Don’t make the mistake of assuming your kids are engaged in your message. Follow these five rules to get kids engaged, and you’ll ensure that your kids become fully absorbed in your ministry.
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I’d just finished what I believed to be another rather inspiring and compelling lesson about God’s purpose for our lives. I’d retold the exciting moment when Jesus laid it all out for Peter, saying that every one of God’s commands really comes down to two simple points: Love God and love others.
I’d emphasized for several weeks now that if we only figured out how to do those two uncomplicated things, we’d live the purpose that God has called each of us to. Over and over I’d driven it home: “Love God; love others. It all comes down to this.” And I’d ended each lesson with a most sincere prayer asking God to help us discover how to better love him and all the people in our lives before dismissing the kids to their small groups.
As the kids filed out the room, though, I watched as Jackson grabbed and then hurled Shellie’s stuffed alligator 20 feet across the room. It was a minor offense at best, but still an excellent — ahem — learning opportunity for Jackson. I’ll admit I was a little surprised that of all kids, it was Jackson I was pulling aside. After all, he was one of our regular, most well-behaved kids.
I knelt down at his eye level and asked, “Remember those two things we just talked about? Those two things that Jesus said matter most as his followers?” I could feel the weight of the moment, anticipating that this would turn out to be my Teachable Moment of the Morning. “What were those two things, Jackson?”
Jackson stared hard at me, his brow furrowed, searching for the right answer. I watched him, certain he’d connect the dots. He was, after all, always in the front row. His eyes finally met mine in a silent plea for help. Slightly discouraged, I gave him a little hint: “Jesus said to love…?”
I sighed. “Love…? Love Guh…? Guh? Guh…?” I hinted further, trying to give him some phonetic inspiration — and beginning to feel foolish.
“Oh yeah!” Jackson’s brow unfurrowed and his eyes lit up. “Love girls!”
Right then I realized that too often I’ve made the mistake of assuming that Jackson, who’s always sitting quietly, facing forward in the front row of my room, is attentive and fully engaged in my lessons. Yeah. I was wrong.
Did Jackson truthfully believe I’d just spent the last 15 minutes talking about the importance of loving girls? Did he? In that single exchange, my confidence dried up and my smugness about what I’d thought my kids must be learning from me evaporated. I became acutely aware that Jackson — and who knew how many others — actually didn’t know what I’d been telling him for weeks. Jackson was a front-row sitter, totally quiet, staring right at me the whole time, completely and fully…disengaged.
That moment with Jackson taught me a powerful lesson about how easy it is to mistakenly assume that kids are engaged in our teaching and actively growing in their faith. The reality is that engaging kids is a little more complicated than delivering great lessons and profound truths. So don’t make my mistake of assuming your kids are tracking right along with you. Follow the five rules of engagement I’ve learned, and you’ll ensure that your kids become fully absorbed in your ministry.
RULE 1. LEARN WHAT’S LIKEABLE.
Engaging kids begins the very moment they walk into your room. Kids are highly discerning, and they tend to decide quickly whether they like or don’t something — often before that something has a fair chance to win the child’s affections. You, your children’s ministry, and your room are no different. I’ll hold up a gold-standard example here: Disney can teach us so many things when it comes to appealing to a child’s intellect, beginning with its remarkable ability to engage the audience. If you’ve ever visited a Disney theme park, you probably noticed that the likeability factor begins before you set foot inside the gates, even as you approach the property on the freeway. You see signs welcoming you. The parking structures are tastefully designed with beloved characters. The strategic décor draws people in and captivates them the moment they arrive.
You’ll sway the likeability scale in your favor if you strategically work to attract kids — in other words, think like a kid. Whether it’s in the form of a child-friendly environment with right-sized chairs and friendly decorations or in your likeable, friendly demeanor, see to it that kids will like whatever they encounter. Don’t assume budget has anything to do with this; you can create an engaging physical environment on any budget with a little creativity…and being friendly doesn’t cost you a thing. Look to your church body for talented and creative people or people who know talented and creative people who can help you with your room design and setup. If you work at it, you can develop an all-around likeable environment and atmosphere that’ll engage kids and give them a fun and non-embarrassing place to bring their friends.
RULE 2. SPEAK THE LANGUAGE OF FUN.
There are no laws that say church can’t be off-the-chain, hysterical fun. I’ve heard feedback from parents (who are often your best gauge) who’ve confirmed this rule for me time and time again. There will always be the occasional eyebrow-raiser parent, but much more frequently I have parents going out of their way making appointments with me during the work week, all just to tell me that their child has never liked coming to church before now. They tell me their kids are dragging them out of bed on Sunday mornings. They tell me stories of how their children are learning about the promises God has for them. They’re excited about the ways they see their kids integrate faith into their day-to-day lives.
Kids are naturally drawn to what’s fun. (So are we, for that matter.) And fun comes in all kinds of packages. It comes in all forms — shared leadership with kids, great media, challenges kids actually relate to, and all number of things specific to today’s kids. When you take fun — the language of children — and use it strategically to draw kids into your ministry, it gets their attention. It communicates to them that you value them and the things they like. It opens their hearts to the really important things you — and more importantly God — have to say to them.