This post was written by Marta Cortez, a member of the INCM Blog team.
As children’s ministry leaders, we desire to see the children we serve and shepherd become passionate followers of Jesus. Our goal is to come alongside families to help their children know Jesus and have a relationship with Him. We also want to see children find their place in the church, see themselves as a valuable part of the church community, and a part of God’s unfolding and amazing kingdom.
We can shape and nurture their faith by involving them in serving, allowing them to take an active part in our ministry and the life of the church.
Serving is an important part of spiritual formation; it helps children and youth exercise their faith muscles. Serving helps fight the consumer mentality and fosters a sense of belonging and connection to the faith community.
Here are some ways we can help kids serve in the church.
Involve them in serving early
Even preschoolers can learn to serve others. Explain and teach that serving and loving others honors God, model the service role, and patiently work with them as they grow. Because they are young, you can start with smaller roles like putting classroom toys away before Bible storytime, wiping the table down after a snack, etc. Find ways they can contribute to their small community.
At this age, you are not expecting perfection. Be patient and forgiving with them as they learn. They need more encouragement than correction at this age. Tell them they are doing a great job. Thank them for serving Jesus by serving others. Motivate and encourage them repeatedly.
Expand service beyond the classroom
As students get older, they can do more than serve in their classrooms. Expand their service roles and help them find new service opportunities in your children’s ministry. Continue to teach and model service for them and release them to serve.
In our preteen ministry, we established various areas of service for our 4th and 5th graders. We had these students do a spiritual gifts inventory to help them understand their God-given gifts and talents and how to use those gifts to serve others in the church and community. We gave training for each of those areas and then shared the opportunities with the students. We found that many of the preteen students continued to seek out service opportunities when they moved on to youth ministry because they learned the joy and value of serving.
Elementary students can be a part of existing ministries of your church. They can serve on your greeting team; learn to serve as ushers in children’s church; participate in your worship team; help to tell Bible stories through drama and puppet teams. They can write cards for first-time guests and elderly homebound church members. They can serve so many ways at this age.
Let them serve adults
There are ministries of the church that can benefit from having kids serve. Children can be part of the greeting team in “big church.” Pairing them with an adult is essential so they have a person to guide, encourage, mentor, and model that role of service for them. Does your church welcome first-time guests with a mug or small gift? Why not have children be the ones that give this gift as part of the welcome team. Who can resist a child’s smile and a warm welcome?
My friend, Mercedes Hayes, uses this model in her ministry. She has older elementary students pair up with an adult to help them pass the communion elements in the worship service. Her church tradition does communion weekly, so these mentors work with the students to help them serve with reverence.
When our church adopted a nearby apartment community and began a ministry there, we began serving the families in that community in various ways. One year our church decided to bring an Easter egg hunt to those families. We had our preteen kids spend a Saturday morning stuffing thousands of eggs and praying for the families that would be drawn by God to that outreach. Many of these students joined that outreach alongside their parents to serve food, put out the Easter eggs, and share Jesus’ love in practical ways. Include service opportunities where families can serve together.
Help them connect globally to missions
Connect kids to the global Church through missions. What missionaries is your church already sponsoring? Think of ways the children can support the mission and connect them to what God is doing in other parts of the world. This will help them see that the Church is broader and bigger than just their own congregation.
We started a pen-pal program with a missionary in Thailand who runs a school. This missionary couple teaches English through Bible stories. Our 4th and 5th graders wrote letters to children in their ministry. Our younger elementary made and decorated cards to send each month. When those missionaries came back to the United States to share what God was doing in Thailand through the support our church provided, the children heard how their letters blessed the Thai children. Our kids felt a sense of connection to God’s work in that global setting.
Think of ways you can mobilize children to service in your church context. They will rise to the occasion, grow in their faith, and connect to the church in an incredible way. Children must be an active part of what God is doing in the Church locally and globally. Serving will help them see themselves as a valuable member of the body of Christ.
Let’s continue to minister to kids, and let’s invite them to minister, too.
Marta Cortez is an innovative leader with a passion for family ministry. She is dedicated to equipping leaders and seeing kids come to know Christ. She has served in many roles across her ministry career. Serving in churches of various sizes, including a megachurch, has developed her management skills and ability to tailor programs and leadership models to accommodate ministry needs. Marta has been married for 37 years and has two beautiful daughters. In her spare time, Marta loves baking, good coffee, and trips to the beach.