In India, a small team continues to serve churches and support children’s ministry amidst a catastrophic pandemic
At the foothills of Colorado’s Rocky Mountains, you’ll find the headquarters of Group Publishing. Here, our team serves churches around the world with resources for Sunday school, children’s church, vacation Bible school, and online training.
Eight thousand miles away, on an unassuming street in Bangalore, India, you’ll find another Group office. This small office is home to Group India. Here, a small team works alongside Indian churches, providing quality children’s ministry resources .
Started in 2016, Group India’s primary goal revolved around vacation Bible school materials for India’s many Christian churches.
Wait…VBS in India? Is this missions? Are missionaries leading this?
Nope! Allow me to answer some questions you may have about children’s ministry in India.
What is Vacation Bible School in India like?
For churches in India, VBS is a monumental outreach event. It’s impact has shaped today’s church and is part of leadership development for the future. In a country with an estimated 1.3 billion people, 40 million Christians may seem like a drop in the bucket. (By comparison, the United States has approximately 205 million Christians.) Here, VBS draws huge numbers of neighborhood kids from other faiths. As a result, churches have an incredible opportunity to share the message of God’s love.
Our U.S.-based team began exploring opportunities in India, witnessing these enormous VBS events firsthand. Then, we connected with Indian ministry leaders and discovered a need for quality, contemporary resources. At the time, many churches used curriculum developed decades ago. Because of outdated resources, leaders struggled to make the content relevant for today’s youth. At the same time, we realized that India has its own cultural nuances and needs that a “western” curriculum might not serve.
Next, we cultivated a small-but-mighty team of Indian men and women to lead the initiative. Every year, the Group India team modifies Group’s Easy VBS materials, making the images, activities, and language culturally appropriate for kids throughout India. Since many Indian kids learn English in school, the materials remain in English. However, the 2020 Rocky Railway VBS offered an option in Hindi. That means many of the Rocky Railway activities your kids experience have likely been explored by kids across the globe!
But it hasn’t stopped at VBS! Soon, ministry leaders in India requested similar materials for Sunday school and children’s church. Today Group India provides churches with contemporary curriculum such as FaithWeaver Now and Dig In. Plus, they’ve added online ministry training through Group U, equipping churches with courses on leadership and effective educational methodology.
What is Ministry Training and Sunday School in India like?
In October 2019, I joined a team of American children’s ministry leaders who traveled to Bangalore. Our task? To help with Group India’s first ministry conference. We worshipped together, dug into effective ministry strategies together, and learned from each other how to best reach today’s kids. And we broke for tea twice a day…because that’s what you do in India!
It was incredibly humbling.
Many of these passionate ministry leaders traveled by train for days to participate. They sacrificed financially. They openly shared their successes and struggles. I’ve lived in the children’s ministry world for nearly 30 years, so kidmin people are my peeps. And it was no different with my new friends in India. We all want to create the very best ministry experiences we can…no matter where we live. After the conference, we spent several days as guests in their churches and schools.
So what’s Sunday school like in India? Here’s what I can tell you:
- Kids are kids no matter where you go! You have your shy first grade girls, those cellphone-crazy preteens, and that group of squirrely fifth grade boys!
- Kidmin music is the same across the globe. The kids moving and doing motions could have been in my home church or in a city church in Bangalore.
- Kidmin leaders are the most amazing people on the planet—everywhere you go! They exude warmth, creativity, and a passion for reaching kids for Christ.
- Personal space is a little different in India. Classrooms are small…and full! Churches pack the kids in. (What a great problem to have, right?)
How is God at work in India today?
In many ways, we’re all in the same ministry boat—both in North American and in India. Indian churches face many of the obstacles children’s ministry leaders tackle in North America. We all worry about things like training volunteers and stretching our budgets! But with increasing political persecution, ministry can sometimes get dangerous in India. The past few years have seen a surge in restrictions—and even violence—against Christian churches. As a result, churches take a risk when they meet or do large outreach events.
Add in the challenges of a COVID-19 crisis that nearly collapsed the national health care system, and you’ll understand why Indian churches are facing overwhelming obstacles. Many churches lost key leaders to the recent pandemic, creating gaps in church leadership. Rural churches will likely struggle to fill these roles without new leaders boldly stepping out in faith. Yet courageous leaders are pressing forward, with astonishing resilience and determination. And Group India continues to support those leaders every day.
I chatted with my colleague and friend Nischal Sukumaran, the director of Group India. Read on to hear his heart for Indian churches and what incredible things God is doing across the globe.
What are some of the biggest challenges faced by churches in India today?
Nischal: First, the biggest challenge that Indian churches are facing is the loss of church leaders and congregation members to COVID. In addition, they’re trying to meet daunting needs of the congregation members (such as unemployment and mounting medical bills) as they out to poor people with basic necessities.
How has COVID-19 affected ministry in India?
Nischal: COVID-19 lockdowns impacted ministry in a drastic way. Primarily, understand that most churches in India do not have the luxury of technology. Churches found it very difficult to reach out to congregation members. In addition, children’s ministry has been greatly affected since social interaction is limited. Thankfully, churches have made some improvements in those areas, but those in rural areas continue to struggle.
How did Group India support churches through such a crisis?
Nischal: First, we came to know that many churches were not following COVID-19 protocol and were meeting in person. (This resulted in many church leaders getting COVID.) So we talked with church leaders, encouraging them that it was important to maintain COVID protocols for the safety of the church members and the children. We also encouraged churches to move to an online platform to continue ministry.
Next we encouraged the churches who had stopped children’s ministry to continue children’s ministry in the online platform. We emphasizing the importance of children’s ministry at this time.
Further, to help leaders figure out how to do ministry, we conducted several trainings about doing children ministry online. Our team helped churches in tweaking our Sunday school curriculums and VBS resources so they could be used in the online platform.
To help facilitate at-home learning, we provided copies of student resources that could be easily online.
Through all of this, we kept in constant touch with CM leaders, to understand their situation and see how we can help them. Our team constantly collected prayer requests from CM Leaders and supported the churches with our prayers.
When you think about churches you connect with, what are you most excited about?
Nischal: It’s exciting to partner with churches in the great work of expanding God’s kingdom in India! Every day we meet passionate people who are sacrificially serving God. It’s encouraging to see how Group India resources truly meet the needs of today’s children, helping them to have personal relationship with Jesus Christ. This is most exciting to our team!
How are you seeing God at work?
Nischal: In spite of challenges on many fronts, we continue to hear the good news that children and adults are receiving the Gospel. Churches in India are growing! Every story we hear of transformation and provision is evidence of God at work. Some churches are beginning to open again, and they’re focusing on children’s ministry.
Tell us about VBS in India. Why is vacation Bible school such a key outreach?
Nischal: VBS is like a carnival among India churches! In most churches in India, the number of kids who turn up for VBS is massive.
VBS is the most effective outreach in the Indian context. Here, VBS isn’t just for church members’ children. Rather, it is used to reach out to many, many kids from larger neighborhoods. These neighborhood kids are mostly from other faiths. We’ve heard stories of how children from other faiths have given their life to Jesus and even become pastors and church leaders later in life. When you talk with church leaders in India, it’s common to hear that many of them came from a different faith, but gave their lives to Christ at VBS.
What are your hopes and dreams for Christian churches in India?
Nischal: I want to see Indian churches growing and thriving. The Gospel is the true hope for the people of India, and I pray that they’ll believe in the message of God’s love and forgiveness.
I want to see church leaders who are passionate about children’s ministry. We need to have godly men and women in leadership roles. We need leaders who will not give excuses about lack of funds to plan bigger things for children’s ministry. As Hudson Taylor said, “God’s work done in God’s way will never lack God’s supply.”
How can churches in North America be praying for our brothers and sisters in India?
Pray for COVID cases to come down.
Pray that people’s hearts are receptive to the Gospel.
Ask God to help his family grow deeper in God’s Word and reach out to different people groups in India.
Pray for the persecuted churches, asking God to bless them with boldness to share the Gospel.
We’re all in this together!
In many ways, those of us in children’s ministry are all so alike…no matter where we live.
We care about kids—the shy, goofy, crazy, silly, tenderhearted, and energetic ones. We love Jesus—our Savior, friend, and redeemer.
And we love bringing both of those together!
As you prepare for VBS or Sunday school this summer, keep our friends in India in mind. Partner with them in prayer for our children. Know that God is doing mighty things across the globe. We’re all part of kingdom work with eternal impact.
Jody Brolsma is an Executive Editor and Children’s Ministry Champion at Group.
Looking for experiences to help introduce kids to different people and cultures? Check out these outreach ideas!