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.
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 searching for.”
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 are possible.”
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 (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 Cowherd.
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
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 church 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 dance.”
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 the “battlefield.”
“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 markers!”
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 ways.”
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 a former editor for Rev! Magazine and Children’s Ministry Magazine.
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