Tap into the transforming power of music in your ministry!
Movies tell a story — a story most of us can recall for years afterward. But what would movies be like without music? A stirring soundtrack infuses emotion into a movie, enhances characters, reveals deeper meaning, and gives viewers the sense that they’re part of the story.
As a children’s minister, your job is to help kids understand their part in God’s story — a story that’s far more profound and impacting than the best movie of all time. Each week you teach kids about our great God, who’s loved them since before time began. And each week you have great opportunities to help kids learn how our lives, in word and action, can sing praises to God. Music is one of the most powerful opportunities you have to hook kids, inspire and encourage them, and give them a new way to worship God as they learn about their special part in his story. After all, what’s a great story without great music?
I’d like to take you on a musical journey that begins with your environment and ends with each child’s personal, heart-in-hand connection with God.
1. Set the Mood in Your Environment
Music in spas, restaurants, or shopping malls sets a desired mood. You can do the same thing in your environment. We knew when Disney’s amazingly popular High School Musical 2 was premiering, so we purchased the soundtrack prior to the show. We knew that kids from our ministry were excited about the show, gathering at sleepover parties with friends and family to watch the big event. As kids arrived on the Sunday after the big premiere, we greeted them by playing their favorite songs from the musical over speakers ministry-wide. Our kids ran into the worship area. Their energy was through the roof as we began that morning session. So by using something we knew our kids would love, we seized an opportunity to help them relate to each other and to set a tone of excitement.
Use music wherever you can — in your hallways and during transitional moments — to set the mood for your message and to support your theme. For instance, create a song play-list to use as kids arrive. Create a customized playlist by visiting online Christian music stores and downloading songs (for great resources, see page 80). If you have access to screens, play motion or worship DVDs to immediately engage kids physically and mentally.
2. Get Kids In on the Action
Great music makes people want to get up and move. When your kids can’t help but move to their favorite faith-related tunes, you’ll know you’re using music they love. Use this can’t-help-but-wiggle standard to help you choose music that has an irresistible beat and lyrical hooks kids can’t get out of their heads.
A big part of my music ministry strategy was to incorporate dance moves for kids into our worship music. Not long after kids got a taste of the music and movement, my phone rang constantly with calls from parents whose kids wanted to join our KidSinger team.
I also learned that kids have an appetite for learning about music. I used to teach classical music classes to first- through fifth-graders at a preparatory school in Atlanta. We’d move kids’ desks aside each day to clear some serious floor space, and then I’d teach them dance steps from a particular musical period. Students each got a CD collection supporting the curriculum, so they had samples from each musical period. The kids couldn’t wait to open their CDs. They listened to the music — stuff we adults would never expect kids to enjoy — in the car and at home nonstop. They excitedly shared all they’d learned about the music, the composers, and the dances with their parents. Parents kept telling me they were thrilled with their children’s enthusiasm, but if they had to listen to one more classical piece…!
Today, we have what I call “The High School Musical Revolution” on our side, too. Kids are more open and excited about music than ever — and you have a perfect opportunity to inject new life and excitement into your ministry through music. Move your kids with music. Introduce them to faith-related tunes they’ll love to fill their cars and homes with.
3. Send the Message Through Music
How do you choose the right tunes and use them effectively, especially if music isn’t your strong suit? Begin by remembering this truth: Kids will retain the message you want them to have about God if you teach it to them using multiple methods — lessons, games, humor, experiences, crafts, and of course, music. Here’s how to effectively get the message to kids through music.
Coordinate musical efforts.
Select an energetic, catchy song each month that kids will hear and learn the words to each time they’re in your ministry. Provide the words in print and on visual displays so all kids can sing along. Select additional songs for variety that support your teaching theme and complement the song of the month. For instance, if your monthly theme is “Trust,” “Trust in the Lord” could be your song of the month. Each week you might include fast and slow songs that revolve around your theme. “Let the Praises Ring,” “All to You,” “Every Day,” and “I Give You My Heart” are all great selections.
Choose songs kids can master.
Avoid songs with difficult lyrics or overly complex concepts. Kids will best retain the songs they know by heart and understand — and they’ll have more fun. If kids are confused by lyrics or overly complex pronunciations, they won’t get the message you want them to. Aim for the oldest-age kids in your ministry to entice younger children and keep your older kids engaged, but keep in mind that simple, catchy, easy-to-sing music is the most effective.
Let kids lead.
Be intentional about selecting songs that let kids sing about God to each other and that let them sing directly to God. Intermix both fast and slow songs that’ll appeal to all kids. This strategy helps kids retain the message of the songs and offers them a fun new way to worship God — anytime, anywhere. And don’t overdo it: The rule of thumb here is to keep worship time to 10 or 15 minutes so you’ll always leave kids wanting more…not less!
4. Harness the Power of Music in a Child’s Heart
At age 17, I was a live-in nanny for a family struggling to raise three children. The youngest of the three kids was Sammi. She looked like an angel — but she regularly beat up her older siblings. I kept asking God to help me where Sammi was concerned. And God kept saying back to me, “You need to love her.”
That summer was a difficult one, but we found joy in the little things. We baked cookies, went to the park, and sang a lot of songs. At summer’s end, my job ended and I said goodbye to the kids.
More than 10 years passed before I saw the family again; Sammi had grown into a troubled 15-year-old. She remembered me and asked if I would read a book of poetry she’d written.
She’d flagged one very special poem, “And She Would Sing to Me.” Each stanza ended with that line. It described a lost little girl and a woman in white who entered her world. The poem spoke of life and joy, color, and light. It then described the loss of the woman in white, difficult years, and intense darkness with thoughts of suicide. The poem ended with this:
“But I look forward to a day when we are together again in a much better place, and I can hear her sing to me.”
Most of us will never know how the music we use in ministry impacts a child. Music goes hand in hand with children’s ministry; it allows us to connect our lives, one to another, in the anthem of God’s story. God is writing the soundtrack for his amazing story, and every time a child connects with him, heaven rejoices!
Ami Shroyer has been involved in children’s worship experiences since 1998.
Find the Melody
Get in tune with today’s best Christian music for kids with these great online resources.
- KidTunz.com: Kid-friendly site with a great selection of music, including lyrics, vocal and performance tracks, and more. Plus each purchase supports a charity of your choice.
- Childrensministryjukebox.com: Tons of popular songs with vocal and performance tracks, lyrics, and more.
- Godskidsworship.com: Full-service site with downloads, sheet music, lyrics, CDs, DVDs, and more.
- Group.com: DVD and CD collections of age-right music with memorable motions and fun videos kids love.
- Promiselandonline.com: DVDs and CDs of great music and motions.
- Integritymusic.com: DVDs and CDs of energetic worship songs, including lyrics, sheet music, and more.
Movers and Shakers
Kids are movers and shakers. They’re made to move, and they need to move. Movement shapes who they are today and who they’re becoming. It develops their bodies, minds, and imaginations. Movement together with music provides a powerful learning vehicle. Here’s why.
Music helps retention.
Rhythm and melody are amazing tools for our brains to grasp and store concepts for a very long time. Add movement, and the memory solidifies even more.
Music makes an impact.
Whatever a child learns through music will have a significant impact on that child’s beliefs, values, and perceptions for life. The keyword in that statement is “whatever.” Whatever a child learns will impact the person she’ll become for life. That whatever can be many things. It can be worldly messages and anti-biblical sentiments, or it can be biblical concepts that lay a foundation for a lifetime of faith. Sadly, many churches neglect this opportunity for maximum impact. The songs their kids sing may be of a religious nature, but they are lacking in foundational truths that intentionally teach kids about God’s character, his attributes, and his plan for his children.
Music informs the heart.
Songs our kids sing teach them who God is. Appealing, age-appropriate songs that are filled with spiritual truths will transform kids and help them worship God. Music and activities should all be designed to further establish kids in spiritual truths in ways that are both fun and educational.
The bottom line-we are what we sing! Whatever kids learn through music and movement, they will believe; what they believe will determine who they are and what they do. Don’t let your kids miss out on the transforming power of God’s truth learned through music.
Allison Smith, D.M.A., is an events specialist and children’s music consultant for the LifeWay Worship Music Group.
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