.com.au.

Top 10 tips for running an effective and engaging Sunday children’s ministry

  1. Keep the Bible as the focus. All activities, songs, games, and craft should support engaging Biblical teaching.
  2. Match your children’s programme with what is being preached that week. Having children learn the same stories and content as their parents is vital for building a culture of discipleship within families.
  3. Consider the age and development needs for your context. You might think about modifying one game four ways, or if you have a large number of children in your church, group the children into similar ages.
  4. Include a variety of activities including Bible reading, active games, creative activities, worship, and prayer. Ensure all activities are age appropriate, so children stay engaged and safe.
  5. Include a teaching spot for children in the Sunday worship service. This increases the presence of children’s ministry to the Parish, models how to engage children with the Bible and demonstrates commitment to intergenerational discipleship.
  6. Create a routine and rhythm so children know what will happen and where, providing variety via different activities week to week.
  7. Look at Pinterest for ideas and inspiration for creative ways to teach the selected Bible passage. Feel free to skip craft and focus on hands-on learning opportunities instead. Maybe a treasure hunt for key words instead?
  8. Use and adapt what other places have created. There are great worship videos (with actions) for children that are easy to use for any number of children for both teaching and worship. You are welcome to use anything developed from St Bart’s Kids too.
  9. Make the space children use inviting and safe. Team shirts help children (and adults) identify who are safe adults to talk to. Bright colours and posters designating age group sections can help with routine.
  10. Where appropriate, invite a range of people to be involved in children’s ministry. This enables intergenerational discipleship and is such a joy to point children to Jesus and learn from their questions and faith. Support your team with clear instructions and prepared resources.

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