Solutions for Small Churches

by Dienna Goscha

Walking into the children’s area of a mega church where I was attending a conference, I found a large castle located on the kid’s stage. I learned that the castle cost $25,000 and was designed by an architect with a myriad of bells and whistles that would wow kids of all ages. As I was taking it all in, someone from my church also attending the conference came up beside me. Carol excitedly exclaimed, “They have a castle just like yours!” My castle, back at our smaller church, was made from cardboard boxes. Our resident handyman had constructed a bridge out of scrap materials, the local garden store allowed us to borrow crocodiles for the moat and a hula hoop with cheap fabric hanging from it extended from the ceiling making a gazebo. All for a cost well under $100. And yet, in Carol’s mind, the castles were the same.
With creativity, smaller churches can overcome obstacles and turn them into positive opportunities. Often I hear children’s pastors and leaders complain about lack of funding, low volume of volunteers, cramped space and discouragement over the number of children in their ministry. Instead of having a “we can’t” attitude, start capitalizing on the unique blessings that God has given and focus on how to maximize these areas.

Within a smaller church, kids can have opportunities to learn servant hood at a young age. Put together a creative ministry team using the talents that your church has. I started with a team of 3 upper elementary kids and five years later “The God Squad” had grown to 16 kids and teens. At the beginning stages, the team performed simple puppet songs, however, quickly moved into doing backyard Bible clubs and even leading the spiritual segment of an entire week long summer camp engaging in drama, crafts, games, props, audio-visual and teaching. Each Sunday, The God Squad arrives to set up the kid’s ministry for the church which meets in a movie theater. They assist with early childhood classes, do puppets and dramas, run sound and power point, create props, man the welcome center and finally clean up after the service. Each member of the group is assigned a role based on spiritual gifts and talents. With this group of dedicated kids and teens, the kid’s ministry has been able to run smoothly with a quality program.

Often smaller churches worry about not being able to pull off the big events such as Christmas programs, VBS, or outreach family events. Instead of trying to imitate other programs, capitalize on the talents in your church. Do you have artistic talent instead of musical talent? Do away with Christmas musical ideas and imagine an art show displaying children’s artwork, all tastefully and professionally arranged with girls dressed in black and white walking around the guests serving chocolate on golden trays while the boys usher the guests through the art displays. Imagine setting up a Bethlehem Village with biblical costumed children guiding family, friends and guests through the village showing off crafts such as pan flutes, perfume bottles, coins and weaving. Don’t forget the beggar at the town well or the Roman soldiers standing at attention. Both of these ideas work well with committed artistic individuals leading the way.

Imagine a fun family night Bible study where parents and kids learn together with hands on activities such as seeing how many helium balloons it would take to lift a GI Joe or Barbie, launching an Alka seltzer rocket or working together to craft a boat out of aluminum foil. Together they decorate a family cake or make homemade ice cream in coffee cans or zipper baggies. All of the activities tie to a biblical concept. Families would not only bond with each other but also have meaningful interaction with other families. Family outreach events can be effective and meaningful even in small group settings.

Instead of outreach being a Vacation Bible School at your local church, consider going to places that larger churches would not be able to go and doing events that no one else is doing. Think about doing a neighborhood Bible club, traveling to different neighborhoods in the area. Sponsor a story time in your local coffee shop where you read to preschoolers one day a week along with sharing some simple puppet skits, finger plays and hands on activities. If you have athletes in your church, run a free one day sports clinic or a 3 on 3 basketball tournament in your local park. Get into the community instead of waiting for kids to come to you.

Volunteer numbers can seem like an obstacle in a smaller church setting. The same people can easily be overwhelmed and overworked. Be on the lookout for those who are not engaged in ministry. Create short term opportunities to get people excited about kid’s ministry. Small drama parts, a personal story, teaching a craft or making a video are all ways to introduce people to kid’s ministry. Most people are willing to invest 15 minutes of their time doing something they are comfortable with. Once they get a taste of what you are doing in kid’s ministry, they may want to come back for more.

Discouragement can come from comparing attendance with other churches. Instead of making comparisons focus on building relationships with the kids you have. There is a much greater opportunity to mentor kids and to make a lasting impact on their lives because you personally know each child in your ministry. Take time to go to ball games and school plays, send notes, shoot off simple emails, recognize birthdays, and have the kids into your home. Pray personally for each child, knowing the struggles that each child may be facing. Focusing on relationships instead of numbers will keep discouragement to a minimum.

Smaller churches often will have mixed age groups of kids all in one class. Sometimes the wide age span of kids can seem like a huge obstacle. What do you do with four year olds in the same room as fifth graders? In these situations, older kids get an opportunity to lead and to mentor younger kids. Use older kids not only as helpers, but also to lead small groups. We learn the best when we can teach something. As the older kids teach the younger kids, they will be learning and hiding biblical truth in their hearts.

Lack of funds to keep up with technology can be discouraging. However, kids still learn best with experiential learning. Create activities that will keep kids moving. Acting out stories will stay with kids longer than watching them on a big screen. Making something with their hands will help them remember a story long after they have gone home. Participating in a game show or a “reality show” race are all ways to help with learning retention. However, do not discount the importance of using technology today. A smaller church should make attaining technology that can complement their kid’s ministry programs a priority in their goals for the future.

Max Lucado told a story about a World War 2 pilot, Bohn Fawkes, whose plane was hit by Nazi antiaircraft guns. Even though the plane’s gas tank was hit, it did not explode and Bohn was able to safely land his plane. The next day he went to the crew chief to ask for the shell that could have ended his life. He wanted it as a souvenir. He found that not one, but eleven shells had been found in the gas tanks. Incredibly, none had exploded. Later when the missiles were opened they were found to be void of explosive charge. They were empty except one. Inside, a small piece of paper was found with the message, “This is all we can do for you now.” It seemed that an assembly-line worker was disarming these missiles. The worker knew he could not end the war but he could do something. It seemed so small, and yet it made all the difference.
We may feel that we aren’t making the impact we should because we are in a smaller church. But the impact we make can be deeper in many ways. Never discount what God has given you to do and what He can do with it. It may seem like what you are doing is “all you can do for now,” but know that it is making all the difference to the children God has placed in your life.

Dienna has led children’s ministry for over 20 years and is co-founder of River’s Edge Curriculum. She serves as Pastor of Families and Children at Real Life Community Church in Minnesota. You can reach her at [email protected].

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