Making church a place where kids find grace is a challenge.
We call church a holy place, a place set apart, a place of awe and, yes, reverence.
There’s a reason we don’t play tag by the altar (although my kids have tried!), we don’t wear sweatpants there (most of the time), and we don’t smash Cheetos in our hands and rub them in the carpet (again, we’ve tried this, it’s not a good idea).
We could do all those things, but we normally don’t.
For us, these concepts seem pretty straightforward, and have a lot of wiggle room, but for a kid, this might make the church seem full of a whole lot of rules, and more must’s and should’s than we really intended.
It doesn’t mean we should start holding relay races in the sanctuary (although you could), but it does mean that we can take an extra measure of care to help kids know that the place we call church is full of sweet gospel grace, a place they want to be, a place they can be themselves and be valued just as they are- tiny little sinner/saints.
So, beyond teaching children that the church is people, more than it’s a place, what can we do?*
Kids often want to see and do, and sometimes we just need ideas in order to help them do just that; to feel like a part of something, an honored member of our church culture, not a lesser member of the Body of Christ.
Today, we’re going to get into kids’ heads and think about what they would like, where we can intersect their lives with the Gospel message so that theycan hear it with three simple hands-on ideas.
Idea #1 – The Luther Rose or Cross Lego Challenge
So, if you haven’t heard, it’s almost Reformation time. This year has the bonus of being the 500th anniversary, so there’s lots of celebrations happening. You don’t have to be Lutheran to appreciate Luther, who essentially founded the modern protestant church. Luther created this really cool symbol to give an accessible overview of his theology. It makes me think of modern day graphics we design, based on our church mission statements. You could also have kids design a lego cross of any kind and see the awesome ideas they come up with!
What kid doesn’t love legos? Any opportunity to use them at church is a good one. This also helps us not compartmentalize church and Jesus. When kids play with their toys while considering theology and Christ’s gifts to us, they also learn that Jesus doesn’t just exist in one place, but is in our whole lives.
This challenge is organized by making a sample, deciding on a time period for the Lego challenge, announcing the Lego challenge turn-in date, and creating a display area for everyone to see the cool creations the kids make. I would suggest a prize for participation that is also kid friendly – an ice cream coupon, hot cocoa and chips packet, or a devotional book and cool pens; Maybe the grand prize winner gets a graphic novel Bible or Christian T-shirt. Prizes aren’t necessary, but they say – “hey, you took time and effort in this, thank you.”
I’ll even write the announcement for you – “Hey kids! Can you make the Luther’s Rose with Legos? Can you design a bold and colorful cross to share the message of Jesus? Design and build the Luther’s Rose or your cross by (insert date) and bring it into the church office. We’ll display it (insert location), so that everyone can see and hear about God’s great love for them.”
This guy created a large template! That’s some cool dedication. I believe he also has a blog called Godbricks. Very fun.
Idea #2 – Design Your Own Church Building Challenge
Obviously I like challenges. Kids do too. They say action and excitement in their world, and even if they never turn a “product” in, they learn and grow in trying or in seeing others do it.
Every kid loves to create ideas of their “dream home.” Most contain exorbitant items like bowling alleys and olympic swimming pools. If you live at our house, Wookies would reside in your dream home basement.
Imagine if children were given the opportunity to tell you what they would love to see at church. There can be boundaries like “church must included crosses” or even “church must have room for lots of people to worship.” But this gives us the opportunity to talk about church as people, not a place, and how eclectic the place we call church could look, as well as what it’s purposes are.
Give every child who would like to participate a 16×20 piece of drawing paper or a cut from a giant drawing roll, so that everyone has the same supplies and it can easily be hung up. Ask them to turn them in by a certain date and have a family night to eat and celebrate the church, aka the kiddos and people who have creativity and love Jesus!
Idea #3 – The Sing-a-Song-of-Praise Video Challenge
Kids love music and song, almost universally. They can easily join in on hymns like, I Am Jesus Little Lamb and Christ the Lord is Risen Today, or praise songs like 10,000 Reasons and Beautiful Name, in worship. They can rock a VBS song at the top of their lungs and know it perfectly within three days. They can memorize huge segments of Scripture given a song and a chance to practice.
This challenge gives kids a platform to share some music. They can film themselves or ask mom and dad to it, they could make up a song, but they can just sing one of their favorite songs they learned from church. They can do it as a Sunday School class, or a family, or on their own. It is less intimidating than a solo or even group sing in front of the church. A video could be shared each week before the beginning of worship or when announcements are given.
This teaches kids that everyone has a gift to share and the language of praise is universal. It’s fun and wonderful to share songs, and we do it for God, not for people. It gives them the chance to give a small offering to their Savior and bless all of our worship as a side benefit.
Whatever you do – just love them.
Love them strong and love them hard. Give them grace and room to grow. Speak with empathy and compassion. These children, they are gifts from the Lord and where would our churches be without them?
*You can hear more on my theological and psychosocial perspective of kids in church in the podcast below, or subscribe to the I Love My Shepherd podcast on iTunes or Stitcher.