In one church’s effort to make their programs “kid-targeted” and “kid-inspired,” they learned these things along the way.
We create environments that stir kids’ hunger for God’s Word by giving them experiences they can’t get anywhere else. We inspire them to grow spiritually by showing them Jesus in the lives of real people. Kidsworld is known for Silly String wars, food fights, sliming children, Hershey’s syrup tug of wars, water slides, and real snow. Kids make their own pizzas with gummy worms, tomato sauce, pineapple, and candy. Or we shave kids’ heads live on stage for a “shear the sheep” object lesson. Kids compete in outrageous challenges such as making a “peanut butter and jelly kid sandwich” and racing through sloppy obstacle courses. Kids look forward to “Shrek Sunday,” wearing their bathing suits to church, and their own potluck dinner.
Kidsworld has gotten the attention of kids of all ages. We have the reputation at local schools as the “cool church.” Divorced couples tell us their children are desperately making deals with both parents to be at Kidsworld on certain days and nights based on what event’s planned. Antics such as wedding cakes dropped on people’s heads and children eating bugs keep kids talking about Kidsworld all week. Bull riding, Dance-a-thons, and milking a cow are things most children have only witnessed on television or in movies — unless they come to Kidsworld. Kidsworld is a place for kids to experience things they can’t get anywhere else — and they live the lesson! They learn about God through real-life experiences and relationships. Kidsworld has spiritual, dynamic, kid-led worship and prayer. Our children are hungry for more of God and more of Kidsworld.
In making our programs “kid-targeted” and “kid-inspired,” we’ve learned these things along the way.
13 Ways to Make Your Children’s Ministry Kid Approved
1. Kids want choices.
Our culture tells kids their opinions matter. Television alone is paving the way with shows such as American Idol and Kids Choice Awards — where kids get to vote. The Internet is also a fundamental part of this process with Web sites that allow kids to interact on every level possible. One of the ways we’ve implemented this philosophy has been to enlist kids as partners in our program development process. We created ballots with hundreds of program choices. We filled the ballots with everything from becoming a human hamster ball to eating Chinese food with chopsticks. Our slogan was “You want it…you got it.”
We were shocked at what kids voted for. We figured they’d want the most expensive things. What we found in polling them week after week was they wanted kittens and puppies and things we weren’t in touch with. The #1 vote was to eat Chinese food with chopsticks. They picked toilet papering all the counselors’ cars as many times as they chose real snow in Southern California. And they elected Silly String wars as many times as rock climbing. They anxiously waited week after week as we held out on what the winners were. When they found out, they’d scream, “I voted for that!” Voting gave them the feeling of ownership and importance because Kidsworld conveyed that their opinions mattered. Hundreds of children flocked in, and we did some of the most outrageous things ever. We fulfilled our promise and brought their top 12 adventures to them. Kids got to experience activities only a kid could create. We went a step further and allowed the kids to choose the lesson, the verse, and every element of this kid-inspired program.
2. Every kid wants to win.
Any kid can win at the contests we set up. We gave prizes for kids who brought their toenails in a baggie or who painted their nose green. We had our own prize patrol where kids filled out slips to win the entire children’s ministry team visiting their house with food for their entire family. These crazy contests transformed kids’ experience at church.
3. Visual aids must be appealing.
We made an amazing calendar that looked like it stepped out of Nickelodeon Magazine so the kids could mark the dates they wanted to attend. It was interactive with prizes given to those who read it and did what it said. This calendar allowed kids more freedom to start begging parents days in advance to attend an event. With the secular competition and the busyness most families face, this calendar was a hit with everyone.
4. We need to utilize current media.
At any given moment, we can tell you what the release dates are for movies all the way into 2006. We keep in touch with trends through magazines such as Nickelodeon, Nick Jr., Entertainment Weekly, and KidScreen magazine. Being in sync with the latest trends helps us communicate with kids in their lingo as well as steer them through the hype. We can’t endorse all movies, but we’re always ready to discuss the pros and cons of a given movie. Then we incorporate elements of blockbusters in our teaching. We keep current on all cartoons and usually integrate a cartoon into what we’re doing when we know millions of dollars have been spent advertising it.
5. Programs must be highly eventful.
We’ve found the less downtime the better. Kids need anticipation and a change of scenery to really engage in a program. For us this means a lot of transitions in our programming. We keep things moving and we don’t stay in one segment longer than 10 minutes. We change the stage every quarter along with the opening videos, worship music, and any other audiovisual stimuli.
6. Kids want fun, wackiness, and things they think their parents don’t approve of.
There are many things kids dream of doing that Mom or Dad would never let them do, such as making a huge mess or eating with their feet. So we incorporate food fights or something as simple as letting them crack eggs and make pancakes. We try to surprise children. We want them to say “no way” or “I can’t believe we milked cows at church,” because we want to change the belief that church is stuffy and boring.
7. The bigger, the brighter, the bolder, the better!
With this generation sometimes being referred to as the Internet Generation, it makes sense to include state-of-the-art technology around every corner. Usually what we think is fast, they think is slow. Thrill-seeking is a key component to Kidsworld. We’ve had rock climbing, kids’ “Fear Factor,” a bungee trampoline, a 22-foot water slide, and even a fire juggler to reinforce important lessons. The expense of adventure is probably the highest. Every week can’t be high adventure in terms of budget, but monthly or even quarterly is a must.
8. Kids want to interact in every way imaginable.
Children don’t just want to see something; they want to touch it, taste it, try it, build it, smell it, take it, and at times, even break it. We incorporated a zip line into one of our Sunday services. Children flew over 28 feet in the air across the church parking lot to learn how to hold on tightly to God. When interaction becomes a key element of the lesson, the Bible comes alive.
9. Kids respond to other kids.
Every time we have an opportunity to place children in front of our audience, we take advantage of it. We make kids the stars by allowing them to teach lessons, be volunteers, lead worship, and lead prayer. Children love being the center of attention and with the use of creative programming we’ve found ways to highlight them. We have talent shows, show-and-tell Sundays, Bible spelling bees, and various lessons to open the door to their lives. When kids share their lives with us, we become part of their lives. When we become part of their lives, God comes with us.
10. Discovering kids’ “funny bone” can take a ministry from mediocre to magnificent.
Humor is the backbone of our ministry and admittedly it’s the most difficult to obtain. Children laugh at the oddest of things. They laugh at things adults would least expect. Kids laugh at physical comedy, Captain Underpants, whoopee cushions, someone getting messy, any element of surprise, animals that talk, dumb costumes, mispronounced words, cartoons, sassiness, dancing, burping, improv, and bad singing.
11. Kids want what we had but they don’t know it.
If we loved it as a child, chances are our kids will too. Rubik’s Cubes, Strawberry Shortcake dolls, Twister, lava lamps, Charlie Brown, Silly Putty, and Pogo Sticks are just the beginning. For those churches that are teetering on the brink of boring and suffering from a lack of creativity, this is a great pool of fresh ideas. Giving children avenues to express their interest in our heritage immediately bonds us together. We’ve designed many opportunities for them to relive the past by making homemade jam, watching Davey and Goliath videos, and, remarkably, playing whipped cream Twister.
12. Kids universally love sugar.
Not surprisingly, candy is a big motivator for kids, especially new cool candy they’ve been unable to get elsewhere. Our team works hard to find new cereal, snacks, or drinks they will go absolutely crazy for.
13. Kids respond better to positive people.
Kids aren’t that much different from adults in this area. They like friendly people who show genuine sincerity when talking to them. Negative authority is a sure way to undo all that your ministry has worked hard to do. If they can’t see God’s love exemplified, they won’t believe anything we have to say about God. We’ve cultivated a place for children to feel at home. Home is a place you know you’re welcome, where your likes and dislikes are accepted, and your interests are encouraged. A place you know you can come any time of the day, where there are people who love you. Everything seems better when you’re there. Home is comfortable and at ease; ready to receive visitors. Usually, home is the place you can’t wait to get back to. Not all kids today have a place to call home, but all kids can make your church their home. If they feel that church is home, they’ll spend the rest of their lives coming home.
Tracy Carpenter is the director of children’s ministries at her church in Corona, California.
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