By Anna Sargeant
This is the second post of a two-part series on missional Sunday school, an approach to Sunday school that focuses on training kids to openly and eagerly share what they have gained in the gospel with others. Check out the first part here.
Even if we are convinced that kids can be on mission for Jesus, the question now is How? I don’t have a silver bullet for you, but I do have some thoughts based on the years I spent in children’s ministry. These are four simple tools for training kids to have a missional mindset:
- Bible Study Setup and Approach
- A Simple Gospel Framework
- Circles of Influence
- Prayers for the Unreached
Bible Study Setup and Approach
One tool for training kids in a missional mindset is to consider your Bible study setup and approach to discussion.
First of all, ask yourself: Who is reading the Scripture passages? Is it a leader every time, or do leaders invite the kids to read the Bible out loud in front of the whole group too? If kids are not used to reading the Bible at church with believers, why would they be comfortable reading it aloud in their home with non-believers?
Next, ask: Who leads the Bible story discussion? Delegate this role to older elementary-aged kids whenever possible. Invite them to ask questions among peers or lead a group of younger kids alongside an adult. Fourth and fifth graders can start Bible studies in their homes—I’ve seen it! They got the training wheels for doing so at church.
Next, consider: What kinds of questions are we asking in our small group? Are they only reading comprehension questions? Or do they also encourage the kids to tell someone else what they’ve learned or to share their faith? For years, we used Discovery Bible Study questions in our children’s ministry. The questions are low-bar and work well with kids:
- What does this story teach me about God?
- What does this story teach me about people?
- If this story is true, what needs to change about my life?
- Who can I tell what I learned?
The last two questions are particularly helpful in helping kids develop a missional mindset. It helps them see that the Bible is not just for learning about—it’s for obeying and talking about too!
A Simple Gospel Framework
Years ago, our team developed a simple, repeatable gospel framework through which to teach every lesson called The 7 Basic Truths. These truths are meant to teach biblical theology in simple terms. But we also wrote them to help children easily recall to talk about the gospel with their friends.
The 7 Basic Truths include
- God made everything, including me.
- God is king of everything, including me.
- God is good and is the greatest treasure in the world.
- I am born a sinner and need a rescuer.
- Jesus is the rescuer who can bring me to the greatest treasure in the world.
- God gives us the Holy Spirit who helps us remember and obey what Jesus taught.
- Tell the world that Jesus is the rescuer!
Lifeway has something similar to these Basic Truths called The Gospel: God’s Plan for Me. And your children’s ministry might have a completely different set of key gospel phrases. The point is, once you have a simple, repeatable framework like this, remind your kids that God’s plan is not just for them, but it’s for their friends, neighbors, and teammates too. Give your kids a simple tool that makes the gospel familiar and comfortable to talk about!
Circles of Influence
Another tool for developing a missional mindset is understanding circles of influence. For a young child, their circles of influence are primarily the home and maybe the neighborhood, if they go on playdates. Church could be included in the neighborhood sphere. For older children, their circles of influence include school (which takes up a lot of their time), and community (which includes sports teams, music clubs, etc.).
The idea here is to show kids that God has placed them in certain circles, not just for their own benefit, but so the people they come in contact with inside those circles will encounter Jesus through them. Paul reminds us:
“And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him.” Acts 17:26-27
Knowing that God has put you in a certain house on a certain street in a certain class in a certain school can be an exciting realization! Kids need to know that their situations are not happenstance: they are God-ordained. And as they enter those circles of influence, God is going with them and using them to help other people find Him.
Prayers for the Unreached
While it’s hard for children to be missional to unreached people groups—because most unreached people groups are not in their circles of influence—it is not hard for them to pray for those who have never heard the name of Jesus!
You can start educating your kids now on the fact that there are people all over the world who do not know God loves them and sent His Son for them. Each class could select an unreached people group or missionary to pray for. Finally, you can pray for the children in your rooms—that one day some of them will go and share the gospel to those who have never heard it.
Some final ideas for helping children develop a missional mindset include:
- Service opportunities within the church
- Service opportunities in the community with their small group of friends
- Practicing sharing the gospel with each other or with small group leaders
- Inviting families from other countries in their circles of influence over for dinners, play dates, etc.
- Hosting Bible studies at school, with a soccer team, etc.
The truth is, there are all kinds of ways that kids can be missional if we just tell them that they have what it takes with the power of the Holy Spirit and that we are here to help them. In the end, we are simply giving them training wheels. We are helping them begin to think outwardly about their faith, cultivate a big heart for ministry, not be intimidated by sharing the gospel, and become familiar with the global heart of God. What an opportunity—if we as leaders would only take it!
Anna served on the children’s ministry team at The Austin Stone Community Church in Austin, Texas from 2009-2017, first as a volunteer, then as full-time staff. She also wrote for six years for The Gospel Project for Kids curriculum. Anna currently works as an acquisitions editor for B&H Kids in Nashville. When she’s not writing or editing, you can find her reading a book, sipping tea, chatting with loved ones, attempting to record a podcast, or walking in the woods.