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Thanks for passing along these ideas! During the song service, how is the story chosen for the children? Does it relate to the morning's sermon, or to Sunday school, or does it follow its own sequence? Are the stories read from a children's storybook, or shared by a storyteller?
Jesus said, let the little children come to me. If you do not become as these little children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven. We often take these statements too lightly, and pass them off as fluff, when they are actually at the heart of the gospel.
In our church, we spend the first fifty minutes having Sunday school. Everyone is involved, from small children to adults. Adults who are not teaching can attend an adult bible study, while some simply drink coffee and fellowship. Then, after a ten minute break, we have a song service, maybe 3 or 4 songs, and then a special story for the children, which the adults also get to listen to. About ten or 14 kids go to the front to listen, answer questions, and suggest kids songs to sing. Another 2 or 3 kids songs then are sung, usually from memory.
Then the regular service starts, at which all children are welcome to stay, but a few go to nursery. Particularly infants. Making the worship service for children is important, but also the entire environment. We have a playground outside also, which gets used in summer after church, and a foosball game in one of the nurseries, which kids get to play while the adults have coffee after church. Anyway, just some ideas for paying attention to what Jesus said, "Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them."
Thanks for the great ideas! We don't often use images on PowerPoint. I've never thought of the importance that might have for children. Do you have any suggestions on where to find the images?
What a great perspective. Thanks for this article. I, too, am very sensitive to the inclusion or exclusion of children in our worship services. There is so much potential. I am going to try harder to be vocal about the times when I see the church "at it's best" this way, and hope for more positive change to come.
One small change I've seen make a big difference, is the choice of songs prior to the children leaving. Including a few children's songs, or hymns with simpler words, allows children to participate instead of standing idly by, bored and/or confused. Also, for children who can't read, having appropriate images on the PowerPoint screen with the words still allows them to worship with us through visual means. Having the singing team demonstrate actions or interpretive dance helps them participate as well. I have been so blessed watching children worship with their hands and faces even when they don't know the words and can't read them. I believe this is how God is pleased in worship as well. Let's encourage more of this!!
I often think that in most things in ministry, when our numbers drop or fluctuate highly, we need to look at ourselves first. One of the key elements in growing churches is a vibrant children's ministry. Geoff Surratt, in his GREAT book "10 Stupid Things that Keep Churches from Growing" says that our aim should be to make the hour we have with the kids "the best hour of their week". If you do that, I think kids will come. If not, it begs the question, "How do we get there." I tend to think we let ourselves off the hook a little too easily in maintaining high levels of quality and substance in our children's ministries because they are people who aren't on councils and don't have as large of a voice as other age segments of our population.
To that end, we start with a "no excuses" policy for quality - rather than see ceilings, we look for innovative ways to get our intended result. Also, resource and staff your children's ministry for the size you WANT it to be. If you resource and staff your ministry for 5-10 kids, that's the most you'll ever get. We learned that the hard way when we immediately doubled our attendance and weren't ready to deal with it from a resources/staffing standpoint. Finally, identify some churches who do children's ministry REALLY well in your community - likely young, modern-style churches, even plants. Send your volunteers there for a Sunday or two. Most churches will let you do this and pick their brains for innovative and creative ideas to hit those high quality of programming levels that make that hour "the best of the kids' week".
What a great idea, Jolanda! I can see how the kids would love having their own pocket.
thank you Liz for the great idea! Our network has recently been searching out different and meaningful ways to celebrate Easter with our children. This idea is both easy and valuable for the children and the congregation!
My church takes a mentoring approach for profession of faith. For middle school we use the I Believe student and mentor guides, and that works well. I've also used Quest of Faith with high school youth--I like its conversational tone.
Yes, I agree. If many of your kids have grown up with the young children and worship program they'll probably catch onto the Novelli method more quickly. Please post an update on how it's working out if your church decides to give it a try. Thanks!
Hi Jolanda - Thank-you for your comments. Your insight will be valuable to us if we decide as a church to use the program - I hope we do! I think the program was designed for older teens but could be developed for younger children as well especially those with a background of Children's Worship. Thanks again - Gerry
Nice piece. I think we also have to calibrate "it will be OK" by the cross and the resurrection. "It will be OK" is a common refrain in most American movies and that means some emotional settling or something vague like that. "Success" in the Christian life easily slides into the shiny, happy faces deal.
The core message of the gospel is that following Jesus is designed to lead us to the same places it led him, to the cross, tomb and out again. Christianity wasn't designed to sit next to all of the other self-help books offering good advice in "making life work" but rather to be the only path that actually results in Creation 2.0. This reality is best communicated as you said through watching people actually do it and it won't usually look like a script about adopting some poor child who will grow up to be an NFL millionaire.
Thanks for your piece. pvk
I've read Shaped by the Story by Michael Novelli and I think it's a great resource! I don't have any experience using it with youth, so I can't recommend it on that front, but I am impressed with Novelli's approach to exploring Scripture with youth. He takes seriously the Reformed idea that Scripture is one whole story that tells of God's redemption and restoration of the world through Jesus Christ. His approach puts the focus on God and helps teens look for the connections between each of the Scripture stories. It also guides them in thinking about how the stories shape them personally, and shape all of us as God's people. I especially appreciate the way that he helps teen imagine their way into the story by telling, retelling, and asking questions of the story.
It's also refreshing that Novelli takes teens back into the Bible stories of the Old and New Testament. Sometimes we focus so heavily on life issues, doctrine, creeds, and confessions in the high school and middle school years that I think we send an unintended message that Bible stories are for kids. Not so!! During the teen years the abstract thinking is sharpening, so it's a great time to engage the stories again and come with new questions and wonderings born out of new life experiences. During those turbulent years teens can take great comfort in these stories that tell us how God worked in great and mysterious ways in the lives of ordinary people. They can relate to the ups and downs that we see in some of the complicated stories of people like Moses, Joseph, David, Esther, Paul, Mary. . . . They will discover more about God by seeing how he lovingly engages, challenges, empowers, forgives, all of these people (and us too!). I would love to see my church work Novelli's material into the scope and sequence of the high school years right along with Questions Worth Asking (H. Catechism). Our doctrine and theology is very important, and I think it becomes especially real and meaningful when it is paired with and grounded in the story of Scripture.
If I do get the chance to use Shaped by the Story I think there are a few things I'd do differently than Novelli. For example, he seems pretty strict about not thinking ahead about the story--only looking back and talking about how the current story we are talking about connects to other stories we've already shared. I understand the reasons in theory, but in practice you have a mix of kids who know the whole Bible and those who don't. And you have kids who are coming about half the time, and others who are there consistently. When kids are there, they should be free to have the "Aha!" moments of making connections either to past or future stories. It would be a shame for them to miss that just because they get busy near the end of the series of studies!
Some other details--after sharing the story initially and doing the retelling, I'd want everyone to pull out their Bibles so they could refer to particular aspects of the story as the conversation progresses. It bothers me a bit that they don't ever refer to the text in Novelli's model. Though it would take some tweaking to figure out how present the story orally in a way that still allow time for kids to meaningfully engage in the text.
I'd also be careful that I didn't make my intro too long before sharing the actual story. If you saw the video that came along with the book, I'm referring to the elaborate diamond analogy. It's a good one, but it burns up about half of the attention span of youth! I'd keep that part short and simple, and expect that it would take a few weeks and maybe even a couple months before the rhythm was strong with the youth knowing what's expected and how to participate and engage. The dialogue at the end is really the key to the formation process--it's the point where our story merges with God's story and it's the launching point for living the story. That portion lends itself to some wonderful, Spirit led reflection, conversation, and self discovery. I would guess that this whole method would work best with older youth than with middle schoolers or younger teens.
Have you visited Novelli's website, www.Echothestory.com? I think he has training events and other helpful materials. Post again if you begin using Shaped by the Story--I'd love to hear how it goes. I wonder if it would work best for Sunday school or youth group. I hope we also hear from others who have used it.
Has anyone read the book "Shaped by the Story" by Michael Novelli? It seems to me that this would be a really good way of doing Sunday School. I'm finding that kids are growing up not knowing the stories in the Bible. In this method the story is told bare bones, no extra explanation or description not found in the scripture passage, and after the kids take turns telling it back, each person telling one or two lines. As they talk themselves and hear the others they begin to think about the story and the implications for them. I would like to try this in our church, but because it is not Faith Alive material I am a little chicken of the process to allow it. Okay, now I'm rambling, but this is a perfect follow-up program for Children's Worship if that is something you already have.
At my church we used to fluctuate between 1 and 9 kids each week. I always prepared for 12. Sometimes God surprised me with 15, other weeks God sent 1. The biggest thing I tried to remember was that kids are always taking their cues from me, their leader. So, I tried to teach that one child with the same energy and enthusiasm I would have used with a full house. After all, kids show up ready to hear about God and spend time with you---and you can provide that no matter how many of them there are!!!
Of course, the great thing about having 1 or 2 kids is that you can spend more time in one on one conversation--sharing faith stories, wondering aloud together about how the characters felt, or how and why God did something. You can also take time to get to know your kids on a personal level, praying together and building a relationship that may last a lifetime! Don't be afraid to drop some activities in order to do that. Use the goals listed at the beginning of each 'Step' to frame your conversation.
Something else that's helpful---at the back of each Kid Connection session there is a section called One on One Fun. It's filled with ideas on how to adapt each step when you're working with one or two kids. In your church, Nick, the leaders may find it helpful to check out those ideas as they plan a session so they'll have some options in mind for those weeks when there are really small numbers.
Thanks Jolanda! These resouces were very helpful!
The workshop will be held April 14 & 28 at 7 p.m. Please, pray for me and the attendees that this will be a beneficial workshop!
I've been there too, Nick! One thing I find encouraging is to hang photos of all the kids that attend my class. I just used the little camera in my phone to take pictures of the kids. Whenever someone new arrives I snap their photo too. I print the photos out and cut them into a little circle just framing the child's face, and I stick it to the palm of a traced-hand cut out. Then I stick the new hands on the wall each week. Even on weeks when our group is small we can look on the wall and see all the kids that have been a part of our group throughout the last year. It's encouraging! And when the kids do come back they feel more like they belong because there photo is there with everyone elses. I don't list the kids names with their photos, even so, I think the photos have helped me remember kids names.
If you're wondering why we attach the photos to hands, that's something we started when we were using the Hand in Hand curriculum on Embracing Diversity. I cut out hands in a variety of hands in various colors to represent some of the diversity in God's kingdom. I tape the kid's and leaders photos to them in a random way so that the hands don't reflect the skin tones of the people in the photos--Instead they are there to reminder us that God make us alike and different in many ways and that we are all welcome in God's kingdom and in our class.
You could easily think of another way to display kid's photos in your class, if it was something your teachers would like to try.
Hi Holly, we spoke earlier, but I wanted to post these ideas for the benefit of others who might also be interested in sharing faith stories. It's an exciting project!
Here are a few resources that might be helpful:
Let us know how it turns out!
One I like to use is a 1990 book titled The Children's Bible "retold" by Anne de Graaf and illustrated beautifully by Jose' Perez Montero (Tommy Nelson Publishers). I like it because it is very true to Scripture and reads very well. It is most appropriate for a bit older elementary children.
We used to rent a highschool for our church services and used the teacher's staff room for our nursery. In addition to staplers and paper cutters that needed to be covered up there was a huge bubble gum machine in the room!! We used the bedsheet system too:)
Whenever I'm setting up my Sunday school room I always take a moment to sit where the kids will be sitting so I can see what they will see. That way I can remove distractions and make sure the action is at their eye level.
For each week in Lent the children return to congregational worship from Children's Worship for communion. I have printed a Bible verse on card stock that connects to the Lord's Supper such as I Corinthians 10:17. The verse is given to the children in Children's Worship with a purple pen. Following some of the ideas in the book Praying In Color the children focus on the verse by reading it and drawing around it during their response time as we prepare for communion. The kids take the paper with them when they return to congregational worship.
Great idea-I'll make it a new thread of conversation.
Interesting comment from parents! I think I'll highlight that in the blog to see if others are hearing the same thing. I'll start a new thread with the question of where to donate extra Sunday school curriculum-thanks for the great ideas!
I would personally love to hear some ideas on leading and encouraging a volunteer team. With about 70 volunteers under my care, training and caring for them can be a daunting task!
I also love the Jesus Storybook Bible - for younger elementary kids. For upper elementary, I think that Group's Hands On Bible is fabulous. I usually give kids the NLT for personal use.
I would love to know more about sunday school curriculum. I know there is A LOT out there, but right now Faith Alive at CRCNA is promoting a new curriculum called Kid Connection. We have been using the Walk With Me curriculum and I would love hear a comparison. I also would like to know what other churches think- what they use, what seems to work for them. Also suggestions for Sunday School teachers who have kids that seem to know all the answers because "we heard it in school."
Another topic is someting I have heard A LOT from parents. "I don't send my kids to Sunday School because they already hear so many bible stories. My kids hear a lesson at school, during children and worship, and again during their groups (such as GEMS, CADETS, etc.) It is just "too much" for my kids."
Finally, I would love to know about organizations or suggestions about where to donate extra incomplete Sunday school curriculum. Often we have extra units that are missing some sessions, or the stickers or story cards are partially used. So, they aren’t complete therefore we won’t use them again next year. But I know there are many churches and countries that CAN use them.
I love the imaginations of kids this age!
This article is nicely done! Lots of applications --- and thanks for pointing me to this site!
Your proud dad!
I taught Sunday school for this age for several years. At this age there are very fun to teach and see them grow as they explore what's around them! I can definitely see many of these things. I had to be careful though as I am sarcastic at times, and at this age they don't understand sarcasm.
After trying MANY in our household, our favorite for littler kids is:
The Jesus Storybook Bible: Every Story Whispers His Name
...as the title suggests, it's refreshingly Reformed. Faith Alive carries it.