What do nouns have to do with creating a place for kids to belong?
In fact, we think kids and teenagers need two important nouns in their life. They need someone, and they need somewhere. Before anyone can wrestle with abstract concepts like faith, hope, and the meaning of life, they simply need two things.
- A person
- A place
Give Kids Someone.
Let’s start with the “who.” The point is that most kids need to belong before they can believe, or keep believing. That’s why we think it’s important to rearrange your ministry to make sure kids and teens have people who know them and a place where they’re known. We actually think a small group is one of the best ways to introduce this generation to the concept of a God who loves them unconditionally.
Think about it.
We can’t see God.
We can’t take a picture of him or post a clip of him on social media. (But let’s face it, your job as a ministry leader would probably be a lot easier if that was the case.)
Instead, you probably spend a lot of time trying to convince kids or teenagers to pursue a God they’ve never seen. How do you move them toward an authentic faith in a God who they can’t see, touch, or hear?
What We’ve Observed About Shaping Kids’ Faith
We’ve watched hundreds of churches debate which strategy is best for children and teenagers. And the truth is, the answer will never be simple. That’s the nature of faith and pursuing a relationship with a mysterious and majestic Creator.
But we have made a few key observations about kids and faith over the years:
You don’t shape a kid’s faith by teaching them doctrine. (Whatever you talk them into, someone can talk them out of).
You don’t shape a kid’s faith by persuading them to have better standards. (They may ultimately give up if they feel they can’t measure up).
You don’t shape a kid’s faith by getting them to attend your events. (At some point, they’ll compare the quality of your production to what culture produces, and you’ll probably lose).
But you can shape a kid’s faith by connecting them to caring adults who will be present in their life.
Are we saying theology, lifestyle, and church attendance don’t matter? Not at all. But we are suggesting any of those things, without caring and consistent relationships, will have a limited impact. That’s why we think it’s important to…
For the past twenty years, I’ve been able to hang out with a distinctive group of college students during the summer. They’re the interns who show up to help at summer camps, and they represent a group of college-age individuals who didn’t walk away from faith.
At the beginning of the summer, I traditionally take them through an exercise. I ask them to pinpoint a few things in their past that contributed to their spiritual growth. Then, we write those things down on index cards, put them on a creative board, and look for similar patterns in their stories.
For nearly two decades, the answers have been the same.
- Life-changing truths – change how they see themselves or God
- Spiritual disciplines – help them connect personally to God
- Ministry opportunities – increase their sense of mission
- Pivotal circumstances or events – compel them to rethink their priorities
- Significant relationships – help them navigate their spiritual journey
In everyone’s story of faith, there are people who have shown up and become catalysts for their spiritual growth. Every child and teenager need someone like this.
God Uses People.
Sometimes we forget the God of the Bible is the God of the people of the Bible. God has always used people to demonstrate His story of redemption.
But the essence of our faith is linked to the idea that God actually became human. He became one of us.
So we could touch Him.
God simply decided the most effective way to redeem us was to become one of us.
As believers, it’s possible to get so caught up in our sermons, ordinances, doctrines, spiritual disciplines, and church programs that we forget the character of God was revealed to an ancient culture through an actual Person.
Evidently, God saw the need to show who He is to people who couldn’t see Him by sending Someone they could see.
You see, people can’t see God. But people can see people who follow God.
People can see the Church.
That’s why what you do as a leader is so important. The best chance someone may have to personally see God is to get a close-up look at the people who follow God.
And if you hope to help a generation of kids and teenagers know God, then you have to be strategic about how you connect them to small group leaders who believe in God and who believe in them.
That’s why we think it is important to. . .
Leaders who connect with kids in a SMALL group over time have the potential to make a BIG impact on their faith.
That’s why we use the term lead small.
When you lead small, you simply make a choice to invest strategically in the lives of a few over time so you can help them build authentic faith. As you use small groups to lead small, you realize that what you do for a few will always have more potential than what you do for many.
Because the best way to help kids know God is to connect them with
someone who knows God.
Give Kids Somewhere.
When relationships matter you tend to spend more time thinking about creating the right place to affect those relationships. Think of some of the best friendships you’ve observed. There was probably a significant gathering place that became the iconic symbol of the relationship.
Seinfeld had a diner.
Friends had a coffee house.
The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air had a kitchen.
Cheers had a bar.
Okay. Those may not be the best examples of relationships. But they all speak to the power of having a place “where everybody knows your name.” The point is, if you want to get serious about influencing the hearts of this generation, you have to think about creating an actual, visible, consistent place where they know
You Need a Place.
When it comes to designing environments, no organization has more opportunity than the church. Unfortunately, some of us have insisted the Church is not a place, but rather it’s people. Maybe we’ve forgotten that people still need a place. And that, realistically, the Church is both.
For nearly two thousand years, the Church has met everywhere from homes to catacombs. They were actual, physical places where groups of people could meet. Regardless of your denomination or worship style, the local church has always been a place where people can sit down and engage in a learning and worship experience.
You need a place. Regardless of how you define the Church, you can’t ignore that one of its primary functions is to make it easier for people to assemble. Ideally, the Church may be made up of people, but practically the Church has to assume a responsibility to establish a place where multiple people can actually meet.
One of the most important things your staff should do as a team is prioritize which place is most important in your church.
Ask yourself, “If every week, kids or teenagers can only show up one time,
experience one environment, participate in one activity, where would you tell them to go?”
Every church needs to ask and answer this question if they hope to lead kids to a more authentic faith. Until you do, you can’t really be strategic in how you organize your ministry. We think the best answer to the question is:
Whichever environment connects a small group of kids with a consistent leader.
Order Your Copy of When Relationships Matter
Every child and teenager needs a place to belong. If you believe that, order a copy of When Relationships Matter today. You’ll learn how to structure your ministry, empower leaders, and create experiences in your ministry to prioritize relationships. Grab your copy here!