By Dienna Goscha
As a children’s pastor, I realized that I was becoming insulated from the community. All of my work was taking place within the church. How was I to be the salt of the earth and light to the world if I lived in a cocoon built inside the walls of the church? How could I be Jesus to my community in a way that relationships could be built and sustained? The answers to my questions came inside a coffee shop surrounded by preschoolers and their moms.
Each Thursday morning at ten o’clock do not look for me lurking around my church office. Instead, you can find me drinking a medium one shot, skim mocha while reading about hungry caterpillars, lonely fireflies and mad llamas. You will find new little friends of mine named Alex and Daniel and Olivia sitting around me with their moms hovering not too far away. You will probably feel the sense of community and energy that fills the coffee shop for half an hour. And you will find lots of smiling people as they witness the enthralled looks on each child’s face.
Story time consists of more than just reading a few random stories to whatever children happen to show up. Instead, it is an intentional time of character building activities. Each story time contains two classic read aloud books based on a theme such as “I can help my family” or “I can share with my friends.” Finger plays, puppets and child friendly props are also integrated into the sessions. God moments naturally happen as a child will mention that he belongs to God or that Christmas is Jesus’ birthday. While the goal is not a spiritual lesson, the character building books naturally lead to short conversations that plant seeds with the children and their families. Each session, the children walk away with a fun activity page and a tangible object such as floppy dog ears or a candy cane. Parents walk away with a much needed break and a take home page with a list of books read and suggestions for extension activities to do at home.
To start a story time, first pray about the location. Look for a coffee shop that is child-friendly. Talk to management, pointing out the advantages a story time would bring to their shop. Advertise in the paper, on community bulletin boards and with mom’s groups. Create a mobile story area using a rolling cart for supplies and blankets for children to sit on. Carefully choose books that have large, colorful pictures. Rhyming books are especially popular and keep children’s attention. Use simple, short books that tell stories that have unspoken morals or lessons.
The desired outcome of the coffee shop story time has been to build relationships that would lead to real conversations about life. I know which child’s mom is struggling with having to go back to work to make ends meet. I know which child’s grandma loves to come after story time for a cup of coffee and to hear her grandson tell her about a dirty dog named Harry or a boy that remembered to say thank you. I know which child’s mom quit teaching to stay home with her kids and is exhausted. I know that these moms cannot help but feel loved by the church as they know that someone is dedicating a portion of time to provide a quality experience for their child and a much needed break for them.
The outcome that I was not expecting was how surprised by joy I would be each Thursday. I love the excitement, the wide eyed wonder, and even the spills of hot chocolate and other unscripted interruptions. Imagine ministering outside the walls of your church, planting seeds of God’s love and anticipating how He will make those seeds grow. Imagine breaking out of your usual routine, going outside the church walls and being Jesus to your community. Take a step out of your comfort zone and head to your local coffee shop with an armful of books and a heart full of God’s love.
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].