What makes a ministry great? In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus said, "Let the little children come to me. Don’t keep them away. The kingdom of heaven belongs to people like them” (Matt 19:14 NIRV). As we dive into this scripture, we can discover 9 secrets to creating a children’s ministry that kids will actually love.
A children’s ministry that is actually created FOR the children.
Secret #1: Give Them Jesus
The first word that Jesus says in this verse is “Let." Let means to allow and make accessible to. In what ways can you make Jesus accessible to the children? By creating a ministry that provides an opportunity for children to get to know Jesus, you are fostering an environment of true connection.
A step you can take towards this practice is to make prayer, God’s word, and wise Christian leaders more available. This might mean praying becomes less formal and more interactive in lessons so that children can see what praying really is; talking to God about everything throughout their day and giving Him an active role in their lives. It could mean focusing on basic truths and important concepts in God’s word so that kids can get to know who God is. Maybe providing small group leaders who consistently show up will give the children a safe person to confide in and learn from.
“Let” seems like such a simple word, but it is so full of meaning. Your children’s ministry must begin in a place where children are “let” into accessibility to Jesus.
Secret #2: Don’t Hold Back Creativity
Secondly, Jesus reminds us WHO we are dealing with … littles. Little, small in size, still growing and developing humans. Kids are easily amused, excited to discover, and have a lot of learning to do. Yes, they may be little, but their thrill for life isn’t!
Your audience is a group of tiny humans who just want to explore. Therefore, create a children’s ministry that is beautiful, bright, colorful, and imaginative. From your decorated walls to your snack time, to your games and bible lessons, the time you have with these children can be spent meaningfully and intentionally. Make your sensory activity a moment the kids will never forget with squishy sticky slim and bubble wrap popping paper. Send your kids home with a funny story to tell as your skits are filled with humorous moments. These little ones are amused and excited about life, so don’t hold back your creativity and give their little faces something to smile about!
Secret #3: Be Realistic
Another part of knowing your audience is realizing that these little children are CHILDREN. They will not necessarily enjoy doing the same things that adults do.
What kinds of worship music are you playing? You have the opportunity to tune into a very specific group and make it the kind of worship that will speak to their age.
Explore new ways to teach the main lesson. Maybe it could be recorded ahead of time by video with fun images in the background that relate and help make the lesson more interesting to listen to.
Celebrate who they are by refusing to put unrealistic expectations or restrictions on them. Give structure while still providing an environment that allows the children to be free to be children and not expected to be something that they aren’t.
Secret #4: Keep Inviting
“Let the little children come to me.” God wants nothing more than his children to come to Him! If your church is centered around the belief that Jesus is “…the way the truth and the life…” (John 14:6 NIRV), then kids also need to hear the all-important message of Jesus.
Many of us can look back at our Sunday school days and remember when we accepted Jesus into our hearts. God was working back then, and He is continuing to work through children’s ministry now. Yes, the fun parachute or dodgeball games might stick in a child’s memory. I’m sure an amazing tie-dye day will be a real winner. However, the most memorable moment will always be when a child accepts the Lord into their hearts. Take every opportunity to invite children to begin the journey of life in Christ.
Secret #5: But “Don’t Keep” Them Away
The disciples made the mistake of trying to keep the children from Jesus. I guess they thought Jesus had more important things to do. Many have made the mistake of pushing children to the sidelines. In children’s ministry, it is our job to guard kids from this.
It wasn’t that long ago that people believed that children should be seen and not heard. A way to make your children’s ministry strong is “don’t keep” the children away from the rest of the church. Provide opportunities for children to serve, be involved in ministries, and even lead others.
Some ways of doing this are children’s choir, involvement in the nursery, service to the elderly in the church, hospitality, community service, and missions. When children see that they are an important part of the church, children’s ministry and other ministries will thrive. Kids are not placed in children’s ministry to separate them from the rest of the church. This ministry is designed to give them a place they can more easily learn and grow in their faith. When kids see that they are a valued part of the church, they will find purpose and meaning in attending.
Secret #6: Reveal the Kingdom on Earth
An important part of children’s ministry is letting God’s kingdom shine through us. How can you show God’s kingdom in your ministry? One crucial way we can do this for our kids is by equipping our leaders and volunteers. For instance, providing helpful bible studies, mentors, and accountability can help volunteers be spiritually fed. When your leaders are being led by the Holy Spirit it will show in your ministry! Children will feel welcomed and loved when volunteers are strong in their faith.
Secret #7: Create Joyful Fun
Jesus said that “the Kingdom of Heaven belongs” to these children that we serve. The Bible tells us some beautiful things about Heaven. Heaven is a place of celebration. The angels sing praises to God and make a joyful noise.
How can your children’s ministry reflect this? I think one of the biggest secrets to a successful children’s ministry is actually having a lot of fun … children are notorious for enjoying a bit of fun, are they not? Some wonderful ways to make your ministry more fun are by using music and instruments to celebrate, giving games and activities a lot of thought so you can provide active and exciting movement, promoting creativity by inviting volunteers into your planning process, and finally, asking the kids what they want. This last one might sound intimidating, but you can be smart about how you ask. One way is to provide a suggestion box for the kids. Another is to get feedback by simply asking what they have enjoyed the most so far.
Secret #8: "It's Got My Name on It!"
If the Kingdom of Heaven belongs to the children, then Heaven has got their name on it! Likewise, our children’s ministry needs to have these kids’ names on it. It has to be created just for them.
How can you make each feel welcome? What are some ways that you can zoom into each of their hearts and be sure not to leave anyone behind? When you are working with a group of children it can be difficult for just one or two not to get lost in the mix. Be intentional about noticing newcomers and welcoming them in. Post pictures of the kids in the classroom joining the activities. Provide individual token gifts that actually have their names on them. This might seem small, but it’s not insignificant. Sometimes simply seeing their name written down can help kids feel noticed.
Each child is important to God, so make a ministry that reflects this message.
Secret #9: Remember, Kids Are People, Too
We don’t often refer to children as “people”. It’s almost like we don’t think they have earned the right yet. But Children are people, too. Did anyone ever talk down to you as a child? Jesus said, “The kingdom of heaven belongs to people like them." He refers to the children as “people,” and I think it was very intentional.
When you design your children’s ministry, don’t be naive in thinking that “these are just children” or that you don’t need to make much of an effort. Children have all different levels of intelligence in many different areas. One might be exceptionally emotionally intelligent, while another may excel at verbal communication. Provide a ministry that sees the potential in them. One that stretches and challenges them.
You can do this by providing different difficulty levels of questions in small group time, or by being flexible when an activity becomes too easy and adding a challenge. Your ministry won’t be in danger of becoming boring when you have the attitude that “these children are capable of so much!”
Reflect the Heart of Jesus
“Let the little children come to me. Don’t keep them away. The kingdom of heaven belongs to people like them” (Matt 19:14 NIRV). Perhaps these 9 secrets aren’t really secrets at all, since they are revealed to us through God’s word. Your ministry can be a reflection of the heart that Jesus has for children. There is no greater example to follow.