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Worship with preschoolers can be the highlight of your week.

Years ago, I learned that 75% of moral values are learned by age five. This statistic confirmed my resolve to make preschool ministry a top priority. No longer would I call preschoolers “toddlers” or consider their department part of the “nursery”. Three, four, and five year olds are ready to learn. They’re ready for meaningful, memorable, and life changing Bible lessons and worship. It may seem simplistic, but it all happens through sensory stimulation, action, relevant stories, and meaningful relationships.

A perfect example of this is a boy and his dad. Have you ever seen a preschooler and his father with the identical stance? It’s not just genetics; it’s imitation born out of observation, love, and respect. It’s relationship.

I can’t think of a better place for children and families to build relationships and internalize life-changing stories than at church. A moral value is reinforced each time a child experiences a volunteer’s loving kindness or sees a child encouraged because he shared. And the Bible is the best source of stories about God’s values!

“Moral values” seem to be the current catch phrase, but in our effort to teach values, we need to MAKE THE MAIN THING THE MAIN THING! GOD is the source of our values, and a relationship with Him is our goal; not the details of the story, the character in the story, or even the moral value itself. We all have the same goal, so let’s make it “over the top” for our kids!

I’ve observed lots of churches in action, and we all tend to do the same things. Planned worship time usually includes the same elements for each of us. But while many churches plan well, others actually go “over the top”. What is the difference between the “planning well” church and the “over the top” church?

KEY 1:  Make it MEANINGFUL.

The content of our material becomes MEANINGFUL to youngsters when the focus is on God, His character, and His work. We love others not because someone stood with a wagging finger telling us to “be good, love others, and be kind.” We love God and others “because He first loved us.” (I John 4:19) A preschooler isn’t sophisticated enough to ask “What would Jesus do?” He will begin to resemble Jesus because of his blossoming understanding of God and his observation of leaders who are Christ like.

Build Relationships

A worship leader who greets children and parents in the hall as they enter the department has an edge when they sit down with them for worship time. Your loving spirit and delight to be in their presence will engage kids and keep them tuned in. Strange as it may seem, if you know what’s fun and funny to kids, they’ll want a relationship with you. Why? Because “you know me, you like me, and you care enough to engage me on my terms.”

Relationships are forged on the floor. It’s true. Small group leaders who sit on the same level with kids provide loving care, a shoulder to lean on, quiet direction, and a model for involvement during large group time.

Key 2:  Make it MEMORABLE.

Give them something to talk about on the way home! Adapt to the way preschoolers learn. Leaders who succeed at this provide Bible stories, prayer time, music, activities, and loving attention that children remember.

Because they have short attention spans, you must break your Bible lesson into short bites interrupted by action, music, and “The Point” review. It doesn’t mean they need a three-minute Bible story. Repeat the main point and Bible verse throughout the lesson so it’s clear and unforgettable. Whenever the main point fits into the story, say it while the kids mime the motions, then continue the lesson without a break. Example:  Lesson is Noah. The Point:  you can say, “God keeps His promises” while you and the children make a rainbow motion over your heads. Now reemphasize The Point with each animal that enters the ark. You do have stuffed animals of every kind in the world, don’t you?

1. Anticipation and Expectation:  Keep three, four, and five year olds tuned in and focused. Let them sit at their special spot on the rainbow carpet or carpet square, all while waiting for the theme song to begin. It can be a joy when they’re expecting great things! That theme song should remain the same all year. The song alone draws them in and gives a sense of belonging and anticipation. Think about it; if you tuned in to your favorite TV program and the opening song changed each week, you wouldn’t settle in to watch immediately. You’d check the channel or the program title.

The order of service should also remain the same. Avoid the urge to mix things up. Kids want to know what to expect. Routine, anticipation, and an engaging leader provide the incentive for the kids to be seated, involved, and attentive without lots of direction. Parents tell me, “It’s like ‘magic’! Will it work at home?”

2. Key phrases, cues, and motions are a hit with preschoolers and keep them moving. Kids learn what to do when they hear, “Sit down, sit down, everybody sit down. Sit down, sit down, sit with me.” Or their attention is grabbed and kept with the words, “I wonder who is coming to visit us today. Will the visitor come to the door in the barn, or will he come through the hall door?”

Briefly interview the person who walks through the door, sing a related song with motions, and say, “That reminds me of something in the – Bible.” When you say this phrase consistently each week, the kids will shout out “BIBLE” without prompting. They know what comes next, and they’re prepared to listen. Next, you can hold up your Bible, splash a picture of the Bible on the screen, or hold up a Bible poster. “The Bible isn’t everything God knows. It’s everything He wants us to know from His written Word.” Point to the passage in your Bible with a huge arm movement, and start the lesson with no dead air.

Karen Apple Karen Apple developed an innovative church children’s ministry which included an “over the top” weekday preschool and a classroom and counseling program for children of divorce and separation. She writes and consults for publishers and churches.

More from Karen Apple or visit Karen at http://www.incm.org

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