Children's Ministry Toolkit
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 email@example.com.
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:
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 World of Preschoolers
- The World of Kindergartners and First-Graders
- The World of Second- and Third-Graders
- The World of Fourth- and Fifth-Graders
- The World of Young Teens
- For more information on the spiritual characteristics of children, especially with regard to their participation in the Lord’s Supper, click here. The info in this document would be great to share with the families in your church. Also check out the other great tools available in the Welcoming Children to the Lord’s Supper toolkit.
- Best Practices in Children’s Formation includes six effective faith formation practices for children based on the latest research about the ways children learn. Use the ideas in it to jump-start your own thinking about other ways to intentionally include children in the life of your church.
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.
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.
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:
- Get great ideas from seasoned teachers in this post on Building Community.
- In addition to welcoming a visiting child by offering a big smile, learning his or her name, and arranging for another child to “buddy up” with them, consider blessing them with a Welcome Bag.
- Use this registration form to find out how each child in your ministry learns best.
- Children’s ministry leader Jolanda Howe uses these Getting-to-Know-You-Games with her group at the start of a school year.
- The Immigrant Experience contains a variety of ideas to help you enfold the children of immigrant families.
- Helping Children Embrace Diversity includes suggestions for making your ministry with children “a place where children experience the unbiased, unreserved love of Jesus and each other.”
- Research shows that children are racially biased. The post Here’s How to Raise Race-Conscious Children as well as this post from the Embrace Race site contain helpful information for children’s ministry leaders and parents.
- What’s in a name? Your identity. Taking the time to learn the names of your children (and their family members) is another way to love them. Mispronouncing Students’ Names: A Slight That Can Cut Deep is a helpful read.
- Reaching Out to Children of Unchurched Parents is a document with helpful tips for connecting with families whose children attend your children’s ministry program.
"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:
- Use the Parent/Family Member Survey and Welcome Page to prepare a welcoming place for children in your group who have disabilities. Both documents are available as a free download from the Christian Learning Center.
- God’s family includes people with disabilities. Including Children with Special Needs in the Life of the Church offers information on identifying the needs of parents and families, classroom setup and management, and ideas for adapting curriculum and activities.
- Welcoming Children with Disabilities contains tips for providing a warm, welcoming, affirming environment for learners with disabilities. Additional postings contain tips for including persons with disabilities in your Christmas program, at Lent and Easter, and during vacation Bible school.
- God’s family includes persons with learning challenges. The books Autism and Your Church and Helping Kids Include Kids with Disabilities are indispensable resources for every church. (See also the ideas and resources included in the Calling, Encouraging, and Equipping Leaders section of this toolkit.)
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.
- Ten-Question Tool for Choosing Children’s Ministry Curriculum. This easy-to-use tool will help you select a curriculum that’s as theologically and educationally sound as it is engaging and inclusive. Introduce the tool to your planning team with this video version.
- Want to see the Ten-Question Tool in action? This Curriculum Comparison Chart uses it to compare curricula from Orange, Faith Alive, and Congregational Ministries Publishing.
- Choosing a Curriculum: A Guide for Churches. This tool takes a more in-depth look at curriculum options. It includes a checklist of important curriculum features and questions to help you find theologically and pedagogically sound resources that fit the unique personality and dynamics of your congregation.
- What does theology have to do with the way we tell God’s story to children? Everything. Find out why in Every Pastor in the CRC Should Hear This.
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.
Check out how each of the following curricula fits with a Reformed worldview in the reviews below.
2- to 3-year-olds
Preschool to Middle School
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.
- 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.
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
- Check out these leader’s guides for resources that contain everything you need for two different children’s ministry sessions on Christmas themes for kids in kindergarten through grade 8.
- Feeling pressure to put on a pageant? You’ll find all kinds of ideas in Christmas Plays, Pageants, and Prayers.
- Quick and Easy Christmas Dramas are theologically sound and require just one rehearsal. Can you say “win-win”?
- Want to do something that involves the entire church family? Check out these Two Intergenerational Christmas Participation Stories.
- These Six Tips for an Inclusive Christmas Program will help you ensure that everyone can participate fully.
- Looking for an easy, fun, and meaningful Advent devotional for families? We think This Might Be the Best Jesse Tree Set Ever. Click the link to access a fabulous set of free, downloadable devotions, ornaments and ideas for how to use them.
Beginning of the Education Year
- For commissioning service litanies in which both leaders and children can participate, check out Celebrating a New Season of Faith Nurture and Rituals and Transitions: Back-to-School Litanies.
- Growing in Grace: A Four-Week Series to Get Your Church Education Plans Off to a Great Start contains ideas for children’s messages, Scripture passages, prayers, sermons, songs, and more.
- We love the ideas for children and their families in Two ‘Back to School’ Ways to Encourage Children at Church.
- Back to School with a Blessing contains an idea for engaging your whole congregation in showing support for its children and youth.
- 8 Simple Ways to Remind Kids (and Others) They Are Part of God’s Big Story contains great ideas to use for introducing your team and welcoming your kids.
- How might you incorporate A Prayer for Children by Ian Hughes into a ministry team meeting or worship service?
- Engage your pastor(s) and parents with the fun and easy ideas in the post Starting the Season—All Aboard!
End of the Education Year
- The end of the year is an important time to keep the ministry going and growing. Wrapping Up the Sunday School Season shows you how.
- Children’s ministry leader Jolanda Howe loves to send her kids off with a bang and a blessing. Find out how in Sunday School Celebration.
- Wondering how to keep building the relationship you have with kids when you’re apart in the summer? Use the ideas in Summertime Connections and 9 Refreshing Ways to Connect with Kids in the Summer.
Holy Week and Easter
- Be sure to read this post on Making Lent and Easter Meaningful for Persons with Disabilities.
- Check out these leader’s guides for resources that contain everything you need for two different children’s ministry sessions on Easter for kids in kindergarten through grade 8.
- Let’s Talk About Privilege is a resource written by Jane Genzink as a learning experience for the children in grades 1-5 in her church. Divided into three sessions, it covers the topics of privilege, people who are marginalized, and what it means to be a godly neighbor.
- Writer, educator, and parent Lisa VanEngen has written an outstanding resource for speaking with kids about justice issues, including racism, creation care, health care, disabilities, hunger, and more. And Social Justice for All: Empowering Families, Churches, and Schools to Make a Difference in God's World is helpful for parents and ministry leaders alike.
- Research shows that children are racially biased. The post Here’s How to Raise Race-Conscious Children and this post from the Embrace Race site contain helpful information for children’s ministry leaders and parents.
- Refugees in the Bible (a children’s ministry session), Ten Refugee Stories (a list of picture books on the topic), and Learning about Refugee Stories at Sunday School (sessions with ideas that connect to four picture books) are all helpful for learning about and welcoming refugees.
- An Illustrated Earth: Celebrating God’s Creation is a twelve-week curriculum on creation care.
The Lord’s Prayer
- The Lord’s Prayer is an intergenerational learning event that includes many easily adaptable ideas for children’s ministry.
- One Bread, One Cup, One People is an intergenerational learning event on the Lord’s Supper that includes many easily adaptable ideas for children’s ministry.
- Open the Educational Resources section of the Welcoming Children to the Lord’s Supper toolkit to access Sunday school sessions on the Lord’s Supper for children in preschool through grade 6.
Vacation Bible School
- In VBS Reviews You Can Trust you’ll find curriculum suggestions, an idea for a new approach to summertime learning, and a comprehensive review of curricula from a wide variety of publishers.
- Theology matters as much in the summer as it does during the school year. Creation Celebration, Dreams and Schemes, and God’s Family in ACTion are just a few of the titles of the eight theologically sound, fun, and easy-to-use VBS resources you’ll find here.
- Illustrated Children’s Ministry uses giant-sized coloring pages as the basis for its curriculum. Check out their 12-session curriculum An Illustrated Earth: Celebrating God’s Creation and An Illustrated Compassion: Learning to Love Like God.
- Get ready with this Prayer for VBS and Training for Teens.
- Small church with few children? You may be perfectly positioned to take VBS on location. Learn how one church did so here.
- Use these Vacation Bible School Inclusion Tips to widen your welcome.
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.
- 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.
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.
- Seeking Volunteers? outlines an effective process for inviting people to serve in ministry with children.
- Check out this post for ideas on planning a volunteer recruitment month.
- Send What Does It Take? to those who are considering the call to join the children’s ministry team.
- 30 Ideas for Calling, Keeping, and Celebrating Volunteers is a list you’ll want to print, save, and consult throughout the year.
- Once you’ve built your team, you’ll want to gather them. Meaningful Meetings contains tips to help you make the most of the time you have together.
- At the end of the year use this evaluation tool for Sunday school teachers to get valuable feedback from your team.
- It’s important to say thanks! You’ll find some great ideas for doing so here.
- Bless each of your leaders with a copy of Dwelling: Helping Kids Find Their Place in God’s Story. It contains ideas and practical encouragement for all involved in ministry with children and works no matter what curriculum you’re using. Two examples of what you’ll find inside: Holy Habits and Growing Kids’ Gifts.
- Dwelling is a monthly-ish e-newsletter that includes helpful articles, creative tips, and more. Sign up to receive it, and share the content with your leaders.
- Provide midyear support to your leaders with the posts A Piece of Encouragement and Standing on Holy Ground.
- Confessions of a First-Grade Sunday School Teacher is a fun read. Share it with your team and launch a discussion about the importance of the way we tell God’s story.
- The Network is a place to ask questions, share ideas, receive inspiration, and get resources. Sign up to receive notifications of new postings for topics such as Sunday School, VBS, Preschool, and Faith Nurture. Share the links with your leaders, and encourage them to sign up too!
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
- On the days “when teaching feels more like hanging on for dear life than sailing on a lovely lagoon,” employ the excellent ideas found in Discipline: WWJD?
- Need ideas for calling your group to attention? Read Teacher Tip: 7 Ways to Quiet a Crowd.
- Re-telling the story by acting it out as a group is a great way for kids to live into the story. These 3 Tips for Involving Kids in Storytelling will help cut down on the chaos.
- Print and post this chart of Suggested Accommodations for Specific Behaviors.
- View the video Redirecting Challenging Behaviors and learn ways to respectfully redirect those who are having a difficult time focusing.
- For additional ideas, see the section Supporting Kids with Behavioral and Learning Challenges (above).
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
- 8 Quick Games for Sunday School and Youth Group contains ideas for active games that can be used as a structured break to help kids focus during the rest of the session.
- Download creative (and prayerful!) coloring pages from Flame Creative Ministries.
- These storytelling ideas can be used with a variety of Bible stories.
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.
- In addition to being helpful for those who deliver children’s messages, these two articles are important reads for anyone who works with children: How to Deliver an Effective Children’s Sermon and Children’s Sermons: 6 Essentials.
- For three children’s messages about the Lord’s Supper, open the Worship Resources tab in the Welcoming Children to the Lord’s Supper toolkit.
- The Feasting on the Word Guide to Children’s Sermons equips storytellers to deliver messages that are developmentally appropriate, theologically sound, and free of gimmicks and simplistic conclusions.
- Josh Sweetman, youth director at Maranatha CRC in Lethbridge, AB, shared two children's message series he developed: a Lent series called The Broken Pot and an Advent series called The Words of Advent.
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/
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
- Check out the books listed in the posts Go-to Books on Nurturing the Faith of Children and Essential Books on Children’s Ministry for the top picks of experienced leaders.
- Intergenerational Christian Formation: Bringing the Whole Church Together in Ministry, Community and Worship offers a complete framework for intentional intergenerational faith formation.
- Dwelling: Helping Kids Find a Place in God’s Story is a handbook filled with ideas and inspiration for children’s ministry leaders.
- Helping Kids Include Kids with Disabilities provides practical tips for helping students welcome children who have disabilities into their classes at church or at school.
- Autism and Your Church: Nurturing the Spiritual Growth of People with Autism Spectrum Disorder will help your congregation welcome people who are on the autism spectrum into the full life of the church.
- 100 Things Every Child Should Know Before Confirmation offers an overview of one hundred essential topics that all children growing up in the church should learn about, including key Bible stories, church history, the sacraments and creeds, world religions, and more.
- While dealing with loss and grief can be difficult for anyone, children's reactions may differ from those of adults. This three part blog series offers suggestions to consider when helping a child who is grieving.
- The Advocate is a regularly updated blog from the Association for Presbyterian Church Educators.
- Visit the Sticky Faith website for blogs, books, and research on what makes faith stick.
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.
- 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
- The Church Educators Facebook page is a great place to ask questions and share ideas; ditto for the Hope4CE Facebook page.
- Connect online with other CRC children’s ministry leaders on The Network, where you’ll find posts and ideas on topics that include Sunday School, Faith Nurture, Preschool, Parenting, and VBS.
- The Association for Presbyterian Church Educators (APCE) hosts an Annual Event each year and publishes helpful blogs on their Advocate site.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Worshiping with kids can be hard work. The letter Dear Parents: Thank You for Bringing Your Children to Worship (which could be shared with the entire congregation) encourages parents to keep at it; so does Loud Whispers—Worshiping with Children.
- Pastor and parent Mark Stephenson says that your ministry will be enhanced if you ask parents of children with disabilities to tell you about their life. We agree! For a ministry training video on the topic, check out Church Experience of Parents of Children with Disabilities.
- Welcome families with children to worship by creating your own version of a pew card from Princeton CRC in Kentwood, MI called Celebrating Children.
- Depending on when your children’s ministry occurs, there may come a time when the children in your congregation are attending the full worship and/or the sermon for the first time. Equip those families with the information in Helping Parents Bring their Children to the Sanctuary for the First Time and A Letter to Parents Whose Children Are Staying for the Sermon for the First Time.
- In The Van Trip Home Carolyn Brown says the post-worship ride home “can be ‘the cherry on the sundae’ or can undo every good thing that happened during worship.” Help parents make the most of that time with her three tips.
- Take It. Break It. Share It. Love It is a post that provides families with talking points on the topic of communion. The family devotional guide You’re Invited does the same and can be used for family devotions over and over again.
- It’s hard to know what to say when supporting someone who has experienced profound loss. 10 Things Not to Say to a Grieving Parent is an important read.
- The author of My first-grade daughter is “an Easter girl." Together we’re learning about resurrection wondered if “all the Bible stories read to her child were really sinking in” (parents/caregivers of the children you teach may wonder the same). Share her post with families prior to Lent.
- Ten Things I Want to Tell Parents describes the things every parent should know as they seek to nurture the faith of their children.
- Ten Ways for Families to Engage Kids in Worship is a wonderful tool for families. Find out why and how to use it here.
- Support faith nurture when school’s out for summer by sharing with families these 5 Questions to Ask Kids This Summer.
- Parents need spiritual care too. Encourage them to take a breath with this list of 30 mini-Sabbath ideas from Traci Smith.
- Share the Spiritual Characteristics of Children chart with families by printing copies or sending them the link. It also includes information on how children experience the Lord’s Supper.
- Take-Homes That Make a Difference at Home is a post filled with practical tips to ensure that this valuable family faith formation tool gets used.
- Take-Out Church: A Summer Tool for Home and Traveling showcases a clever way for congregations to support family faith at home during the summer months.
- A few weeks before Easter share this post on 6 Tools for Building Faith at Easter.
- God’s Big Story cards provide a fun family devotional time with children ages 5-12. Two ideas for getting them into the hands of families: order a bunch and invite families to purchase them, or buy one for every family in your church and introduce them by using the ideas in this free Family Event. Tip: Print and share with families this jumbo version of card #82 at Christmas; then bless them with a set of cards to kick off the new year.
- Many parents feel unsure about how to pray with their children. Support them with the practical ideas and encouraging words in the post Praying with Kids.
- Help parents pray for their kids by sharing this post with them: Do You Pray for Your Children? How to Start.
- A family event can be a wonderful way to introduce families to your children’s ministry program. For example, the Welcome (or Welcome Back!) to DWELL Family Event offers ideas that will help to encourage and equip families.
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.
The Big Picture
“What are you doing this summer for children’s ministry?” “Have you seen the options for VBS curriculum this year?” “Is there anything new we can do?”
Do any of those questions sound familiar to you? Summer ministry can be both exciting and challenging, and it’s an opportunity to invest in the lives of children in fun and creative ways, But it also comes with challenges like volunteer recruitment, scheduling, and budget.
For many years, churches have engaged in the traditional vacation Bible school, a weeklong summer ministry outreach program that teaches children about God and is centered on a creative theme. VBS is a wonderful opportunity for kids to learn about God in a fun and relaxed setting.
But maybe you are finding that a traditional VBS doesn’t quite fit with your church and its vision. Maybe the curriculum that’s available doesn’t match your theology. Or the needs of the surrounding community are changing and you want to do something different. Maybe you’re looking for creative ways to engage kids, their families, and the entire church throughout the summer.
Here are some resources to help you ask important questions about your summer ministry goals and consider options that fit your context.
Five Questions to Ask
In the post Rebooting VBS, Erica Schemper urges churches to move beyond nostalgic thinking about VBS and move toward fresh conversations with the larger community about their needs. “Finding a way to address those needs, rather than the wants of our congregations, would be radical hospitality,” says Schemper. “This hospitality would be experienced by children, who would discover that God’s people love and care for them, and by their parents, who would feel supported in their efforts to care for their families and fulfill their vocation.”
Whether you’re looking at traditional VBS or are seeking new ideas, here are some questions to ask as you think through how summer ministry with children might provide “radical hospitality” in your context:
- What is the main purpose of your summer ministry with children? Is it to nurture the faith of the children and families who attend your church, and/or is it to engage with the larger community of which your church is a part? If your main purpose is the former, how does summer ministry fit into the larger faith formation goals of your church? If your goal is the latter, don’t assume that you already know what the people in your neighborhood need. Get out into the broader community and ask the questions Schemper suggests: “If we could do something for children in the summer, what would that look like? What would be helpful to you?”
- What is your ministry context? What resources do you have (budget, time, volunteers, materials)? Based on your conversations with neighbors, what is needed? Might you form partnerships with others who are already at work within your community? Are there any special gifts and abilities with which God has equipped the people in your congregation? Take some time and look carefully at the characteristics and strengths of your church.
- What would you like to nurture in children? What are the outcomes you would like to see happen through this experience? Are there certain spiritual disciplines you would like to cultivate? Do you want to focus on biblical literacy? How could your summer ministry program nurture these aspects of faith formation?
- What are the best methods for providing radical hospitality to the children with whom you are engaged in ministry? Is it a weeklong camp? Could you do something intergenerational? Is it better to host something in the daytime, or in the evening? Would it be better to meet once a week rather than five days in a row?
- Now, how do you start accomplishing this goal? How can you formulate a plan to execute your vision well?
If you would like a partner to help you think through the questions above or want to brainstorm a new ministry idea, contact Mimi Larson, FFM’s Children’s Ministry Catalyzer, at email@example.com.
Ensuring All Are Welcome
Summer ministries provide great opportunities for outreach. As you plan, here are some things to keep in mind:
- Welcoming neighbors. People are the key components of any ministry, so provide a warm welcome at each activity or event. Treat everyone who arrives at your church as an honored guest. Station church members at entrances to welcome and direct people. Provide good signage for those who don’t know their way around your facilities.
- Providing a safe environment. The safety of children must be a priority for your summer ministry. Ensure that all staff and volunteers have been trained in important child safety policies, and perform a background-check on each one well in advance. Let families know (on promotional materials and registration forms) what steps you are taking to keep children safe. If you’re a Christian Reformed church and you would like help with strengthening your child safety policies, you’ll find great resources at crcna.org/SafeChurch.
- Creating a sense of belonging. Children’s ministry is about welcoming children, loving them, and showing them that they belong. “Belong, believe, become” is a discipleship model that many churches are adopting in place of the older “believe, become, belong” models. Make sure to include in your team training a description of what it means to “other” a person. By “othering” we mean our conscious or unconscious mental classification of a person as “not one of us.” Every person who walks through the doors of the church is equally loved by God and should feel a sense of belonging just as they are.
- Being inclusive. Each person is made in God’s image, and we want all children to know that they are welcome no matter what their cultural or ethnic background is, what their economic circumstances are, what their abilities are, or what difficulties they may be working through in their lives. Take a look at Helping Children Embrace Diversity—a resource from the Dwell curriculum. Also check out the article Inclusive Children’s Ministry and the book Helping Kids Include Kids with Disabilities for information on including children with disabilities.
- Leading kids to Christ. For those of us who work with children, leading a child to Christ is a great honor and privilege. It also can be scary, and we might have questions on how to do this. Remember that not every child comes with a lot of Bible background. Keep this in mind as you choose curriculum, plan and prepare, and assign costs to these activities.
Being able to talk with kids about God’s salvation plan in a way that nurtures their faith is important, but it’s not always easy. Check out this simple Gospel Summary for Children developed by Faith Formation Ministries. It’s great for using with kids, and for solidifying the gospel message in the minds of volunteers.
If a child does make a declaration of faith during your summer ministry, it’s important to follow up with the parents. The article Three Rules for Vacation Bible School provides some wise guidance.
While these resources are more focused on a Sunday School leader and working with church kids, No Easy “How-Tos,” Leading a Child to Jesus, and Leading a Child to Jesus (Part 2) provide answers to some of our basic questions on how we can share the gospel with kids.
Tackling the Challenges of Summer Ministries
- Having some challenges scheduling volunteers around family vacations? You’re not alone. CrossPoint CRC in Brampton, Ontario, asks members of the congregation to sign up to take a turn teaching Sunday school in the summer to give the regular teachers a break. This smaller time commitment may help you get those summer Sundays covered. Remember to train even short-term volunteers in your child safety policies.
- Think about doing things differently in the summer. Summer offers a great space for your congregation to try something new. Maybe try intergenerational worship in a park? Or bring kids and adults together to share faith stories. Check out how First CRC in Denver, Colorado, designed a program to reach across the generations here. And visit our Faith Storytelling toolkit for more storytelling ideas.
- Wondering how to build relationships with your kids over a busy summer? Use the ideas in 9 Ways for Churches to Stay Connected to Parishioners Over the Summer or Summertime Connections.
- Support faith nurture when school’s out for summer by sharing with families these 5 Questions to Ask Kids This Summer.
- Take-Out Church: A Summer Tool for Home and Traveling showcases a clever way for congregations to support family faith at home during the summer months.
- Practical Resources for Churches provides a recorded webinar about Sunshine and Sonshine: Sunday School in the Summer with ideas and resources for curriculum, multi-generational ideas, service projects, and much more.
- Recruiting volunteers is never easy for any ministry, especially in the summer. Staffing Your VBS: How To Find Volunteers provides ideas on how to expand the number of adults connected in your ministry with children.
- Summer ministries require you to think through safety concerns. In your efforts to stay vigilant in safeguarding children, check out the article ‘Safe Church’ Practices for VBS from Buildfaith.org.
Summer Ministry Program Ideas
We have compiled some great ideas for a variety of ways to engage children and their families during the summer months. While not all these ideas will work in every church context, it’s our hope that one or more of these ideas will spark your imagination as you consider how to invest in the lives of children in fun and creative ways.
- Vacation Bible School Here are some ideas for making the best user of the traditional summer-program-in-a-box.
- Backyard Bible Clubs These neighborhood summer clubs are designed to help kids learn about God’s Story.
- Summer Camps and Day Camps Theme-based camps are great ways to do summer ministry and involve church members with specific interests.
- Create Your Own VBS or Camp This is the ultimate way to match your ministry to your unique context! Here are some pointers for creating your own content.
- Family-Friendly Events Here are some ways to invite kids AND their parents to learn and have fun together.
- Prayer Focus. Another option is to take the summer to focus on praying for cultures around the world. Invite people from other cultures to share their experiences with the kids. Serve food that has special meaning in that culture. Put maps and pictures up on the walls and take time to learn together. Lead children in praying for the people of that culture. If you’re part of a CRC church, Resonate Global Mission offers helpful resources and often has missionaries home during the summer.
- Service Projects Here are some ideas for community-based service opportunities.
- Storybook Hour for Young Children Give parents of kids a break while you open young minds to the power of story.
Networking and Support
- If you’re part of a CRC church, sign up for the CRC Children’s Ministry Leaders Facebook page, which is a great place to ask questions, share ideas, receive inspiration, and get resources.
- Subscribe to Faith Formation Ministries’ Children’s Ministry Newsletter, which highlights ideas and resources to help strengthen faith formation with children.
- Connect online with other CRC children’s ministry leaders on The Network, where you’ll find posts and ideas on topics that include VBS, Sunday school, and summer ministries.
- If you’re part of the Christian Reformed Church, connect with Mimi Larson, FFM’s Children’s Ministry Catalyzer, who can help you brainstorm solutions for your ministry challenges. Contact Mimi at firstname.lastname@example.org.