We were asked to do Sunday School at a church one day, and I asked one of the girls in my small group her name.
“Grace,” she answered.
“That’s a beautiful name!” I responded. Knowing about the importance of the meaning of names in her culture, I asked her, “Do you know what it means?”
“Yes,” she said, and she proceeded to tell me something that was completely off.
I hesitated. “That’s not quite right,” I said. “Does anyone else know what ‘grace’ means?”
Several children attempted to answer, but none of them knew what ‘grace’ meant. It was a word they had heard many times in church, but they didn’t know what it meant.
Grace. Mercy. Repentance. Sin. Salvation. All these words are often used in churches, but I wonder how many children have an accurate understanding of what words like these mean. Add to that the fact that young children take things very literally.
“You must be washed by the blood of Jesus!”
“Really? Eeewww. I don’t want to do that!”
We must be careful in how we communicate with our children. Often times kids won’t ask what a word means, especially if they have been coming to church many years, have heard the words many times, and sense that they should somehow have caught on to the meaning of the words long ago. Not understanding “christianese” can be a barrier for the kids in our Children’s Ministry programs.
Strategy 10: Value Child Appropriate Language
Pay attention to words and expressions, and casually explain the meaning to the kids as you teach. Often, when I talk about sin, I just insert a short and clear description: “Sin separates us from God. God does not like sin – all the bad things we do and say and think.” By doing this repeatedly without putting much emphasis on the fact that “I am teaching you is a definition now”, kids will pick up on the meaning of these words, and that in turn will help them understand important concepts that are key to our faith.
What else can we do to conquer this barrier – the 5th barrier we have looked at so far?
This barrier also presents itself when parents insist on having a child join a group that they are too young for. I have dealt with this issue many times, and tell parents that their child should really attend the class that is right for their age as they will be able to understand what is happening there. Sometimes parents are very persistent, but I choose to be more persistent yet. Children who do not understand what is happening in class will also become disruptive, taking away from the children who are able to understand what is being taught. So I choose to stand up for these other kids, and insist that children should be in their age-appropriate classes.
Some churches also face language barriers in terms of dealing with different languages. The church may be an English speaking church in a place where most people speak another language. Sometimes parents want their children to learn English, and send their kids to Sunday School for that reason. Whenever I sensed that this was the case in the church I used to be at, I gently told the parents that Sunday School is not the place to learn a new language, but it is a place to learn about God. And since we want the message of God’s Word to reach our hearts, it is best to learn in the language that will most easily reach our hearts – our mother tongue. Therefore children should attend a class in their own language if possible. If more than one language is spoken in a church or the area, consider having small groups in these different languages. For example, you may have a group for Spanish 6-8-year-olds and a group for English 6-8-year-olds. In this way, when they interact with the story and talk about the application, they can do so freely as they can do it in their own language.
Coming Soon – Barrier #6: I am SO Smart!
Read the articles in this series:
From Barriers to Values
Barrier #1: No Relationship
Barrier #2: Church is Boring
Strategy 3: Value Fun
Strategy 4: Value Creativity
Strategy 5: Value Learning Styles
Strategy 6: Value the Uniqueness of Childhood
Barrier #3: Poor Presentation
Strategy 8: Value Storytelling Techniques
Barrier #4: It’s Just a Bunch of History