This post was written by Cera Talamantes, a member of the INCM Blog team.
The floor was laminate and super old, turning yellow where it once had been white. There were animated circus animals on the floor, too, some cute and some creepy. I stared at them as we prayed during Sunday School, trying to focus.
My grandma was our teacher, and when she prayed, it was serious. If you were caught with your eyes open and head up, you knew there would be one of those “looks” from her. I focused on the floor, trying to engage, but also noticing that the elephant had polka dots and a tutu.
For a 7-year-old who needed snack time desperately and felt confused by the animals on the floor, serious prayer was not how I wanted or needed to encounter Jesus.
Prayer requires focus, of course, but as a young child, I remember feeling uninterested in my grandmother’s tactics. Her heart was good. After all, learning who God is and about the sacrifice Jesus made for us is A LOT for kids to take in, and she wanted to teach us that it was serious.
But as I have thought more about it, I wonder, are there better ways we can introduce and help kids to practice prayer? How can we get them more involved?
First, we must create a space where they can comfortably and fully experience conversation with God without feeling intimidated or anxious. Kids can learn that God is 100% approachable.
Prayer looks and feels different for all of us. Here are some things to consider when trying to incorporate more opportunities to pray in your weekly ministry.
Everyone is different
God created each of us with unique learning styles. Considering these, we can use the 5 senses to help create activities for kids to engage in prayer. Intentionally pairing those up helps relate both the spiritual and physical.
Connecting a spiritual God, who we can’t see, with things we can see, feel, smell, hear, and taste can help kids to experience God in ways that they actually learn.
For some, reading a scripted prayer out loud as a congregation in “big church” or in a children’s large/small group setting is exactly what they need. It provides structure and guidance. But for others, it might not even connect.
Here’s one way you can help kids use touch and sight to pray. Using Legos or any type of building blocks, you can help kids engage in prayers of thanksgiving. Give each child several blocks. Each block represents something they are thankful for. Each time they think of something to thank God for, they take time to say, “Thank you God for…” and their tower will grow.
This gives a visual example of God’s growing love for us while engaging their tactile senses. They can practice this at church and take it home and practice as they play with their own blocks.
Meet them where they are
Each child comes from a different background and is at a different level of spirituality. Pay attention to where different kids in your ministry are in their walk with Jesus.
Praying out loud in front of the group might not be helpful for a new kid at church or a child who hasn’t ever prayed before. In fact, it can be intimidating.
We want to grow and build trustworthy relationships with kids before they take risks in prayer that could be embarrassing for them. But, for those kiddos who are vocal and love leading the group in prayer, encourage them and give them the opportunity to practice when you can!
An example of a prayer activity that will give kids at every level safety to try to pray is this: Create a prayer wall with pre-written prompts, having a leader there to ask the kids how they want to talk to God in that moment, pointing out different options.
Maybe they want to thank God, pray for someone who is sick or in need, pray for a specific request they have, or celebrate how they saw Him move and work in their lives or in the lives of the people they love.
Give them the freedom in a guided way to decide how to respond to God. They can draw on a card and put it on the wall, or they can kneel by the wall and say a prayer alone, or they can pray with an adult. In this way, kids at all different levels can pray and talk to God through a low-stress activity.
Lead by example
My grandma is an incredible woman and an example of what it means to actively walk alongside Jesus daily. I watched her pray in Sunday School, but also in her day-to-day life.
Her example reminds me of John 15, where Jesus invites us to abide in him. He says, “I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5)
How we live and lead our lives will be seen by those around us, especially the ones we are shepherding. It is so important that we are constantly pointing back to Jesus. He modeled and taught the importance of prayer and real-life relationship with our Heavenly Father. He modeled living fully in Him and through Him.
I tell everyone, including the kids I serve, I’m in constant conversation with God! I’m not talking to myself, but to Him about everything happening in my life.
I pray in the good times when it’s easy to shout praises from the mountaintops and when I am on my knees, facing life’s challenges in the valley. And I model this by praying with the kids I serve in my lessons and small group activities.
Pay attention this next week to when you are stopping to pray in your ministry. Are you using prayer as a transition, or are you taking active times to pray with individual kids or groups of kids about their lives?
As you assess the times where the kids pray or you pray with them, consider where you could pray again, either at the beginning or end of your gathering or in small groups. Kids will try to pray when they can see it modeled to them repeatedly by their leaders.
Kids need a safe, comfortable place to interact with God. Providing that on Sunday mornings, or during any gathering, helps kids develop a foundation for practicing prayer in their own day-to-day lives.
Being intentional about creating physical and spiritual space for this in your weekly ministry will likely grow your kid’s capacity to pray more boldly and take risks in prayer. And it will bear spiritual fruit in even the smallest kids. And that matters to God.
Cera Talamantes has served in ministry for over a decade, volunteering in different areas but was called most to preschool and children’s ministry. Cera and her husband, Joseluis, have two incredible kids. Their family loves spending time together making lasting memories and having crazy Uno game nights.