Church is normally a place that we “go to.” We go to church, go to Kids’ Place, go to midweek clubs, and go to Bible School. But, Jesus said to “go therefore and make disciples” (Matthew 28:19). He didn’t say, “Send out an invitation and expect the kids to come to you!” Summertime is the perfect time for you to exercise “going into the world” of kids. It’s an opportunity to get sweaty, wander around, and just show up. Summer is not the time to sit in your stuffy office behind a desk. Life is busy happening outside, and it will happen whether or not you’re there. So, get out and discover where the kids in your community are hanging out.
In an unorthodox way, realized that many of the kids under my care hung out at the city pool. As part of the advertising plan for Vacation Bible School, I made a radio commercial. Apparently, that was the radio station that played nonstop at the pool. Once the commercials began airing, it seemed that every kid I talked with said something about hearing me at the pool. I had no idea that so many spent their afternoons splashing and giggling there. A strategic summer hangout would most certainly be the pool. My kids were with their friends. So, being at the pool gave me a chance to, not only connect with the kids I knew, but to meet and play with their friends … on their turf. Later, at the fall kickoff, when I really wanted to encourage my regular kids to invite their friends to join them, I could call their friends my name, or even invite them myself.
In our town, Little League is a huge deal, and I mean huge. The night of the city tourney, the streets are deserted. Another reality is that as soon as the Saturday all-day kick-off occurs, attendance for anything at the church during the week will drop to half. With that as a given in our community, I had the choice of getting really upset by the fact that kids and families were at the ballpark, or I could join them there and minister in that setting. My husband often took off after dinner saying, “I’m going on visitation rounds. I’m heading to the ballpark.” While sitting in the bleachers or standing around the concession stand, it amazed me at the number of parents and grandparents who felt free to start conversations about huge issues in their lives. We never would have had those kinds of conversations as we passed in the hall at church on Sunday morning or when they delivered their child at the check-in station.
One year, because of the presence that our children’s ministry volunteers had at the Little League park, we were able to invite all the teams to church on a special Sunday. They came in full uniform and sat as a team with their coaches. We never could have done that if we hadn’t just enjoyed the summer by intentionally being at the ballpark.
Create a presence for your church at these places where kids congregate during the summer. A high percentage of the time, one of their parents will be accompanying them. Ballparks, soccer fields and pools often have signs that outline the venue, most commonly advertising a business … but not necessarily, so grab one. Each sign can be purchased by a sponsor at a fairly inexpensive rate. Don’t get carried away with loads of information covering the entire sign. Keep it simple, “Ridgeview Church celebrates kids!” I remember sitting in our home field bleachers and reading the same signs over and over. The only time they had anything to do with kids is when they were trying to convince everyone to buy something for their kid. Wouldn’t it be great for parents and kids to just see a word of encouragement from your children’s ministry every time they went out on the field?
Arrange with the concession stand to give away free drinks. Walk the park or pool and hand out cards that say, “Timber Valley Church wants to quench your thirst. Pick up a free pop at the concession stand.” Word will travel quickly and kids will be approaching you for a drink card. Before they grab the card and run, briefly introduce yourself, give ‘em your biggest smile, and ask them what they’ve done that day that was loads of fun. It’s important to get the kids to respond to you in some way, because that initiates the new relationship.
I’m sure you’ve experienced one of those wonderful times when you’re in the grocery store and one of your kids catches a glimpse of you. Without hesitating, they run down the aisle to give you a big hug. Getting out during the summer months sets up many more of those occurences. Kids love to casually run into important people in their lives, and you are one of those! They will remember when they saw you at the community fair and some time in January the next year, you’ll hear, “Remember when I saw you downtown and you were eating an elephant ear?”
The great thing about getting out in the summer to be with your kids is that you get to have a load of fun at the same time. This doesn’t feel like work at all! How can something so fun and relaxing actually accomplish the goals that you have for working in children’s ministry? You’re used to planning big events, gathering supplies, recruiting workers, high levels of stress and a huge adrenalin rush. This almost feels wrong … but don’t feel guilty. Critical work is accomplished when you lay the first blocks that will become the foundation of relationships.
Where are kids hanging out this summer in your community? Identify those places and then go enjoy being with them where they are playing. A children’s pastor with a tan is not the sign of a lazy minister but a badge of one who “goes into the world to make disciples.”