Are games appropriate in a Children’s Church or Sunday School room?
Oh, the answers I have heard to that question –
It is time to teach the children to be reverent; this is not the place for games!
Let the children be children – where else should they play but at church?
If we don’t do games, they won’t like us.
If we do games, they’ll never respect us as spiritual leaders.
If we do games, we’ll never regain their attention.
Unless we do games, we’ll never gain their attention.
They are here for one reason and one reason only: to learn the Bible.
The list of opinions on games in children’s church goes on and on. And I have had the pleasure of witnessing the extreme in both directions.
I’ve seen a children’s church that was like high mass in Rome: no talking, no smiling, no fun. I have also seen children’s church where the kids come out all smiles with fists full (literally) of candy they won as prizes during all the games, but they could not answer one question about the Bible story or memory verse.
With those things in mind, my stance is (like many things in life): balance is the key.
But what is the balance regarding games? Have some. Every Sunday? Not necessarily, if it doesn’t fit in your time-frame. But once in a while, fairly often, and regularly, have a really fun game. And, in addition to actual “games,” make some of the regular things you do in class “game-like.”
Some children’s church and Sunday school time-frames are really short these days. No one who really wants to teach the Bible is interested in devoting a third of the class time every week to play. But making it part of the first or last Sunday of the month might be a way to add a fun-to-look-forward-to element. Or, like I mentioned above, make some of your regular activities game-ish.
How do you make some regular elements game-like? Here’s one example: make it a blast to look up a Bible verse. Have the kids put their Bibles on the floor in front of them and sit on their hands; when you say “go” they race to the find the verse in their Bible. If you race boys against girls, then the older or more seasoned children will help the younger ones find their place so their side can all finish first. Feels like a game, works like a Bible drill. Over the years I have thought of dozens of silly ways for them to “play” at looking up the place in the Bible where the story will be read from. And that’s just one element of your service.
Take a few minutes of ponder time and review what you do on a regular basis in your classroom. Does your class overall feel heavy? Does it feel too light? Do you have the kids engaged and “with” you? Are you constantly re-gathering their attention? Are you always trying to calm them down? Are they calm but bored?
Adding game-play to the things you do on a regular basis or adding in a game itself in the middle or at the end of the class WILL help with the attention issue. Letting the kids know you have a game scheduled when you get through with your lesson will keep them on task. Don’t replace your lesson with play, just add play to it. Balance.
Another suggestion is to take a few Sundays each year and make them super fun. When I wanted to round out my children’s ministry program with more games and fun, yet keep the lesson as the strong point, I decided to take the 5th Sundays and make them themed party days. Four times a year there is a month with five Sundays. Many churches find it difficult to staff those weeks, so I made it an event. That is how our Party Plan line of products was born – out of necessity!
I would have some game-ish-ness here and there, and of course would add some fun into my regular services, but once every 12-13 weeks there would be a big Extreme Party Day! It was just about the best thing I ever did. Truly. The kids loved it and it rang in their memories for weeks afterward. They would bring their friends and dress up crazy. And it felt like Children’s Church was a blast all the time because they would talk about it for weeks before and after. The party days included a lesson, but the lesson was much shorter than usual, like a nugget. This allowed the regular Sundays to be more lesson-filled with a smattering of play, without it feeling heavy.
This is not the only way to make sure there is a play element to your class, just one suggestion. But the issue deserves some serious thought.
We should scrutinize every part of our classroom, not just the teaching part. Open your heart and your mind to the possibility of improvement in the area of games. I know it sounds a little strange, but it is damaging to be so overboard in the play time and game time that the children’s church is more like a children’s gym; and it is a bit of a downer to not have any fun infused into the service at all, I mean they are children after all.
Find your balance. Do it purposefully. Try a few different approaches. Keep a log of the response to each approach. See what works for your particular group.
And have fun! The ministry you work in is a fun one! Don’t miss the joy and pleasure of enjoying and playing with the kids. And don’t let that fun part overshadow the joy of shining the light of His Word into their hearts. Balance.