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5 Key Ingredients To A Successful Children’s Program

Children will be walking through your doors again this weekend. They will have parents in tow that are counting on you to keep them safe, happy and busy. In addition, it is their hope that you will move their child toward Christ; that your church will be a place where children can know God, discover how to have a personal relationship with Jesus and learn how to live. Have you prepared a program that will do just that?

Below are 5 Key Ingredients that can help you move forward in providing a successful program for the children God has entrusted to you.

Ingredient #1     Organization of Age/Grade Levels

Notice how kids are divided up in your program? Have you lumped all children into one or two rooms for childcare or are you thinking about each child’s church experience and their unique ability to learn about God at each age and grade level? Do children perceive that church is for them or is it a holding tank while parents learn?

Sometimes space is very limited, but thinking creatively will allow you to find a way for children to share the same room environment and yet experience something designed specifically for their level of understanding. We do it as parents all the time. We purchase different toys for different ages. We plan quiet activities according to our kid’s abilities and preferences. An infant room with a preschool table and Little Tykes slide can stretch the experience to meet multiple levels of learning and ability. Don’t let yourself get trapped by physical circumstances.

Think through the population you serve and decide upon the best division of ages and grade levels you can offer. Don’t be afraid to dream beyond your physical environments. Dreaming is the first step to moving into new circumstances. Think through the varying needs of attention spans, levels of cognitive understanding, and the needs of each developmental stage. If this isn’t your forte, ask a schoolteacher for help.

Babies need arms that will hold them and toys that fascinate. Toddlers need room to move around and develop gross motor skills. Preschoolers need all of that and people time, story time and activity time. Early elementary students need learning environments that do not demand too much academically for they are just beginning to read, write and organize their thoughts. However, don’t discount their ability to understand the depth of God’s love, His power and care for them personally. Upper elementary students don’t want church to feel like school, but they need the Bible to address challenges that correlate to the real life they are experiencing outside the church walls. Issues like friendship, family, sports, school pressures and character should be addressed. At every age, children should hear that God loves them, created them for a unique purpose and desires a personal relationship with them.

As we grow physically and mentally, we also have the ability to grow spiritually. Learning to trust, obey and love comes early in life; wanting protection, strength and wisdom develops later. As understanding increases, so do decision-making skills and the ability to make life-long character choices. Children also begin to understand right and wrong, their own sin nature and their personal need for a Savior. Plan for your children to learn at every age/grade level in appropriate environments that communicate that church is a place for them—where they have been anticipated and can grow. Do your best with the space God has provided in every season.

Ingredient #2     Programming Components

How are children expected to learn? Are lessons exciting and engaging? Have you included auditory, visual and kinesthetic learning styles? Do presenters choose words and concepts that are understandable? Is there a key point to each lesson? Do illustrations and memorable stories help drive that point home? Do you know each week what you want kids to walk away knowing, feeling and doing?

Prepare lessons intentionally that will address questions like these. Proper planning and gifted communicators can improve any weekend experience and help you hit the mark. A great room, fun leaders and exciting activities will bring kids back, but it won’t lead kids to Christ. Don’t settle for glorified babysitting! Plan messages and deliver them with excellence. It is best to give God everything you have knowing that the Holy Spirit will fill in the gaps.

Choose a curriculum that can help you plan. Discover the best match for your church theology and find the package that works best with the age/grade level environments you offer. Pastoral staff may want to weigh in on this decision to ensure that core beliefs align with adult teaching.

Next, consider which additional elements you will include with the main lesson:

  • Worship
  • Scripture memorization
  • Prayer Time
  • A Gospel Presentation
  • Missionary Moments
  • Offering Time
  • Community Outreach Projects
  • Daily Devotional Skills

Decide which of these belong to specific age/grade levels and then incorporate them into your weekend schedule. You may decide to emphasize pieces monthly, quarterly or seasonally and calendarize them into your year.

Think through the age/grade span you oversee. What do you want a child to learn under your tutelage? If they come to you as a first grader, what do you want them to know and experience before they exit into middle school or junior high? Include all of these factors into a sequential plan. Then consider gathering other student or youth department leaders to sync their responsibilities with yours and create a master plan for your church that covers kids from birth to adulthood.

Ingredient #3     Room Environments

Walk into each room and imagine what it feels like to be a child entering for the first time. What do they see, hear and feel? Would you feel anticipated, valued and energized? Is the room configured to support children and programming with the necessary equipment and supplies? Do rooms tell parents and guests that children are a high investment and teaching them about the Christian life is a top priority?

It’s amazing what a coat of paint, some wallpaper or a textured element can do to a room. You can make a room a backyard by adding a gate, fence posts and a tree. You can make a cool studio with brick wallpaper, a microphone and small stage. Hang a window with curtains and add an over-sized chair for story time or magnetize a wall using tin and welcome photos, kid graffiti and art. Designate a space for large group and small group time. If the space is used for multiple venues, bring in brightly colored curtains or banners, kid-sized tables and chairs, and tubs of activities that can be easily stored and moved around. Do whatever you can to be sure your environments scream CHILDREN before they arrive for their weekend experience.

Ingredient #4     Safe-Keeping Procedures

Look again—this time focus on safety. Is each room safe for the population it serves? Are electrical outlets covered? Are industrial cleaners out of reach? Have choking hazards or potential allergy snacks been removed? Do you forbid hot coffee around children and are toys and equipment well maintained and clean? Are diapering areas well stocked and hygienic? Are all volunteers known and have they completed an application process and training? Are check-in, check-out and emergency procedures in place and adult-to-child ratios established and maintained? Are people following and adhering the routine protective measures you have set in place?

Safe environments are a must. The key phrase is “due-diligence.” In this arena, you want to anticipate your regrets. If a cold passes among children while in your care, that’s a bummer, but if unwashed toys or unclean diapering stations and restrooms transfer germs that lead to diseases, the health department can shut you down for months. Preventable injuries lessen parent trust and the discovery of one inappropriate act from an isolated teen or adult can ruin the reputation of the entire church for years to come. Be proactive, be present and be diligent. Cover all your bases from child locks to routine procedures and screenings for appropriate volunteer personnel.

Ingredient #5     Passionate, Gifted Volunteers

Fill the room with people who love kids. Routinely pour vision over them so that each person carries the big picture and knows what a winning weekend looks like. Fill volunteers with vision so that when they serve, they know the goal, can deliver the desired elements and focus on the target.

Place volunteers in their gifted spots. Teach everyone in the room what it means to be faithful and successful. Connect people to one another and the shared experience. Share stories. Share lives. Share prayer requests. Become a team of specialized players who know how to succeed in each environment. Write job descriptions, give encouragement, create opportunities for people to grow, celebrate wins, and remind each person that together and individually they make a difference!

 

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