What makes a children's ministry truly unique? Let your
imagination soar. Chances are, if you can dream it, there's a
children's ministry out there somewhere doing it. Children's
Ministry Magazine visited unique programs to learn what
they're doing and why. Their ingenuity and out-there approaches to
reaching kids may surprise you -- but they'll also show you how
innovation, a desire to meet children's unique needs, and an open
mind to ministry can build transformational faith in kids.
Rest easy -- having a unique children's ministry doesn't
necessarily mean thousands of kids and a million-dollar budget.
What all these ministries have in common isn't enormous budgets.
It's that they've used out-of-the-ordinary techniques to reach
kids, and they're seeing kids develop a truly amazing faith.
New Hope Christian Fellowship
Urban Flo is a hip-hop outreach ministry geared toward inner-city
children in this community of 90,000. Twice per week, New Hope
holds block parties in the projects, low-income apartments, or
trailer courts. The parties include rap and hip-hop music, dancing,
art, and basketball, along with lessons about God.
"This is the culture that most kids in our city are connecting
with," says Urban Flo pastor Amos Olivarez. "I knew that it would
be a great way to catch the children and youth in the things they
love, and at the same time give them Jesus."
Kids love the connection to their culture and immediately embraced
Urban Flo. Families are thrilled because Urban Flo ministers to
their kids and gives them a positive influence. Everyone is "amazed
at how God is still the focus in such a unique 'church,' " Olivarez
says. "I believe it is the very thing that young people have been
He says the kids learn that God is their friend and that he's
interested in their lives. Kids also see that other people their
age have similar needs and pains, which helps build a sense of
community and camaraderie.
Olivarez's drive to create a radical ministry comes from his
self-described rocky past and God's redemptive work in his life.
"Now that God has become real in my life and rescued me, refreshed
me, and set me on my feet, I'm going all the way for him. And I'm
not going to do this alone. I'll do whatever it takes to make sure
everyone in my path is impacted. I'll do things never seen, out of
the box. Jesus was a creative man, and if he was walking the earth
today, he'd be a radical, soul-saving man."
Urban Flo is proof that teaching can successfully be adapted to
styles and methods that kids embrace-all while centered around the
most important ingredient: Jesus. Olivarez hopes that the influence
of his ministry "will set a fire deep in the souls of the
children's workers, and cause them to become creative, and willing
to do whatever it takes. When you realize that it's possible, you
gain confidence; when one is confident, with God's hand, all things
For Grief, Unique Healing
While LifeNet isn't a religious organization, the group created
a unique way to minister to children experiencing grief and loss.
(LifeNet is a nonprofit group that recovers human organs and
tissue for transplant following the death of a loved one.) Through
its work the organization found that helping children through grief
after the loss of a family member is very difficult.
So the group decided to build on kids' natural interest in
computers and in 2006 launched The Healing Garden (www.healingthespirit.org). There kids can
create a memorial for their loved one, print it, send it to a
friend, and talk about memories. A big benefit of the program is
that children are matched with adult mentors to help them work
through their grief.
"We knew that the interactive and involving 'play' would keep the
child's attention and provide a platform for an adult or older
sibling to talk with the child about the loss. The adult mentors
for The Healing Garden would be the family members,
ministers, social workers, or other folks who care for or love the
bereaved child," says Director of Donor Family Services Robin
The Garden is interactive and allows a child to take "control,"
which is important for healthy mourning.
"The Healing Garden is radical because we're publicly recognizing
that small children grieve deeply following a death in their
family," Cowherd says. "Children are often called the forgotten
mourners. We hope The Healing Garden becomes a forum for children
to express some of the feelings they have following loss and
provides a means for them to personally work through some of the
questions related to their grief. We hope the 'loss lessons' help
them understand why their loved one lived and shape the way they
live their own lives in a positive way."
Junior Dance Ministry
St. Giles Evangelical Presbyterian Church
Charlotte, North Carolina
Almost 20 elementary girls in leotards and ballet shoes practice
their dance moves. But these girls are learning more than positions
and steps, they're learning about worship.
"We believe that God has given us all talents to be used for his
glory," says Junior Dance Ministry Coordinator Kay McGarity. "We
dance as a form of worship and praise to him."
The dance ministry meets for an hour each week, and the first 15
minutes are for sharing prayer requests. Then the four experienced
dance leaders lead the girls through warm-up stretches and dance
techniques while reinforcing Christlike character. Girls perform
wearing blouses or long dance shirts and culottes to reinforce
concepts of modesty. During each session, they discuss ways dance
can be a form of worship.
The dance troupe performs for Christmas and Easter programs and
dances for nursing homes and other events. They've held dinner
theaters to raise money for missions, and the senior dance team
performs during mission trips.
Over time, this unique ministry has become an important outreach
tool because girls bring their friends from schools and
neighborhoods to the dance class-and to church.
"The children love to express themselves in dance," says McGarity.
"We've had girls come with 'two left feet' and become beautiful
dancers. We say, 'It's the heart, not the art.' You can truly see
the Lord in the faces of these girls as they minister in
Santa Ynez Valley Presbyterian Church
Santa Ynez, California
Considering paintball's popularity, Jack Drake thought, If kids
are drawn to paintball, then let's use paintball to draw them to
Jesus. He began a paintball outreach ministry at Santa Ynez Valley
Presbyterian Church two years ago. Today the group has nearly 80
members, its own field, an Internet site, and Drake serving as the
official paintball coordinator.
Paintball is the third most popular extreme sport in the country.
It's a combination of Tag and Hide and Seek; players are eliminated
when they're hit by a paintball fired from a special air gun. The
paintball leaves a bright paint mark on the player, who's
eliminated from the game.
The ministry's paintball games take place every two weeks on
Sunday afternoons, in addition to special paintball games and
tournaments throughout the year. Kids age 10 to 16 are welcome, and
they don't have to be church members to participate.
Drake says one of the best parts of the paintball program is
seeing the camaraderie that develops between fathers and sons, the
most common participants, as they share victories and defeats on
"When our group first started playing, the dads cheered their kids
on from the sidelines," says Drake. "As I watched the fathers, I
could see the envy on their faces. Finally, I couldn't bear their
agony any longer. 'Want to give it a try?' I offered. They
practically knocked me over getting to the extra paintball
Each game day begins with a prayer and devotion. The group's motto
is "Fight the good fight," and the sport actually provides many
opportunities to teach kids about faith.
"Paintball 'marks' (the paint that's left when a player is tagged)
represent sin in our lives that takes us out of the game," says
Drake. "Jesus is like a paintball team's 'back man' who can see the
entire field, calls the plays, and gives the players cover fire as
they make their moves. In the game of paintball it's not enough to
keep yourself 'alive'; you need to keep your teammates alive as
well. These illustrations help kids wrap their minds and hearts
around deep spiritual truths in fresh, exciting, and relevant
Along with spiritual truths, the boys learn about teamwork,
self-confidence, and leadership -- all with good sportsmanship as
the group's guiding principle.
"Trash talk isn't allowed, even if it's good natured," says Drake.
"When a game is over, there's not a lot of hooting and hollering in
victory, but a chorus of 'atta boys' as players compliment each
other on good moves and good shots, and as they recount the
courageous and humorous moments during game play.
"Because our team members are passionate about paintball, they're
constantly improving and becoming more skillful players," Drake
says. "I challenge our players to bring the same passion they have
for paintball to their walk with Jesus as their Lord and Savior.
That is when their walk as a Christian will take wings and become
exciting and fruitful."
Kristi Rector is copy editor for Children's Ministry