Written by Debbie Freer, Director of Children’s Ministry & Children’s Music at Evangelical Presbyterian Church in Newark, Delaware.
Church Family – it is one of the greatest gifts of being part of the church. And yet, while it is a great joy for so many people, it is a source of frustration with those who do not feel connected with the church. While I was growing up, my family did not live around our immediate relatives. I did not have grandparents, aunts, uncles, or cousins nearby, so my church became my family. Not only were both of my parents heavily involved in the day to day workings of the church (as a deacon and the treasurer), our family was also involved in the day to day lives of the church members. From helping each other out with childcare, mowing lawns, raking leaves, visiting in the hospital – we all became family.
My favorite example is when I started dating my husband of now 16 years. My childhood pastor drove up to New England, where I was living after college, and took both of us out to dinner to get to know him and his wife. We knew it was to “interview” Kevin. He took the time out of his schedule to drive the 7 hours to see if this man was a right fit for me. In doing this he wasn’t only thinking of me as a “member of his congregation”, but as a child whom he loved and cared for and was helping raise. I currently look around my church and see many in the congregation as relatives and I couldn’t imagine my life without them. It is such an amazing thing to be raised with so much love and concern that it is hard to not be completely passionate about the church and realize what a gift God gave us through His church. And yet, experiencing church in today’s society can be so fragmented without connected ministries that it doesn’t feel anything like family.
If you look around the church there are many groups that don’t know each other and have no areas of connection, yet are very busy within their own ministry. Everyone has their separate title: youth group, international ministry, WIC, men, children, seniors, choir, elders, deacons, MOPS, college, young adults, and the list goes on.
When I first started as Children’s Director, I noticed the children going to their Sunday School classrooms and leaving without any communication with anyone but their own classmates. It seemed very lonely and isolated. I could sense my kids felt the same way. I immediately changed this and began an Opening Exercises time. This is simply a 20 minute time before their classes where all the kids from 4 years to 6th grade come together and work on various things. During Opening Exercises we do the following (depending on the week): catechism; scripture memory (using our Bible Memory Workbook from GCP); special visits from missionaries; SS classes present something they have been learning; “Hymns of the Month”; children perform music; collect a missionary offering; “Ask the Pastor” time once a month (pastor comes and the kids ask questions); crafts; celebrate birthdays; prayer time; and each child makes a card for those who might be sick, in the hospital, or need encouragement. Something as simple as giving the child a piece of paper, lots of stickers, and markers to make a unique card to be sent in a large envelope has made a huge difference in connecting children of various ages. Although, I did not expect what started happening next.
We started receiving thank you cards back to the kids, notes of thanks and encouragement to the children of the church from the older congregation. I would then read them back to the kids and pin them on a large board so the kids could look back on them. We even had some people visit and thank the kids in person. Over a period of months, we started building a bridge between these two groups. Children began coming in and telling me who we should write because of an announcement the pastor made or the kids would give me updates on someone who would be in the hospital. I’ll never forget the day I was able to announce to the kids that someone we had been praying for (after we had sent cards to this person) was given word from their doctor that they were cancer free. When I announced this to the kids, they jumped out of their chairs and cheered! We were starting to care like family.
After this started happening, I started to think, what other areas could we connect and cross over with other groups in the church and make a connection? The ideas started rolling and the opportunities are endless. Here are just a few of the things that we did….
- Parent’s Night Out: Provides an evening of free childcare from other members of the congregation so parents can have a few hours to themselves. This has been greatly appreciated by the parents, the kids love the time playing together, and it is a great way for other members of the congregation to get to know the kids.
- Children hand out items at exit doors on Sundays: Examples: Mother’s Day – carnations; Palm Sunday – palms; Valentine’s Day – candy. This has been a great way to have the older members of the congregation begin talking to the children.
- Service Project for Divorce Care: Kids made valentines during Opening Exercises on Sunday. Then on Wednesday, the girls visited the Divorce Care class and gave them a cupcake, candy, and the valentine on Valentine’s Day.
- Service Project for Girls’ Groups: The girls’ groups made cookie bags and delivered them to the Finance Committee and the Divorce Care Class that were meeting in the building.
- Pioneer Club’s Service Project: During a Pal/Gal event the girls made “Pampering Totes” for the MOPS ladies (Mothers of Preschoolers). These had lotion, candy, candles, bookmarks, and the girls made encouraging cards for them. These were given out at the following MOPS meeting.
- Youth Group visiting the seniors in the church: The youth is divided into groups so that 2-3 teens visit a senior in our church. The senior shares his/her testimony with the kids. Imagine the impact on the teen’s life to learn that these “older people” are very much like them and they struggle with the same things that the teens do, and on the flip side, the seniors feel loved because someone cares to spend time with them.
- Pioneer Club’s Pal/Gal Event Baking Project: The girls were working on their baking badge. When they got together with their Pals, each couple made a dessert. Instead of eating these foods themselves, they hosted a reception Sunday night after the evening service, sharing their desserts and serving the congregation while earning their Baking Badge at the same time.
- Visit to Nursery Home: Two to three times a year I take the kids to the Nursing Home near our church. When we go, I also try to invite another group to come with us. At Christmas, the Boy’s Brigade and Pioneer Clubs made ornaments the week before for the residents. Then, on the day of our visit, our kid’s hand bell group came to play and the youth group joined in to visit with the residents along with the Pioneer Girls and Boy’s Brigade.
Each time I plan an event or project, I try to think of a group that is hidden or “invisible”. Then, I think of how the group that I am working with can minister or connect with this “invisible” group in a service project or some other way.
Here are a few other ideas of things that could be done in your church …
- “Dinner in a bag” for Divorce Care or Grief Share members: Prepare a “meal in a bag” and leave them in the fridge. Leave a note on their chair that there is a meal in the fridge for them and that you are praying for them.
- Notes for the Elders in the church: Ask the kids in the church to make a card saying that they prayed for them and leave it on the chair where the session meets so that when the elders come in they find it. Then, during Sunday School have a prayer time for the kids to pray for the leaders of the church. Imagine how special those elders would feel and in turn would have a positive effect on their service to the church.
- Holiday “Survival Bags” for children: Around the holidays (with the extra services in your church), imagine one of the groups putting together an activity bag for parents to use with their children during the service. It could contain crayons, stickers, activity sheets, a few lifesavers, and a note that says how special they are. Imagine the impact not only on the kids, but the gratitude of the parents when they learn that a group from the church was thinking about them and assisting them to have a more meaningful time of worship.
Remember that we are all a family united in Christ. We are not in competition with each of the groups in our church. If our mission is to build each other up and grow our church, then we should work together and connect with each other more. We will grow just because we have shown love to each other, the church will grow as others notice, and we will all be encouraged at seeing the gospel being played out in the life of our church! I pray that you will be able find more “connections” within your church and feel the love of Christ’s family – the Church.