Children's Ministry Toolkit

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Sunday School. Adventureland. Promiseland. SONLife. Jump! KidsConnect.

Although the names we give our children’s ministry programs are different, our goals are the same: to nurture in children a faith that’s deep and wide, to support families as they nurture faith at home, and to call and equip leaders who will share the love of Christ with children.

We also share many of the same challenges:

  • irregular attendance
  • lack of volunteers
  • telling God’s story to children who have different levels of familiarity with it
  • helping families form faith at home
  • equipping leaders who don’t have teaching experience
  • connecting with children who have learning disabilities or behavioral challenges
  • and more . . .

Sound overwhelming? As you know, it can be. But those challenges mean that our calling to nurture faith in kids, to develop relationships with them as members of God’s family, and to encourage their families as they nurture faith at home has never been greater.

Responding to that call means recognizing that children’s ministry is one part of a whole. It’s a complement to, not a replacement for, the other faith-forming activities that occur with all ages at church, in the community, and with families at home. As Robert Keeley points out, “Children need to be nurtured in their faith by the whole community of faith, not just their parents” (Helping Our Children Grow in Faith, p. 21).

Engaging in ministry that creatively connects with children by paying attention to their specific needs is a big job. But it’s an important job. And we’re here to help!

What’s in This Toolkit

In this toolkit you’ll find hundreds of ideas for building a strong, vibrant children’s ministry in your church and addressing the challenges that arise.

These ideas are drawn from many sources: best practices of CRC congregations, good books, articles, blog posts, and more. As we discover new resources and tools, we’ll add them to this toolkit, so check back often!

If there’s a tool you need but don’t see here, we’ll try to find it. Contact us at faithformation@crcna.org.

For a personalized introduction to the resources in this toolkit or for assistance with faith formation challenges in your church, contact Mimi, our Children’s Ministry Catalyzer. Get to know Mimi in this short video:

User's Guide

To get you started, we've provided a free user's guide to this toolkit. You can view the user's guide here or visit Faith Alive's online catalog to order a free printed copy.

 

 

Forming Faith in Children

“This is Mrs. Keeley. She . . . knows me.”

Those are the words Katie chose to use when introducing her boyfriend to the woman who had been her Sunday school director when she was a child; a woman who had maintained the relationship formed in children’s ministry throughout Katie’s youth, including Katie in her carpool, connecting with her at church, and being together when Katie suffered deep loss: “She knows me.”

“In Real Kids, Real Faith, author Karen-Marie Yust points out that God doesn’t wait until we are fully developed to initiate a relationship with us; through grace God gifts us with faith when we are born. . . . Faith starts to grow as it is activated through loving relationships with a parent(s) and significant others and through opportunities to experience God in prayer, in Bible stories, in music, at church, and in the world” (Home Grown by Karen DeBoer [Faith Alive Christian Resources, 2010], p. 40).

Children’s ministry leaders are faith activators. They form faith-nurturing relationships while providing space for children to experience God as they hear and respond to God’s story in ways that are specifically geared to their ages and developmental stages.

To nurture a resilient faith in kids, we need to pay close attention to how we tell God’s story, and that’s why you’ll find a whole section in this toolkit on the topic of Choosing Your Curriculum.

We also need to pay attention to how kids learn and develop. Below you’ll find information on the intellectual, social, and spiritual characteristics of children at different age levels, along with tips for leaders on how to tap into those characteristics in faith-nurturing ways. Share this information with the children’s ministry leaders in your congregation.

The Ways Kids Learn

The Building Blocks of Faith

These Building Blocks are based on four common themes of faith development, and they apply to people of all ages and life stages. They can be used for strategizing and implementing a comprehensive children’s ministry overview and for shepherding a stronger faith formation culture. By addressing these four building blocks, your congregation can develop a framework to consider how you are meeting the ministry needs of your members of all ages. Learn more in Faith Formation Ministries’ Building Blocks of Faith toolkit.

Recommended Reading

There are some great books available on forming faith in children. These two are as readable as they are informative (for more books, check out the “Resources for Development” list in the Calling,
Encouraging, and Equipping Leaders section of this toolkit).

Providing a Welcoming Environment

While having the latest technology, trendiest furniture, and Disney-like wall decor may make great first impressions on the kids who come to your program, the most lasting impressions are made by loving leaders in environments that are welcoming, inviting, inclusive, and safe for all.

For resources geared to developing loving leaders, see the Calling, Encouraging, and Equipping Leaders tab. For resources on creating a faith-nurturing community where all children are welcome, see below.

Welcoming

Just as there is no way to know for sure who will arrive at your door, there’s no way to anticipate how they will arrive. Children may enter with varying emotions (happy, anxious, sad, eager, and more), from diverse environments (secure, chaotic, loving, unfamiliar, and more), with different levels of familiarity with God’s story, and with unique challenges. One thing that’s the same: all children should be welcomed warmly, and they should leave with the assurance that they belong to God and to God’s family.

Here are some ideas for how to welcome children to your ministry:

Inviting

"Think about how important it is to create a beautiful space for adults to worship, and the great care we take of that space. We should pay no less attention to the space for worshiping with children—after all, it is a place where their faith is acknowledged and formed" (Olivia Stewart and Pat Barton, “Beauty in Children’s Worship Spaces,” Reformed Worship 120).

How might the way you set up and decorate the space where your childrens’ “faith is acknowledged and formed” invite learners to live into and out of God’s story? Here are some ideas:

  • Beauty in Children’s Worship Spaces includes ideas from a leader who transformed a church hallway into a worshipful space for children.
  • Use Story Symbols to decorate your walls, provide a visual introduction to each Bible story, and create a timeline of God’s big story.
  • Chair Wars describes ways to combat distractions in a room.

A Community of Belonging

It’s one thing to welcome everyone; it’s another to create a community of belonging in which each person is valued and able to participate fully according to their gifts and abilities. These tools will help:

Safe   

When you work in children’s ministry, you are in a position of authority and power. Because children are vulnerable, and because statistics show that abuse is just as prevalent inside the church as outside, it is up to you to do everything you can to provide a safe environment at all times.

Safe Church Ministry offers excellent resources that can help equip congregations in abuse awareness, prevention, and response.

While details of church policies may vary, the basics your child safety policy should address include (but are not limited to) the following:

  • Screening. Require background checks and character references for all children’s ministry staff and volunteers regardless of age or length of membership.
  • Staffing requirements. For example, there should always be two leaders in the room. This both discourages abuse and protects leaders from false allegations.
  • Touch. Be specific about what kinds of touch are appropriate and inappropriate. For example, side hugs may be allowed but full-body hugs are not. Any body part that would be covered by a swimsuit is off limits.
  • Discipline. Be specific about what kind of classroom discipline is appropriate and inappropriate. For example, time-outs are OK; spanking is never allowed.
  • Personal assistance. Be very specific about safe procedures for accompanying a small child to the bathroom, changing diapers, etc.
  • Transportation. Outline who is allowed to transport children and how. For example, children must never be transported without parental approval. There should be at least two unrelated adults in the vehicle, and all children must wear seatbelts.
  • Reporting abuse. Be absolutely clear about what staff and volunteers are required to do if they become aware of an abusive situation or if a child discloses abuse. Find out who is a “mandated reporter” in your state or province.
  • Training. Require yearly Safe Church training for all volunteers, including teens. Make sure they know and understand your church’s policies and agree to carry them out.

You’ll find more information and sample child safety policies at crcna.org/SafeChurch.

If you're looking for abuse-awareness curriculum, Safe Church Ministry recommends Circle of Grace, a safe environment program for children and youth. It features a few easy-to-follow lessons for each grade level and can fit into any existing church school curriculum.

 

Choosing Your Curriculum

Choosing curriculum to nurture a deep and wide faith in children is an important task. It can also be overwhelming and time-consuming. With more than 50 curricula to choose from and five curriculum models to consider, the options may seem endless.

Below you’ll find three tools to help in your curriculum decision-making process. Choose the tool that will work best in your context, share it with those making curriculum decisions in your congregation, and use it to evaluate the children’s ministry resources you’re considering.


Curriculum  Reviews

When you're choosing curriculum, theology matters! It's the framework that each curriculum is built on, and it affects how kids come to understand God's Story and God's world.

If you'd like free expert assistance with choosing the best curriculum for your church, contact the CRC's Children's Ministry Catalyzer at childrensministry@crcna.org.

Check out how each of the following curricula fits with a Reformed worldview in the reviews below.

2- to 3-year-olds

God Loves Me

Preschool to Middle School

252 Kids
D6
Deep Blue
Dwell
Growing in Grace and Gratitude
Kid Connection

Intergenerational

Logos
WE curriculum 
LIFT (Living in Faith Together Everyday)


Options for Churches with Few Children

Does your church have few children or numbers that are difficult to predict from week to week? Here are some curriculum options and ideas to try:

  • Kid Connection (Faith Alive) uses a large group/small group approach and was designed  to work with any number of children. It even includes options for working with one child. (If you are a member of a CRC, your ministry shares give you free access to view Kid Connection in the Digital Library.)
  • Growing in Grace and Gratitude is a Reformed curriculum published by the Presbyterian Church (USA). It includes a multi-age version for use with children ages 5-10.
  • Feasting on the Word is a lectionary-based curriculum that offers multi-age sessions for learners ages 5-12.
  • Keep a box of God’s Big Story cards on hand. Pick the card you’ll need for the story you’re planning to tell; gather any supplies you may need; tell the story and have the kids roll the die to select the responses.
  • Consider joining the Birthing Cross+Gen Facebook Group where members regularly exchange ideas for nurturing faith in intergenerational settings.
  • Check out the Flame Creative Children’s Ministry blog for a variety of storytelling techniques, crafts, experiments, games, and other resources for multi-age settings.
  • Theresa Cho’s church transformed Sunday school and found meaningful ways to fully include kids during worship. Find out what they did (and gather great ideas to jump-start your own thinking).
  • Churches with few children are often perfectly positioned to try more intergenerational approaches to faith formation. You’ll find a multitude of ideas and resources for doing so in The Intergenerational Church toolkit.

Intergenerational Curriculum

  • WE is a series of intergenerational events on Advent, the covenant, Easter, creation, the exodus, the tabernacle, and more. Learn more by watching the WE Overview video.
  • One Bread, One Cup, One People is a free, downloadable, one-session intergenerational learning event on the Lord’s Supper.
  • This Intergenerational Event and Worship Experience on the Lord’s Prayer includes ideas for worship stations, songs and sign language, ways to include preschoolers, and a journal to use at home.
  • LOGOS is a curriculum for midweek intergenerational experiences in which all ages learn and grow in faith together.
  • Get inspired by a wealth of ideas for intergenerational worship, prayer stations, and more on the Still Waters blog.

Theme/Topic-Based Curriculum

Looking for modules that you can insert into your program to align with a seasonal celebration, a particular topic, or a theme that the whole church is studying for a short period of time? Check out these resources:

Advent and Christmas

Beginning of the Education Year

End of the Education Year

Holy Week and Easter

Justice

The Lord’s Prayer

  • The Lord’s Prayer is an intergenerational learning event that includes many easily adaptable ideas for children’s ministry.

Lord’s Supper

Vacation Bible School

Worship

  • Together We Worship is a five-session downloadable curriculum for 4th- to 6th-graders that explores the meanings of the parts of the worship service.

Abuse Awareness

  • If you're looking for abuse-awareness curriculum, Safe Church Ministry recommends Circle of Grace, a safe environment program for children and youth. It features a few easy-to-follow lessons for each grade level and can fit into any existing church school curriculum.

 

Writing Your Own Curriculum

If you’re considering writing your own curriculum, you owe it to the children in your congregation to provide resources that are biblically, theologically, and pedagogically sound. That’s a huge challenge!

First, you’ll want to create a comprehensive scope and sequence that covers the breadth of Scripture while repeating and diving more deeply into key stories each year. That’s how kids become biblically literate—hearing a story once isn’t enough.

With that task in mind, we’ve created a scope and sequence tool for you. It can be used in a variety of ways:

  • as a template for writing your own curriculum
  • to check (and rewrite as needed) the perspective and activities in another curriculum you’re using
  • to shape stand-alone sessions you may be writing (for example, if your church is doing a series in which all ages are studying the same story at the same time).

Wondering what else goes into writing curriculum? Read Eight Things About Creating Children’s Curriculum That Might Surprise You to get the inside scoop.

 

Calling, Encouraging, and Equipping Leaders


“It’s usually the character or personal qualities of a memorable teacher we recall, not his or her specific skills—or even the academic content that person taught. And that’s the way it should be, for character begins in the heart and spirit of lives transformed by God’s grace. And that’s exactly what your teaching is all about” (Dwelling, p. 21).

Calling people to ministry is a process. Equipping people for ministry requires intentionality. In this section you’ll find the support and resources you need to do both things well.

Calling 

Rosewood CRC pastor Bonny Mulder-Behnia says, “Find people who love God and love kids; then equip them with the skills they need to lead a group of children.” We agree!

The resources below have been curated to assist you in finding and keeping volunteers.

Encouraging

Equipping

Good leaders ask good questions. They are also good listeners. Kevin E. Lawson says, “As we create teaching ministries for children, we must be attentive to how children are processing what they are learning. We must allow time to listen to their questions, not just have them answer our questions” (Shaped by God, p. 144).

Check out each of these asking and listening skill-sharpening posts:

Supporting Kids with Behavioral and Learning Challenges

  • With links to videos, books, blogs, and more, this post on Resources for Teaching ALL the Kids in Your Sunday School Class is a one-stop destination. Check it out!
  • View the video Dear Teacher: Heartfelt Advice for Teachers from Students. Co-created with a group of children, it provides leaders with insights into the children in their group who find it difficult to sit still, who appear not to be listening, or who won’t look at them. 
  • 7 Tips for Teaching Children with ADHD provides practical advice for helping children with ADHD experience success as they participate in the programs and ministries of their church.
  • People learn differently. When we lead sessions that involve a variety of learning styles, we help kids connect with God’s story and live more deeply into it. That means more fun for kids, fewer discipline problems for teachers, and greater opportunity for life-changing ministry! Leaders can use these learning-style quizzes to discover how the kids in their group learn best.
  • For additional ideas, visit the Inclusive section under Providing a Welcoming Environment.

Responding to Disruptive Behavior

Praying with Children

  • Children’s ministry leader Karen DeBoer says, “No matter how you’re wired when it comes to prayer, it’s important to invite kids into your conversations with God.” Get ideas for doing so in Praying with Kids.
  • Praying Bible Stories offers a technique for combining Bible stories and prayer.
  • Sybil MacBeth’s Praying in Color books provide a focused way for people of all ages to pray. Visit her website to explore ideas for “praying in color” with children and to download free templates.

Leading  a Child to Jesus

  • It’s not uncommon for those who are engaged in ministry with children to wonder (and worry) about the role they play in leading a child to Jesus. This post provides helpful answers.
  • Crossroads Kids Club offers a great 5-minute video overview of God's salvation story. One note: This video does not describe the "now and not yet" aspect of the kingdom, but describes it as a future-only reality. If you show this to kids, talk about the fact that the kingdom is already here, but not yet here in its fullness.

Easy Extras to Supplement a Session

Music to Play and Sing

  • DwellSongs is a series of three CDs (also available on iTunes) that feature Bible songs and Scripture verses set to music. If your church uses the DWELL curriculum, consider providing families with the music or pointing them to ordering information as a way to continue the learning that’s h
  • appening at church with the nurturing that’s happening at home.
  • The nearly 250 songs for children found in the Sing with Me Children’s Songbook cover major biblical stories and themes using a wide variety of musical styles. The wonderful Sing with Me Leader’s Edition includes information on each song and provides sign language for key words.
  • Rain for Roots is a Nashville-based band that’s “making new songs about the old story for children.” Listen to their music and view their videos here. One of our favorites is The Wedding Banquet—teach the chorus to your kids and ask them to sing it as an invitation to the communion table.
  • It’s easier to memorize Scripture when you’re singing it. Seeds Family Worship turns Bible verses into kid-friendly songs.
  • Looking for global songs to sing with your kids? You’ll find 24 of them on Sing with the World.

Children’s Messages

Bible Story Books and Picture Books

It’s great to have a selection of wonderful Bible story books and related picture books available for children to page through themselves and/or to read together in addition to or in place of the story found in your curriculum.

When choosing such books, it’s important to pay close attention to illustrations and language. Look for those that portray God’s people as diverse, and avoid those with cartoonish or all-white characters. Also steer clear of those that turn God’s story into a moral lesson.

Click here to find a list of our favorite Bible story books and picture books.

Looking for a book on a particular theme, Bible story, or passage? Go to http://storypath.upsem.edu/

Bibles

It’s important to have Bibles available for children to see and to use during your time together.

We recommend the New International Readers Version (NIrV) for its accessibility to children.

Always have a Bible present when telling God’s story with young children, and show them where in your Bible the story you are about to tell them is found. Take the time to look up and read the Bible passage together with older children. 

For an excellent resource on which Bibles and Bible storybooks work best according to age groups, check out the book I Wonder by Elizabeth Caldwell. In addition to her recommendations, Caldwell includes ideas for engaging a child’s curiosity about the Bible. We highly recommend this book for children’s ministry leaders and parents alike.

Does your congregation give children their own copy of a Bible? This post contains ideas for making that practice intergenerational.

Other Training Resources

  • Does your church use the DWELL curriculum? Share these excellent tips for Step by Step Session Prep with your leaders.
  • Check out the blog post from Building Faith called 10 Tips for Sunday School Teacher training.
  • Provide annual training on your church’s child safety policies. See the Safe section under the Providing a Welcoming Environment tab for ideas on how to do this well.
  • Gospel summary for kids: While it’s important for kids to understand the whole arc of Scripture, it’s not always easy to communicate it! Equip your children's ministry leaders with a copy of this summary.

Conferences for Growth

  • The Association for Presbyterian Church Educators is a Reformed binational organization that hosts an annual event. The speakers, workshop leaders, and opportunities to connect with others involved in ministry with children make attending this event worthwhile!
  • Faith Forward is an ecumenical event held each year for children and youth leaders who are interested in creating “radically inclusive, generous, and thoughtful” faith formation.
  • Children's Spirituality Summit: This conference brings together children's ministers, developmental psychologists, spiritual formation leaders, lay leaders, pastors, teachers, sociologists, parents, and theologians from a broad spectrum of Christian traditions to explore children's spiritual formation.

Resources for Development

Videos Featuring Bible stories

  • A Google search for Zonderkidz’ “Jesus Storybook Bible video” will yield a variety of video retellings of many of the stories found in The Jesus Storybook Bible.
  • You’ll find short video clips of Bible stories on the Family Devotions pages of the Jelly Telly Parents site.

Websites

  • You’ll want to bookmark Flame: Creative Children’s Ministry because it contains so many wonderful ideas for crafts, prayers, storytelling, and more.
  • Looking for an easy activity to do with multiple ages or when you have extra time at the end of a session? A giant-sized coloring poster from Illustrated Children’s Ministry may fit the bill! (Read Talk, Paper, Scissors for why that’s such a good idea.) Sign up for the ICM mailing list to be alerted when new resources are available.
  • Follow the Faith Formation Ministries Pinterest boards.
  • A well-written children’s book can provide powerful connections to a story from Scripture. Storypath reviews a wide variety of children’s books, creates ministry ideas, and organizes the results for you in lectionary, Scripture, and theme-based indexes.
  • Some participants describe the wealth of information in the webinars from Practical Resources for Churches as a “gold mine” of information. We agree!
  • We’re thankful for the ideas and resources made available by the fine folks who run the Buildfaith.org site. Check it out!

Networking and Support

 

Connecting with Families

“Faith is learned as it is woven seamlessly into the fabric of daily life,” says Traci Smith in Faithful Families (p. 1).

As ministry leaders, we’re called to help our congregation encourage and equip families as they nurture faith at home. Each resource in this section has been chosen for its ability to be seamlessly woven into the life of a family, as opposed to being yet another thing for busy families to add to their “to do” lists. (We call that our Family Do-Ability Test.)

Some ideas for equipping families with these tools:

  • Link to them from your church website.
  • Post a “Tool of the Week” in your bulletin or online.
  • Purchase the items for your church library.
  • Set up a Family Faith Formation display and lend families the tools they’d like to use.
  • Purchase items in bulk and make them available for families to purchase at a discount or by donation.
  • Develop a faith formation plan in which your church blesses families with particular tools as part of a milestone celebration (for example, a God Loves Me book and/or the Home Grown Handbook for Christian Parenting as a baptism gift, a copy of Parenting in the Pew when a child enters preschool, a set of God’s Big Story cards or The Jesus Storybook Bible when a child begins school).
  • Provide families with a “Welcome to God’s Family” basket of resources when they have their first child.

If there’s a tool you need for families but don’t see here, we’ll try to find it. Contact us at faithformation@crcna.org.

Encouraging

Equipping

Recommended Resources for Families

Equip your families by pointing them toward these outstanding resources via your church newsletter, bulletin, website, social media pages, sharing the link to this toolkit, or whatever works best in your context.