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Kids Should Be Seen and Heard: 5 Ways to Make Conversation Part of Your Ministry

Conversations with kids are free, require no supplies, and are a snap to drop into a lesson. And best of all, they deliver huge value! At Group, we make conversations an integral part of every activity. That’s because they’re the “Relational” part of R.E.A.L.—a learning philosophy focused on creating ministry that’s Relational, Experiential, Applicable, and Lifelong. It’s the secret sauce that makes learning stick!

Over the years, we’ve found that friendship-building is a powerhouse ingredient in the recipe for faith development. Relationship helps faith move deeper—beyond the head and into the heart. Plus, kids who have friendships at church are eager to return. You’ll even find they’re more likely to engage in everything from worship to prayer.

Take a quick “relational temperature” of your own ministry. Which phrase do you say most often on a Sunday morning:

“Be quiet and let’s listen.” Or “Tell me more about that.”

What might your authentic answer reveal about the space for conversation and relationship building in your ministry?

Why is this so important? Genesis 2:18 gives us a hint that we’re all wired for relationship—from the beginning!

God created us as relational beings! We need human connection. And conversations are an important way that kids grow in faith. Let’s explore five easy ways to make this crucial, simple-to-implement practice part of your ministry every week. You can make faith in Jesus grow as you incorporate conversation and relationship throughout your entire lesson!

1. Set the stage for conversation.

Think about the last time you got together with a few friends. How did you gather? Did you sit side-by-side or face-to-face? Why? It’s likely that you sat across a small table, gathered in a circle of chairs, or somehow facing each other more naturally. How can you create that same cozy, conversational dynamic in your classroom? If we want kids to have conversations and develop relationships, we need to make it physically easy for them to talk with each other and leaders.

In Group’s VBS programs, we encourage small group leaders to gather kids in knee-to-knee circles when it’s time to talk. This takes a little practice…and time, but is well worth both as this set up naturally lends itself to eye contact and being able to hear each other. Once you make this part of your routine, kids will make the transition to the circles quickly. The conversation will be richer, as kids can tune into what others are saying.

2. Start your lessons with a great question.

Before kids arrive, post a fun, friendship-building question that connects to your lesson. Be sure to choose a question that gets kids talking, rather than one that can be answered in one word. For example, if your lesson is on Jesus feeding 5,000 you might ask, “If you had to eat only one food for a whole month, what would it be and why?” Later, when you begin your lesson, it’s easy to bridge conversations into Scripture by saying, “Wow, all that talk about food made me hungry! Today we’ll hear about a huge crowd of people who got hungry and what Jesus did.” (See how Simply Loved Sunday school curriculum provides opening options that include engaging discussion-starters.)

A talk-starter question can instantly connect Bible times (or faith concepts) to real, everyday life. Plus, conversation at the start of your time together creates the perfect opportunity to learn kids’ names and is a simple, natural way to welcome newcomers and get them involved.

Stumped about what kinds of questions get kids talking? Check out the Throw and Tell Life-Application Ball! Kids bat a ball around until you say “Stop!” Then the person holding the ball answers the question under his or her thumb. Who knew conversation could be so fun…and fresh?  (Plus, there’s even a version for preschoolers!)

3. Invite volunteers to share.

Be sure volunteers know that discussions are for them, too, and invite them to participate in the conversation right along with kids. Sometimes you might direct volunteers to share first. This gives kids “think time” if you’re asking them to share more deeply about a life event. Time and time again we’ve seen that when a leader opens up authentically, with kid-appropriate personal stories, it paves the way for kids to freely share about themselves, their lives, and their relationship with Jesus.

While it’s important for leaders to join the conversation, guide them in listening, too. Help them tune in with body language as they listen. Remind them to look kids in the eyes. Encourage them to use children’s names and model good listening skills by using phrases such as “tell me more,” “that’s interesting,” or “thanks for sharing.”

Kids can see what it’s like to live as a modern-day friend of Jesus when they hear real life stories from leaders. When adults or teens participate in the conversation, relationships between kids and grown-ups can deepen—and that’s important!

4. Allow time for talking during the Bible story.

Sometimes the conversations end when the Bible story begins. We might think, “How can kids be listening and learning the Bible if they’re talking?” It’s not wrong to ask kids to listen, but sprinkle plenty of conversational moments throughout your lesson to give every person a chance to talk. As a result, it’s likely that you’ll see discipline problems vanish, because you’ve given kids the chance to be kids! Plus, a discussion in place of a lecture will take life-application deeper, allowing kids to explore how God’s Word applies to everyday life.

God set us up for life application conversations by filling Scripture with real people we can relate to! Here’s how to incorporate conversation into your lesson: Tell about a character in the Bible, then pause to let kids reflect and share about their own story. For example, after introducing Joseph and his relationships with his many brothers, you might take time to let kids (in small groups or pairs) tell about what makes it hard to get along with their family members. Announce a minute for discussion, and after that minute, use a sound or physical cue to draw attention back to yourself. Then continue the lesson about Joseph.

Additionally, there are great video resources that allow time for conversation. Every DIG IN Sunday school lesson includes a “Talk About” video that might be a fresh telling of a Bible story, a skit about a Bible concept, or the story of a real kid and his or her faith journey. Each video focuses on a Bible truth, followed by a few talk-starter questions for kids to dive into with others.

5. Use small groups.

Oftentimes we’re teaching a large group, so discussions seem impossible. That’s when we revert to “Raise your hand if…” or “Who can tell me…” types of questions. We’re involving the kids…right? Not really. These methods actually hinder relationship-building, since only one person gets to share. Additionally, active kids may tune out if they don’t know the answer—which can lead to discipline issues or kids disengaging.

Instead, place an adult or teenage volunteer with 5-10 kids (remember those knee-to-knee circles?). Pause during your lesson for small groups to talk about a question or part of Scripture. Yes, your classroom will be noisier…but that’s the sound of learning! Short on volunteers? It’s okay to have kids talk in pairs or trios, too.

How does this look in action? Let’s imagine you’re leading a lesson on Jesus feeding 5,000. Rather than asking “How many baskets of bread were left over?” just tell kids the number. A conversation isn’t a quiz! Then have kids form small groups to talk about a question such as “When is it hard for you to trust that God will provide?” You haven’t derailed learning for the sake of discussion. You’ve enhanced learning, because everyone has participated in a thoughtful way—connecting Scripture to everyday life.

It’s time to get kids talking!

Kids are craving conversation. Yet, too often, we talk at kids, and miss out on meeting one of their most basic human needs—relationship. Make it a point to engage kids in conversation each week. As you do, you’re creating a rich environment for God’s Word to take root…for life!

Get ready for some noise. And, even better, get ready to learn more about the incredible kids God has put in your ministry!

Need more inspiration for building relationships? Check out these simple ways to build friendships with kids in your class.

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Kids Should Be Seen and Heard: 5 Ways...

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