Oven Bits developed the app and has a great behind the scenes look at the creation process.
Archives For Children’s Ministry
David C Cook publishing is well known for their books and music, but not many people know that they are actually a nonprofit using a considerable amount of their proceeds for global ministry.
Recognizing that orphans and hurting children need more than food, clothing, and shelter, David C Cook created Half a Child to meet children’s spiritual and emotional needs, too. James 1:27 admonishes us to “look after orphans and widows in their distress.” For Half a Child, this means working with children one-on-one and ministering to their unique circumstances.
When people talk about orphans, they talk about adoption, but the sad reality is that most orphans will never be adopted. We must not forget to care for them, particularly those who have been abandoned, abused, or betrayed.
After the Haiti earthquake, David C Cook noticed that trauma counselling distinguished the Christians from other humanitarian groups. Through focus groups across India, they also learned that childhood counselling is one of the major missing pieces.
So in response, they created J127, a curriculum for the developing world by the developing world. It is designed for 8 to 11-year-old orphans and features almost 500 sessions (3 times per week for 3 years). It weaves Christian teaching beautifully with collegiate-level counselling approaches but all in a way that is easy for kids to understand.
Currently, it is being extensively tested in India using trained and paid workers.
However, variations of it are also being used by the Church of Uganda (12 million members) and by 17 denominations in Bangladesh, including Presbyterians, Baptists, Pentecostal, Anglicans, The Salvation Army, and Reformed churches. They change the culture but not the theology of the program for each country. In fact, J127 functions well across global denominations and theologies. Rarely, has theology been an issue.
The intellectual property for the J127 curriculum is free of charge. However, those wishing to use it must be willing to be trained in how to use it and willing to share in the cost of printing and distribution. This customized curriculum approach involves teacher training, cultural tweaks, new lessons based on needs (i.e., lessons on child sacrifice in Africa), and rebranding if necessary.
The Story of Jesus
Half a Child also distributes a simple comic version of The Story of Jesus. In fact, they’ve already distributed over 30 million copies of it through 1-on-1 relationships.
While certainly challenging, it is exciting to see that is possible to raise the bar for 1-on-1 discipleship and still have high numbers.
You can learn more about these initiatives and how to get involved at GlobalChurch.com.
By its very nature, children’s ministry is challenging, but special needs ministry takes the challenge to a whole new level. Any pastor familiar with teaching special needs children understands the importance of developing a unique approach and relationship with each child. It takes a great deal of effort, but it is well worth it when you can effectively connect and minister to a special needs child.
One thing that cannot be overstated is the importance of developing a unique approach and relationship with each child. There is no true cookie cutter way to serve everyone in a special needs ministry. That said, we felt there was still value in summarizing some tips and best practices provided by those who minister to those with special needs.
- Buddy System – children with special needs are paired with trained adults to assist them at whatever level is needed. Experienced volunteers trained by child psychologists and educators are a plus. (Example: Joy Zone)
- Childcare Nights (respite care) – childcare for children with special needs and their siblings so the parent(s) can relax. On-site doctors, nurses, and OT/PT’s is a plus. (Example: Revive)
- Community Outreach – go beyond the church walls and minister in the community because some parents will not attend church because they believe their child with special needs will disturb others or cannot be entrusted to others.
- Dual Classrooms – sometimes children with special needs participate in the same class as their age group, and other times the children with special needs are in a quiet room especially designed for them as not to be overwhelming or too stimulating.
- Separate Classroom – children with special needs are separated from the standard children’s classrooms but their parents and siblings are welcomed.
- Pure Ministries (a ministry of Zachariah’s Way) - trains churches how to better minister to people with special needs and their families.
- Labeling their Identity – Do not refer to people by their disability. Say “children with autism” rather than “autistic children” because it can subtly change one’s perception of a child with autism.
- Every Child is Different – Determine how to reach each child. Children with autism often don’t like too much stimulation. But children with other disabilities may thrive on it.
- Give Expectations – Many children with special needs behave better when they know what is expected of them.
- Be Visual – Inanimate objects need to be included in lessons. Things like puppets, pictures, and videos take the focus off the teacher and engages the child without intimidating him.
- Use Music – Children with autism (and many other special needs) love music.
- More than Chairs – Children with autism do not like to sit for long periods of time.
- Keep It Small – Children with autism like small environments
- Don’t gossip.
- Love the child.
INTERACTING WITH PARENTS
- Don’t say, “I know how you feel.” - You can empathize with them, but you cannot experience this process in their place nor truly know how they feel.
- Ask & Research - Do not tell the parent what you think. Ask the parents about the child then do some research.
- Include – Make an concerted effort to include their loved one with special needs in your social gatherings or outings whenever appropriate.
- Offer respite – Even a break for an hour can be a great help.
- Avoid offering unsolicited advice - Even well intentioned advice can communicate they are inferior parents.
- Say and show you care - Parents appreciate it when you genuinely communicate that you care and ask for ways you can be of help…even if they don’t take you up on it.
- Don’t assume – Just because a parent has a high-functioning child with special needs, this does not mean they have smaller challenges than those with low-functioning children.
WHY IT MATTERS (stories from parents)
- I have a stepson who is autistic, and I tried to take him to church, I really miss going to church. My problem is I spent more time in the child’s room than I spent at church because the people who teach there are simply not educated in the needs of an autistic student. I have been looking into getting a tss or a pca to come and help during church but to no avail. It would be wonderful if more people truly understood instead of staring and whispering. (Stacy)
- I have a 20 year old son with Asperger Syndrome who loves the Lord deeply. Sadly the church environment has been the one place he has never been welcomed or encouraged to return. The secular world has been far kinder to him. Though he desperately wants friends and fellowship, the lack of encouragement within the church body has caused him to retreat further into his own world. He now refuses to try again. (Rhiannon)
- I have been very grateful for a Special Needs Sunday School class that was started. I feel comfortable with leaving him there and I am at least getting to hear a sermon once a week! (Sheryl)
Church Specific Special Needs Resources
- Inclusion Handbook: Everybody Belongs Everybody Serves [free download] by the Christian Reformed Church
- Autism and Your Church [book] by Barbara J. Newman
- Helping Kids Include Kids With Disabilities [book] by Barbara J. Newman
Autism & Asperger Syndrome
- Autism Speaks: a top resource for professionals and families. TONS of information, and fairly well organized.
- OASIS@MAAP offers a number of great articles and resources including Advice for Peer Tutors & Others Who Care
- Also check out OASIS@MAAP’s Guidelines for Teachers
- I Am Norm offers resources and videos to help others better understand those with special needs
- What advice do you have for ministering to children with special needs? Are there any other online resources you would like to recommend?
Keep the insights coming!
Revised and updated from a previous post
Is modern youth ministry contrary to scripture?
That is the core question of Divided the movie, an hour long youth ministry documentary film by Philip and Chris Leclerc. It is backed by The National Center for Family-Integrated Churches, so naturally the film is biased towards youth being integrated into a church service rather than in silos of age segregated classrooms.
Divided the movie leads with George Barna’s 2002 research that around two thirds of young people are going to leave the church.
We’re losing about 40% of them by the end of middle school and another 45% by the end of high school. In other words, we are losing them way before college.
- Ken Ham
For now, you can watch the free documentary online at DividedTheMovie.com. If you are a pastor, youth minister, or children’s minister, I recommend watching it regardless of your theological stance or methodology. It presents some very good thoughts that run cross current against the mainstream Western church system of how to disciple youth.
With that said, Divided the movie has also received its fair share of controversy and criticism, specifically that it is too one-sided. So watch the documentary then balance it out with a few key thought leaders that have already weighed in on the discussion:
>> Let’s start with that straw man thing. If you’re not familiar with the phrase, the idea is that it’s easy to tear down an idea or set of ideas if you construct a fake version of the idea in the first place. That approach is employed throughout the film.
>> Throughout the entire film, the “experts” (who are all from an extremely right wing edge of the church; there’s not even a moderate interviewed) are there to offer soundbite, emotionally packed, fear-tinged, support of the film’s points.
>> There was no genuine journalism. What there seems to have been is a well-funded donor with a pre-determined set of agenda items.
>> I want us all to talk about this stuff, because I think it’s massively important. I applaud the filmmakers for taking a risk.
>> My feeling about the film after one initial viewing – that this is an extremely biased film that was not made as a result of Philip Leclerc’s stated desire to embark on a fact-finding journey, but rather that the film was conceived and made with a bias and agenda that existed long before the first clip was ever shot.
>> Divided is a not so much a documentary as it is a promotional piece for the National Center for Family Integrated Churches.
>> Divided is a film that asks some very good questions and addresses some issues in youth ministry and the church that must be addressed. There are things we need to repent of in youth ministry.
>> Viewers need to remember that what they are seeing and hearing in the film is mediated. Sadly, it’s mediated in an imbalanced manner.
>> I believe that the film asks good questions about age-segregation in worship. It just shouldn’t happen. I’ve been trumpeting that for years and so have many others in the youth ministry community. But again, there are times when we can separate from each other to be nurtured in age-appropriate ways.
>> What Leclerc does is what so many documentarians do: he chooses his representatives very, very carefully. He chooses the intellectuals of the FIC to represent his view and chooses the young and foolish to represent the other side. It’s hardly subtle and not at all fair. He builds his case on a cliche.
>> I think we need to see it for what it is. This is a movie that heavily promotes a very obvious agenda. It does not take long for us to learn that Leclerc is a member of a Family Integrated Church and that he has been for many years. This then casts doubt on this journey he is taking. Is it a true journey to learn a better way to do church? Or were the questions answered long before the film shoot even began?
>> Perhaps my biggest disappointment with the film, then, is it lumps all non-integrated churches together.
>> It majors on the minors, making family integration the pivotal and central doctrine for the church. It identifies a genuine problem but attempts to solve it in a way that elevates methodology instead of the gospel message.
Personally, I think it is a great documentary because it covers unchartered ground. It challenges status quo thinking and gets viewers to ask questions.
Yes, it is very biased, but what documentary isn’t? (rhetorical sarcasm) I’d rather have the bias be blatant than a cleverly subtle approach that hoodwinks my worldview. I, too, wish it had a balanced panel of experts. But as with any documentary, it is the viewers’ responsibility to balance it out by researching other facts and perspectives.
What’s your opinion?
Sometimes the biggest challenge to teaching is kids’ imaginations.
However, you can use their imaginations to your advantage. Kids are going to use their imaginations. So rather than letting them daydream, ask them to imagine with you. Take them new places.
2012 Church Conference Calendar
If you want to develop great volunteers, follow these steps.
- What is your mission?
For us, children’s ministry is about the kids. If any decision conflicts with that statement, the right answer is clear.
- Get your systems in order.
If you want people who are sharp and capable, you have to have your systems in order. If people come to serve and see gaping holes in how you do things, they may defect not because they don’t care but because it looks like you don’t. Volunteers like to know their place. Systems provide that. Church needs to be safe. Systems provide that. If you don’t have systems, you are asking for it.
Those are two things that I think must be done before you ever ask for volunteers. Here is what you do after you’ve got the basics covered.
- Cast the vision.
People don’t respond to needs. They respond to vision. Vision captures people. When you are dealing with volunteers, you must cast the vision often, often, often. A lot of our vision is systems.
- Have a code of ethics.
A code of ethics is a list that covers anything that is a deal breaker about serving. And we have volunteers sign the code of ethics in front of a pastor. You determine what this is for you. Clear guidelines make it easy to enforce expectations.
- Deal with problems.
You can not be afraid to deal with problems. And problems come from people. It is difficult to look at someone and say, “I’m sorry. This isn’t working.” As Joyce Meyer says, “Do it afraid!” if necessary. You need to realize that you are part of something that is bigger than you. You have to be bold.
- Put them in the right spot.
Volunteers all have different kinds of gifts. You have the ones who want to stay behind the scenes and the ones who want the microphone. The funny thing is not all of the people who want the microphone should have the microphone. Our kids are not lab rats for you to develop yourself as a speaker.
- Be followable.
There is one thing I’ve seen a lot of in children’s ministry, and it is the guy in the room that others can’t relate to and say, “Well, he is the kids guy.” You don’t have to be corny. You can teach with authority. Just because you teach kids, doesn’t mean that you have to act like you are a child. There is a place for that, but more importantly, you need to be followable. Children’s ministry needs leaders. Children’s ministry needs men (and I think the women agree). And if you want men to volunteer, you need to act like a man. I’ve learned that you can reach kids better if you just act like a man. So ask if you are someone who can be followed. You can’t just be a friend.
That is how we do it at Church on the Move.
2012 Church Conference Calendar
Children’s ministry comes with its challenges, but statistically, it brings some of the greatest rewards. In fact, 85% of Christians accepted Christ between ages 4-14. According to Barna, the probability of accepting Christ is 32% at ages 5-13, only 4% at ages 14-18, and only 6% at ages 19+.
While the Holy Spirit plays a key role in salvation, I believe that it is what we do that ultimately sets the stage for salvation and discipleship to be possible. That is our responsibility in the Great Commission. Here are some tips to improve the effectiveness of your kid’s ministry (kidmin).
4 Steps to Great Kid Sunday School Lessons
STEP #1 – RELATIONSHIPS
As 1 Corinthians 13 reminds us, it doesn’t matter how eloquently you preach or how skillful you are. If you do not have love, your efforts are worthless. Everyone needs love, but not every kid receives it. Some come from broken homes. Some are abused physically, emotionally, or sexually. Some live in pretty dark realities. Teachers who make kids feel loved are important in the life of every child. But loving teachers are the most important thing a hurting child can experience at church.
A preschooler may attend church only once, not remember a word of the lesson, but look back 15 years later in college and say, “Life hasn’t been fair. I’ve been hurt. But I remember that church. They loved me when no one else did. Maybe I should go to church. Maybe I should give God a chance.” Authentic loving relationships make church sticky and memorable in a very positive way.
STEP #2 – GOD’S WORD
Scripture is a seed that changes lives when planted. Do not water down your Sunday school lessons. Kids are remarkably intelligent and can handle sophisticated theology. Make God’s Word relevant to kids. Relevant kidmin doesn’t mean talking about Xbox and High School Musical. Relevant kidmin lessons address the spiritual needs of the modern child. The spiritual needs of kids who have been molested or tried meth or are dealing with their parents’ divorce are much deeper than sugar-coated lessons and pop culture references.
I encourage children’s ministers to always consider the deepest hurts and teach in a way that provides spiritual support to those who are hurting without robbing the innocence of those who are fortunate enough to be in sheltered, healthy homes.
STEP #3 – DISCIPLINE
Some kids workers feel uncomfortable with disciplining the kids they teach. Certainly, don’t rule the classroom with an iron fist, but you need discipline. Although kids are not fond of being reprimanded, good discipline actually creates a classroom structure that allows for there to be more fun. Discipline keeps kids safe. And ultimately, it makes them feel loved (even if they act like they don’t appreciate it). Without proper discipline, the kids will not respect you, and the environment will distract them from learning.
STEP #4 – WOW
Object lessons with flash paper, slush powder, razor sharp swords, or computer graphics are cool. Kids love them just like they love video games and inflatable playgrounds at church. But these things are novelty. They create a WOW effect.
Adding WOW to your Sunday school lessons makes the spiritual truths sticky. It enables the kids to remember the lessons for years or even decades. But without deep spiritual truths, the WOW is just fleeting novelty. Without spiritual truths, kids will just be waiting for the next gimmick to trump the last trick. So add WOW but not for WOW’s sake. Use it to make God’s Word even stickier.
- What tips do you have for creating great kid Sunday school lessons?