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Go-Out-and-Serve

Karen Stefacek

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 first.

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 were."

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.

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