Outreach through Children's Ministry
by Rev. Jim Elsner
What’s your congregation’s focus and form of outreach? As a small congregation in a rural setting, Prince of Peace Lutheran Church, Hudson (Stroh), Indiana, has an outreach focus on its public elementary school – KIDZ KLUB, a Tuesday after-school program. In our fall 2016 session, I taught the fourth- and fifth-grade students about the life of Abraham.
In order to build a “team,” I played a game with the kids. Each child took a turn to share their name and the hospital where they were born. To my surprise, four of the eight kids had no idea what hospital – or where – they were born. These four kids didn’t live with a parent; each lived with another relative. It was a great opportunity to talk about Abram and how God knew him and called him to follow Him.
The second week, we read from Isaiah 43. Each child made a big poster and we put them up on our classroom wall. The message?
“I have called you by name,
And you are mine,” says the Lord.
It was important for these kids to know that God knows them better than they know themselves. He knows where they were born, and He calls each of them to be His own dear child!
Sex and Abuse
If you read the story of Abraham in Genesis 12-22, you can’t escape talking about sex and abuse! The words were right there in the Bibles we were reading, and the kids caught it quickly. They realized that, even though God called Abraham and made him His own, Abraham and Sarah made bad choices in life.
I introduced the kids to the “canyon” diagram. On one side is God and on the other Us (people). In the “canyon” are Sin, Faults, and Errors. How do we get over them and to God? Genesis 15:6 says, “Abram believed God and He credited it to him as righteousness.” Faith, believing, and trust are the bridge across the canyon. Despite the bad choices we each make, God restores us and forgives us because we believe. I added the cross of Jesus as the bridge. Abraham didn’t know Jesus and His work as we do. And so Jesus is the one we believe in and trust.
Reading about Abraham and Hagar (Gen. 16) brought an interesting story from one of the kids. He told us his cousin was going to a church but she became pregnant, even though she wasn’t married. Her pastor was angry and kicked her out of the church. He told her that her baby was a mistake!
It was a touching moment followed by a tough discussion. All the kids were VERY tuned in! We talked about sin and grace, about God’s love and forgiveness for our bad choices when we trust in God. We encouraged the student to tell his cousin about Abraham and God’s love. For this group of kids who didn’t know where they came into this world, it was important to reaffirm God’s words from Isaiah 43: “I have called you by name… you are mine.” That baby isn’t a mistake. That baby is known by God, loved by God, and God calls that baby to be His!
As we finished our discussion that day and began moving to our next activity, one of the girls who was pretty quiet came to me and said, “Pastor Jim, I was abused. When I was in foster care, I was abused. My grandparents got me out of there. And that’s why I live with them.” And the boy who told us about his cousin turned to her and said, “I was abused, too!”
One of the more dramatic moments in the story of Abraham is the covenant ceremony of Genesis 15. It’s kind of bloody but the kids really understood that God laid HIS life on the line for Abraham! He made a promise and commitment to Abraham – a very serious one – a “cross my heart and hope to die” kind of one.
When Isaac was eight days old, he entered into that covenant with God, too. Circumcision it was called. (Boy, that took some smooth talking on my part!) The point for the kids is that God put Himself on the line for us in Jesus. God sacrificed His Son so we could be in a covenant commitment, too! And today, God asks us to be baptized. That’s His covenant for us!
That last session, we talked a bit about Baptism. None of those kids are baptized. Wouldn’t it be great if everyone on the “Green Team” (our group name) was Baptized the same day?
Seed planted. We’ll see how it sprouts and grows in our next 8-weeks of KIDZ KLUB!
Why the Growth?
Our focus of outreach is our public elementary school. During the fall 2016 session of KIDZ KLUB, we saw a 50% increase in enrollment and attendance – from 25 kids to 37 kids! Why the growth?
Beyond KIDZ KLUB, one other form of outreach for us is our direct involvement with the elementary school.
- Our Deaconess (who directs our Children’s Ministry and KIDZ KLUB) spends 1-2 hours on campus each week as a “volunteer” recess and lunch supervisor. The kids love to see her! And it gives the opening to talk about KIDZ KLUB and answer questions about life issues, church, and God.
- Every year, we provide lunch for the faculty and staff during one of their in-service days. It’s our way of saying thanks for their care for the kids of our community!
- Several of our members volunteer at the school as mentors. They read to the kids, listen to kids read, or help them with other studies and lessons. We try to be visible at school events (like concerts and plays) when we can.
God has blessed our outreach to the kids of the community and their families. The last evening of our KIDZ KLUB, we held our Family Supper event, which followed a short program with kids singing, doing a skit, and receiving awards. Over 80 people attended: KIDZ KLUB students and staff, family members, and congregation members. We’re working on our Christmas Pageant and have two new KIDZ KLUB students participating. Their parents are here for worship as well!
Outreach is challenging for a small congregation in a rural setting but, as you can tell from my stories, the need for the Gospel is great! The personal issues and family tragedies one associates with the city are in rural America, too. Our challenge is to shine the light of Christ’s love to those around us. By God’s grace and Spirit, we are able to be “a safe place and a grace place” in which we can faithfully plant the seed of His Word – the Gospel of Jesus Christ. We’ll wait for Him to bring the harvest!
Rev. Jim Elsner is the pastor of Prince of Peace Lutheran Church, Hudson (Stroh), Indiana. If you would like to highlight your work in the ministry, send a submission for consideration to Lynne, Communications Coordinator for the English District LCMS, email@example.com