You asked for it! We’ve gathered tons of low-cost and no-cost ideas to use in any season for any reason…
If the best things in life are free, maybe the best things in children’s ministry are free, too! We’ve collected power-packed ideas your kids and families will love. And best of all, none of these ideas will put a dent in your budget. Read on for the best tried-and-true, budget-conscious ideas to bring kids closer to Jesus.
Our kids love our Cup Crazy events. These low-cost events are a big hit with our ministry kids and their friends in the community. We use disposable cups for the event. We set up several tables in our church gym. Each child gets 10 cups to stack. We give the kids their cups all stacked one inside the other. Two or three kids play at a time, and they each try to beat a timer for their personal best. To play, each player stacks his or her cups into a pyramid with four cups on the bottom. After placing the top cup on the pyramid, the player must take his or her hand off the top cup for one second before restacking their cups inside each other. Kids stack and unstack their pyramids as quickly as possible, with a volunteer “timer” standing by to give them their best time out of three tries. Throughout these events, we incorporate a message about giving our best to God.
Royal Oak, Michigan
ALL-HEART Party for Preschoolers
Here’s a simple, low-cost event for preschoolers. Set up these heart-conscious stations and invite preschoolers to move from station to station during the party.
- God Loves You. Place several colors of play dough and heart-shaped cookie cutters on a table with chairs. Have children play with the dough and flatten it. Show kids how to use the cookie cutters to cut out hearts. As you play, remind kids that Jesus loves them.
- Love Others. Make photocopies of a large heart shape on colored paper. Have children color their hearts with crayons. As they color, discuss the people they love and things they love about those people, such as “Mommy is nice to me” and “Daddy gives me hugs.”
- God Made Me. Cut one large and one small heart from different colors of construction paper for each child. Have kids decorate their hearts with googly eyes, scraps of fabric, crayons, and buttons. Use the other heart for a nose. Add strips of paper folded accordion style for legs and arms. As kids create, talk about how God made each of us with love and care.
- God Is Good. Make a heartshaped sugar cookie for each child. Have kids decorate a cookie with frosting discuss the and sprinkles. Once all the cookies are decorated, gather children and read a story about God’s love from a children’s Bible or storybook. As you read, invite kids to eat their freshly decorated cookies.
Royal Oak, Michigan
Free Family DATE NIGHT
We host a family date night in our sanctuary every month. We choose an appropriate movie, provide popcorn donated by a local movie theater, supply drinks, and incorporate before and after activities such as discussion questions and crafts designed to help families connect. We advertise each family date night on our church sign and throughout the community. These evenings are popular because they offer families a no-stress environment where they can hang out with each other and meet other families.
Annual WATER NIGHT
On an evening each July, we have our annual water night. This is a great low-cost event that the kids look forward to and bring their friends to. We start the night with a shaving cream fight in the church’s front yard. We also set up a water slide made with a roll of plastic sheeting doused with baby shampoo and water from a hose. Of course, the night wouldn’t be complete without tons of water balloons. We recruit extra volunteers to ensure everyone’s safety, and we invite all attendees to join us for church the coming weekend. The neighborhood kids come out for this event, and so do many curious parents.
ART in Public Places
Here’s a totally free idea we’ve used with great success. We have an Art in Public Places event for our preteens where they find fountains, sculptures, and buildings that are tied to Scripture. We group kids with an adult volunteer, distribute a list of items and the related Scripture, and then send them out. We have everyone regroup at the church for a cookout, and then we have each group compare its findings and the Scriptures they were given.
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Our preteens eat up this budget-friendly event. We invite kids to join us for breakfast at church. We add neon food coloring (available at grocery stores) to pancake batter and pour it into squeeze bottles. Then we have adults supervise while kids “paint” their own breakfasts right on the griddle. As kids enjoy their wacky breakfast creations, we talk about God’s gift of creativity.
Our third- through fifth-grade kids love our annual Spring Fling, a low-cost progressive lunch where kids must decipher clues to find the locations. We form teams and assign an adult team leader for each group. Team leaders get a packet of clues to the destinations and must be able to drive the team from location to location. The destinations are the homes of our church members. Each destination serves a different portion of the meal. For instance, one home serves salad, the next serves french fries, the third serves hamburgers, and the final destination serves dessert. We base all the clues on Bible passages that challenge kids to search the Bible for answers.
Menlo Park, California
Ice Cream Night
We have great success with our Ice Cream Nights. The concept is simple — we invite families to bring $1 and a favorite ice cream topping. We reuse creative programming from past VBS programs and add a delicious ice cream snack. The end result is an unbeatable recipe for an evening of fun, games, and fellowship.
Menlo Park, California
Don’t miss out on the amazing deals available after holidays. Retailers sell leftover items — often for pennies — and with a little creativity you can get the most out of even your smallest investment. So take another look at the after-holiday bargain bin, and put your finds to use with these creative twists.
- Refillable plastic eggs — Turn these eggs into creatures such as fish, birds, doves, and ravens. Transform the eggs by gluing construction paper, foam pieces, feathers, cotton balls, googly eyes, or chenille craft wire. Or simply draw on the eggs with markers. Eggs make terrific heads to help kids identify the people from biblical events. Draw faces on 12 eggs and write the name of each disciple. Number the faces for younger children.
- Refillable plastic jelly beans — Use these in many of the same ways you use plastic eggs. Half jelly beans make perfect ears. Tape one to each side of a paper plate, let younger children draw the face, and you have a puppet or a take-home craft.
- Jelly beans — Use jelly beans as decorations for a variety of edible crafts. Push a toothpick into a jelly bean and decorate it with gel icing to make ladybugs and other small creatures. Fish and birds are easy to make with jelly beans, too. Let kids get creative with gel icing or have them make cupcake creatures by poking jelly beans into an iced cupcake. Push six or eight small pieces of chenille craft wire into an oversized jelly bean to make a spider. Bend the stems slightly so the creature can stand on its own legs.
- Marshmallow Peeps — These colorful marshmallow chicks sit nicely in a bird’s nest made of raffia, straw, or even a frosting and coconut-topped cookie or cupcake. White Peeps make perfect doves for an edible visual in dove-related Bible stories.
- Plastic refillable carrots — Fill these with Bible verses about good food and healthful eating. Tape a slip of paper to the top of a refillable carrot that says, “God’s Word is good for me.” Have kids write Bible verses from current lessons or themes and put them inside the carrots to take home.
- Easter grass — Use this holiday leftover for colorful 3-D pictures. Glue clumps of grass onto paper for clouds, grass, rivers, or trees. Glue blue grass onto construction paper or a bulletin board and add a boat shape or fish to represent the great catch of fish, Jonah, or another boat or fish Bible story.
Another way to use Easter grass is as stuffing for pillow projects. Cut two identical shapes from felt. Have children write a Bible verse on one of the shapes, then glue the edges together, leaving a small opening for stuffing. Stuff the craft with Easter grass, and then seal the opening with glue. Add a loop of yarn or string as a hanger.
Halloween or Autumn
- Costumes — Buy leftover animal and people costumes. Firefighter, police, doctor, and nurse outfits are great for dress-up or for community helper lessons. Animal costumes ignite kids’ imaginations and are handy for skits. Dressing up is also a wonderful way to help children re-enact a Bible event.
- Candy corn and candy pumpkins — Children can decorate and then fill jars with these candies or unpopped popcorn to give as a reminder of our bountiful harvest blessings. Preteens can use large plastic needles and fishing line to string corn and pumpkins for an edible holiday garland.
- Scarecrows — Put a scarecrow in a corner of your classroom and add pumpkins, gourds, and apples. Hang a sign around the scarecrow’s neck that says “We thank God for our blessings of good food.”
- Lights — Use colored lights to emphasize elements from the Bible. For instance, form a light rainbow to help kids understand God’s covenant. Use yellow lights to create a star, white lights to create a dove, and blue lights to complement a bulletin board with a water or fishing theme.
- Gift wrap — Use the unprinted side for table covers, stamping, finger painting, or coloring.
- Cards — Tape together six 2×2-inch squares to create a cube. Pour dried rice inside the cube and tape the last seam. Use the cubes for tossing, teaching, or as paperweight gifts. Or punch a hole in each corner of 25 to 50 cards. Tie the cards together with 6-inch yarn pieces, creating a praise quilt wall hanging.
- Gingerbread cookie cutters — Create people shapes for snacks, play dough, tracing, or for making family or unity wreaths.
Please keep in mind that phone numbers, addresses, and prices are subject to change.