Best Practices for Reaching the Children in Your Community

Thursday, February 22, 2024

The KidzMatter Blog/Outreach/Best Practices for Reaching the Children in Your Community

I’m sure that no one reading this post is unaware of the depressing statistics about the “de-churching” of America. If parents have stopped attending church, then, no doubt, their children are unchurched—unreached with the gospel. Jesus offered a metaphor describing our situation: “When [Jesus] saw the crowds, he had compassion on them because they were harassed and helpless like sheep without a shepherd” (Matt. 9:36). If sheep are harassed and helpless, the lambs are in even greater danger. But the Good Shepherd is right there, 
even if they are unaware of his presence. Turning to his disciples, Jesus then changes the metaphor: “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field” (Matt. 9:37–38). Jesus sees these lost and helpless lambs, and he calls us to pray for workers. Perhaps you are the worker someone else has prayed for!

Here are some “best practices” for you as you prepare to work in the mission field at your door.

Begin with Prayer

Begin by gathering a group of like-minded people from your church, and possibly from other churches, to pray for this ministry. Prayer should continue to be an essential part of your process as you move forward.
Know Your Community

To be effective in ministry, it’s important that you have an accurate picture of your community. There are traditional sources for demographic information for your area, such as the school board, realtors, and government agencies. They can supply information on the number of families with children, average income level, the racial make-up, and who the major employers are. Of course, you can also search the Internet.

We are the people of God with news about the Shepherd King who can change children’s lives forever. I suggest creating your own “Prayerful Community Assessment.” With your group, begin by brainstorming to find every organization that serves families and children. Here are a few ideas to get you started: libraries, childcare facilities, sport associations, community centers, and schools for music, dance, art, and gymnastics. There are many, many more—be creative.

Build Relationships and Collaborate

Once you have collected your information, divide into pairs, go out into the community and meet the people who own, run, or staff those establishments. Do a quick interview with them, introducing yourself and your church, and saying something like this, “Our church is interested in serving families and children, and we’d like to talk to people like you who have experience and knowledge about our community. What do you see as the greatest need for the families and children in (name of your community)?” Make sure you take notes and thank them for their time. This networking can be the start of new relationships for collaboration; continue to build on them.
There are a number of important reasons for gathering information with personal conversations. (1) You will get on-the-ground information about what is going on and how people feel about it. (2) People will get to know you and your church. (3) You will discover like-minded organizations and individuals who care about children and can partner with you, supporting your outreach with finances, material, publicity, or volunteers.

Identify Practical Resources and Tools 

After you have collected your information, have your team discuss which needs resonate with people. Prioritize them from high to low. If you have not already done so, now would be a good time to invite your pastor and other church leaders to talk and pray with you about what you have learned, and then discuss ideas for ministry. You’ve prepared, now consider ways to make things happen!

1. Enrich or expand outreach programs and activities your church is already doing. Use resources created specifically for children and families that create an interest in knowing God. Consider fun, child-friendly activities, back-to-school backpacks, Thanksgiving baskets, Advent kits, Christmas gifts, etc.

2. Participate in community events like summer concert series, antique car shows, food truck events, town block parties, etc. You can build relationships by volunteering at an event or by having an inviting booth or table that has games, crafts, activities, and prizes. While engaging with visitors, you can give out brochures about your church and offer Christian materials like Bible comic books, New Testaments, or a gift with Scripture on it. You can use a raffle as a way to get contact information from the adults. Be prayerful and intentional about all the people and children you meet. Relationships with you open the door for relationships with Jesus!

3. Offer one-time or one-day events. These kinds of programs can be done as a low-content, trust-building time, or be more explicitly Christian. One need families often have is childcare during teacher professional/development days, parent-teacher conferences, early release days, or holiday breaks. Open your church and offer a safe and fun program to meet that need. It’s up to you how much Bible you want to include. We have offered days for Lego Mania, where children made up a block party using cardboard boxes to create their own town. We also have used materials from Scripture Union PrimeTime® club materials during parent-teacher conferences. These 41-week curricula include special lessons that can easily be adapted for holidays. Scripture Union also has a half-day interactive program that encourages children transitioning from elementary school to middle school. 

4. A one or two-week VBS can be a wonderful outreach, too. If you want to use your current VBS to reach the unchurched, families and children in your church should invite their friends, neighbors, teammates, or classmates. Personal invitations are the most successful way to introduce nonbelievers to the church and to Jesus. With unreached children in view, consider holding your VBS in a public space like a playground, park, beach, or apartment building community room. (Scripture Union SuperKids® are specifically designed for “missions-to-go” evangelism.) Many summer daycare centers are looking for programs to enrich their regular experience. In Worcester, we held a two-week SuperKids program for Angels’ Net, a ministry that serves immigrant families. In the past, the Salvation Army has also invited us to run their vacation Bible schools.

5. Hold ongoing weekly programs. This can be an explicitly Christian Bible club, like Awana, Gems, Pioneer Clubs, Child Evangelism Fellowship, or Scripture Union PrimeTime. Midweek programs are very appealing to families who may be looking for after-school care. You can attract unchurched children by including homework help, tutoring, interest-based components (card-making, Legos, STEM, service projects) or skills-based components (woodworking, engineering, art lessons, or sports skills). A church in Holden, Massachusetts, got a grant for a moms and tots program. The time of songs, dance, crafts, and stories was fun for the children and good for the moms, too. While the program was not specifically Christian, it afforded wonderful opportunities for building relationships since almost none of the women who came had a church home. 

Implement Effectively

Remember to be sensitive to the parents of the children you want to reach. Listen and follow through to help with any needs they might mention. Be transparent and open about the content of your program. If you promote your program just for fun and learning and then include Bible study, parents might feel you’ve somehow tricked them. Do your research about children’s cultural, religious, and other backgrounds so that you can make them feel more comfortable and included. In your program, make sure you define and explain everything that an unchurched child might not know. 

Consistent staffing, especially for small groups, is very important for building strong, caring relationships that demonstrate the value of each child and build trust. Teach them how to navigate the Bible and help them to discover its truths themselves. Lastly, stick with the Bible text and avoid sermonizing; trust the Holy Spirit to do his work!

Children are open to learning about God, and Jesus sees them as harassed and helpless lambs. Out of our joy in knowing the Good Shepherd and filled with Jesus’ compassion, let’s bring them into his pasture!

Passionate. Yes, that’s the word used repeatedly to describe Mary Sutton’s enthusiasm for sharing the love of Jesus Christ and the truths of Scripture with children. In fact, this passion led Mary to leave her career in public education so that she could more directly teach children about God, especially the many children in Massachusetts who have had virtually no exposure to the Christian faith. Mary brought Scripture Union’s SuperKids® to Whitinsville, Massachusetts, in 2004. In addition to working directly with children, Mary has had years of experience coaching others on how to minister to children and writes curricula for Scripture Union-USA. 

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