Anyone who works in marketing these days knows the phrase “go deep, not wide.” It means investing time and resources in forming deeper relationships with clients and customers instead of spending those resources on finding a large number of new contacts who may or may not invest in the company. Deeper relationships create a greater number of long-term sales than a wide net of shallow connections.
Translating to church, consider what it might look like to go deep, not wide in the world of children’s ministry. Think of your church staff meetings. What do you spend more time talking about—mountaintop moments, God sightings, and thin places or worship numbers, visitor numbers, and Sunday school attendance? Which of those conversations do you find fulfilling? Which is more important for the long-term growth of the Church?
There’s a trend in ministry today toward high entertainment value experiences. In worship, this looks like lights shows, loud music, and multi-media sermons. In children’s ministry this looks like video lessons, tchotchkes, and fast-paced performances. While these flashy tactics can indeed draw in big crowds and create memorable experiences, they can lack the depth of connection we want to encourage kids to form with God.
What would happen if we changed our focus from attracting the widest audience possible to nurturing a deep connection to Christ in our kids? This doesn’t mean you can’t use media or create imaginative and fun experiences for kids. Instead, it encourages you to think beyond entertainment and to begin looking for ways to deepen the faith of your kids The effects of this will be visible. Your current kids will grow stronger in their faith, and visitors will be intrigued and stick around longer to see what this deeper connection is all about.
Instead of entertainment, try engagement. Kids love to be entertained. If allowed, most will watch television for hours and hours on end. But being entertained doesn’t always engage their brains in comprehension, creative thinking, or problem solving. Instead of finding the flashiest way to tell the Bible story to kids, invite kids to come up with their own show and tell the story in their own words. Give them multi-sensory experiences where they can dig into the story with their hands, heads, and hearts. Make entertainment a byproduct of being engaged.
Instead of plastic and toys, try objects with meaning. Quarter machines, Happy Meal toys, and check-out aisle junk—kids love this stuff, but it’s ultimately disposable, and what does that tell them about their faith? Consider what objects might help kids form a deeper relationship with their church, their church family, and God. Maybe you have a wood-worker in your community who could create small wooden crosses that kids can carry with them and which you can incorporate into your weekly time together. Maybe you have crafters or quilters who can sew, embroider, or otherwise create Bible verse patches that kids can attach to their backpacks or put on their wall at home. Whatever you choose, something that is lovingly handmade will connect kids not only to Christ and scripture, but will also help kids realize that part of faith is generosity toward one another.
Instead of telling, try listening. Kids have tons of questions and ideas about church, the Bible, God, Jesus, and all the other faith ancestors they’re coming to know in Sunday school. Leaders often feel the pressure to give kids faith answers, but sometimes, listening is the best tool. What are your kids wondering about? What gets them excited? What do they worry about? Listening to kids questions, thoughts, and ideas gives them the opportunity to learn from each other and for you to learn from them.
Instead of learning, try experiencing. Worksheets have their place. They’re a proven way to learn multiplication tables, spelling, and reading comprehension. But they’re not necessarily the best way for kids to learn about God. Faith is a relationship between us and our Creator, not something to be learned but rather something to be experienced. And experience creates far stronger memory than sitting still and learning. Instead of sitting, reading, and talking, perform Bible stories together. Create skits that capture the biblical theme in a modern day setting. Do service projects together. Light a candle and spend time praying for each other. Plant something in God’s creation. Kids will learn about the love Christ has for them by the love they receive from and show to others.
The drive to be flashy is honest. The message we’re trying to deliver is life changing. It’s something we want them to carry their entire life. But God doesn’t need tchotchkes or light shows to find a place in their heart. And we should trust that. Our faith is exciting and fulfilling on its own. Go deep with your kids and lead them to discover the incredible joy, comfort, excitement, and awe of a lifelong relationship with Jesus Christ.