How externally focused churches
minister to -- and through -- kids.
It was late on Saturday afternoon, and the Kutcher family was
winding down from the usual weekend busyness around the house and
yard. Realizing the time, Louis called to his kids, "Let's go,
everyone. It's time to go to church."
"Okay, Dad," responded 5-year-old Jonathan. Then, considering what
seemed obvious options in his mind, Jonathan added, "Dad, is it
sit-down church or go-out-and-serve church?"
Jonathan's understanding of church included an actual response to
Jesus' Matthew 28 commission to go into the world. His family did
it all the time.
The Kutcher family, like many others at the Vineyard Community
Church (VCC) in Cincinnati, Ohio, has grown into an outward-focused
lifestyle that values receiving from God, balanced by taking time
and opportunity to serve others. They know it's normal Christianity
to serve both in and outside the church.
Steve Sjogren, founding pastor of VCC, coins this as "servant
evangelism" in his book Conspiracy of Kindness (Regal
Books), which casts the vision for a whole different kind of church
experience. Sjogren offers simple, love-motivated ideas on how to
bring the kingdom of God to the world. Rather than church life
taking place primarily within the four walls of a building, there's
regular activity in showing God's love in practical ways to those
we cross paths within everyday life. Sjogren writes that doing
humble acts of kindness causes the world to notice our lives and
listen to our message.
So how does this work with children and families? Can it work
within your children's ministry? Try these ideas on for size.
Start Kids Early
That's what Kristine Wendt, early childhood pastor at Eagle Brook
Church in Hugo, Minnesota, will tell you. She and her team engage
more than 825 Kid-O-Deo preschoolers in an annual Love Your
Neighbor series with both a local and international focus. The kids
learn about other countries with the help of a map, photos of
children who live in those countries, games the children in those
countries might play, prayers for them, and discussions of ways to
raise money to help them.
"We help our kids know that no matter what," Wendt says, "God can
help and that he loves it when we can help others who don't have
what we have."
When little children grow up participating in outreach, they
really get the concept of sharing. I especially noticed the
preschoolers who were present for our Christmas Eve Doughnut
Outreach this year at VCC. Families enjoyed a candlelight service,
sang Christmas carols, and heard stories about last year from our
pastor, Dave Workman. We then headed to the gym to grab an armful
of the thousands of boxes of Krispy Kreme doughnuts, and out into
the night in search of someone working on Christmas Eve to give
them doughnuts with a short message on the box telling them of
God's generous love for them.
Reach Out Intentionally
We include the goal of developing outward-focused kids in our
children's ministry core values at VCC. Putting it in writing
directs our activity with kids.
CincyKids, our summer family outreach event, guides families
toward an outward-focused lifestyle. At registration we provide
each family with a backpack to fill in advance. On the first night
the kids help prepare the backpacks for children in need adding a
note and a picture of themselves. CincyKids concludes with a huge
summer block party in which the kids run the games, pop the corn,
pass out snow cones, serve the hot dogs, and give away prizes for
the first half. Parents take over for the second half so the kids
can play. This way, children learn to serve and put others
Other churches are changing their paradigm from a "y'all come"
mentality to a "let's go" focus. Heidi Fingerlin from Redeemer
Lutheran Church in Austin, Texas, shares: "We realized a few years
ago that the 'build it and they will come' philosophy of children's
ministry was no longer working in our community. So we made a
deliberate decision to change the direction of how we did outreach
for children to go out and meet our community where they
Heidi and her team put their energy into a traditional large
vacation Bible school at church, but they've added many smaller VBS
camps that take place in the front yards of willing hosts who
invite their neighbors into the fun. They also host a
"Trunk-or-Treat" Halloween party, complete with decorated car
trunks, pickup beds (yes, they're Texans), and hatchbacks spilling
over with candy, prizes, and themed interactive games. And they
throw the biggest free Easter Egg Hunt in town, which includes
several age-appropriate hunts, a Resurrection party, Easter drama,
face painting, photo booths, crafts, bounce houses, petting zoo,
and a door prize such as a putt-putt golf family pack. They save
all addresses from the prize tickets so they can invite visiting
children and families to their next children's event.