by Jared Musgrove and Matt McCauley
“What do we do with the kids?” This is a common and familiar question church leadership hears from small group leaders and participants.
Children obviously cannot be present for every moment of every gathering, but we argue it is a loss and a miss if children are excluded from all the rich discipleship activity of the Homegroup. I contend there is a happy medium between complete inclusion and complete exclusion of children in Home Groups.
Children are people, not almost people. And they also need to taste and see the goodness of the Lord in community ministry. I fear many of our children may have no idea what we are doing in our small groups as they are either dropped off at a class of their own or at a babysitter’s while Mom and Dad go to another room in the church or someone else’s home.
Three big biblical takeaways regarding children that should shape our perception of them:
- Children are whole people. Not almost people, future people, or nearly people. They are not “other”. They have the same foundational spiritual needs, wants, desires as adults. Even if your Homegroup only has one child, that’s one whole person ready to experience and participate in gospel-centered community.
- Children are a blessing, not a burden. Working and investing to incorporate children into Homegroup gatherings directly opposes the common cultural view that they are a burden. That in some way they might bring down, slow down, or hinder the group from its mission and goal. The biblical worldview would argue that the presence of children is a blessing to the group; a gift.
- In the context of ministry, children present an opportunity to engage not an obstacle to overcome. Children are difficult, no doubt. They require special attention. Their needs are significant. But their presence presents an opportunity for significant ministry and discipleship. Jesus’ example in regards to children is to welcome them into ministry context when possible.
We serve in a church that hosts semester-long Christian education classes on campus but also has a large majority of its people in small group community environments that meet in homes throughout the week. In this, we believe there is a way to begin sowing the seeds of One Another ministry in our children from the earliest age. And for that to happen, what happens at small group can’t remain a mystery to our sons and daughters.
We are not contending that children be a part of every group time or meeting, but complete exclusion is a miss for all the people in the group. Balance is the key.
The first step may be a new model of meeting. We have seen the following approach and variations of it quite helpful to the inclusion of children in a home group:
Week 1: Adult Only Gathering (Individual or on-site vetted babysitters can be easily equipped go over the lessons from that Sunday’s children’s programming)
Week 2: Women’s Gathering (Dads care for their children, even being intentional to create a space for spiritual conversation and fun during this time).
Week 3: Men’s Gathering (Moms care for their children, even being intentional to create space for spiritual conversation and fun during this time).
Week 4: Family Disciples Element (Everyone is together, but there are child-specific elements for part of or during the group time.
For this approach to Week 4, we recommend four-fold approach: Play, Sing, Read, Pray.
Play – Trust is the currency of child/adult relationships so spend the first 10-15 minutes of Family Worship Night connecting with the children. This can be accomplished through an organized game, fun activity, or structured play. Something as simple as coloring or connecting an activity to that week’s childrens’ lesson or what the parents are doing is simple and effective.
Sing – Corporate singing engages and unites all ages and stages. Most children love to sing and are not hindered by fear of man or the quality of their voices. The purpose of worship through song is to engage both the heart and mind of the worshipper and encourage them to consider the things above. We recommend singing along with a CD of songs they children may be familiar with from your children’s ministry times for 10 minutes or so.
Read – This isn’t a sermon. You simply have to read God’s Word. Your children’s ministry may already have resources they are giving to parents to use at home. Or there may be a children’s Bible with short devotions already in it. If there is someone in your group who has a heart and/or training in ministering to children, they may even want to create a brief lesson and questions for all the people in the group to experience together for about 10 minutes.
Pray – No matter our age, we must learn by being told and then learn by example and doing. Prayer is certainly that. For example, when Jesus’ disciples wanted to know how to pray, He gave them the Lord’s prayer. Corporate prayer in your small group setting teaches children and adults how to pray. Take advantage of the children’s presence and pray specifically for them, by name. Close out the night by speaking a word of blessing over the youngest people at your group meeting. Ephesians 6:16-20 or Jude 24-25 are wonderful to use for this.
And the above are just some ideas to get you thinking. But we all must recognize that group time should not stay mysterious to our children. We should invite them in to taste and see the goodness of the Lord in community ministry.
Jared Steven Musgrove serves as Groups Pastor and elder at The Village Church in Flower Mound, Texas. He earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from The University of Oklahoma, a Master of Divinity in preaching from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, and a Doctorate of Ministry in leadership from The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He is the husband of Jenny and the father of two sons, Jordan and Joshua. You can follow him on Twitter @jsmusgrove
Matt McCauley serves as Family Minister at The Village Church in Flower Mound, Texas. He holds a bachelor’s degree in education from Midwestern State Univerity, a M.A. in Christian education from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, and is completing doctoral work in Family Ministry at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He’s married to Ashley and together they are raising three boys–Wyatt, Gunnar, and Knox. You can follow him on Twitter @mattmccauley81