Learning Engagement: The Key to Children’s Ministry that goes beyond Entertainment

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Learner Engagement Taking Children's ministry beyond entertainment

“Church should never be boring.”  “Make your children’s ministry the best hour of every kids’ week.”  “If kids are having fun at church, they will drag their parents back week after week.”

Hmmmm….wait a minute.  These statements need a little more thought. What would happen if we made these types of statements the starting point for our ministry decisions with children?

  • We would begin to see boredom as the enemy.  It’s not! Some of those “boring” church activities that I experienced as a child have become deeply meaningful as I reflect back on my childhood.  And boredom is not necessarily a bad thing in relation to learning and creativity.
  • It puts a lot of pressure on our programming and experiences to compete with what children are experiencing outside the church walls.  Church doesn’t have to be the most fun they have all week to be the place they want to be.
  • When we focus on what children [and their parents] want from church we will always be playing catch up, trying to ride the next new trend, or meet the felt needs of our target audience.

So, before we can go about making church fun and entertaining, we need to make sure we understand not just what children WANT to experience at church but what they NEED to experience at church.

Engaging learners for spiritual growth should be our goal when teaching children about God,  but how do we engage and go beyond mere entertainment?

Value engagement over entertainment

In our entertainment driven culture, it can be easy to think we need to strive to entertain and amuse children into connecting with God and the church.  I am not saying church should be boring, but I am saying that if we make entertainment our goal, we are on the wrong path.

This isn’t about not having loud music and fun games, it is about becoming more reflective in our practice of children’s discipleship.  It’s about LEARNER ENGAGEMENT.

The church is in a powerful position to recognize the potential danger our children experience in a culture that leads them astray when it comes to understanding the place entertainment and even the pursuit of happiness has in a healthy, mature life.

So why would we want to copy the strategies of the entertainment industry when it comes to discipling our children?

It is tempting to entertain….

  • Kids love it…It makes them happy and they can’t get enough!
  • Church has a bad rap for being boring.  We feel like we have to break that stereotype.  For some reason, we always feel like if we fix church, people will come.

But…God did not intend the church to ENTERTAIN us, but to ENGAGE us at our very core.


Learner engagement in church

Sometimes we fall into the entertainment trap without even realizing it.

Learning should be fun.  Activities should be hands on.  But sometimes we don’t take the time to develop a sound philosophy of ministry or theology of childhood and when we don’t have a strong foundation for the WHY we do what we do, it is pretty easy to do whatever sounds like a good idea.  And as long as the kids had fun and we talked about Jesus, we call it a success.

and don’t get me wrong….kids will learn some really good things from entertainment. We just might be missing something deeper without even knowing it.

It is possible to have an awesomely impressive children’s ministry and totally miss out on providing children with the tools and space they need to connect [engage] God on a personal level.

Remember, Jesus created fun and laughter, but he also created things like silence, solitude…even fasting.

We need to understand the difference between ENTERTAINMENT and Learner ENGAGEMENT.

Entertainment provides amusement or diversion and is usually provided by someone to someone else.  In a children’s ministry context, we can certainly use entertainment to engage learners, but we must count the cost.

Entertainment is typically leader centered, passive, and relies on becoming increasingly big and bold to retain attention.

Learner Engagement, in contrast, requires emotional involvement or commitment.

“Learner engagement can be defined as the learners’ act of investing effort and commitment to meaningful activities in anticipation of learning outcomes.” Nellie Deutsch in Engaging the Blended Classroom Learner on WiZiQ education.online.

learner engagement is not the same as entertainment

A focus on learner engagement over entertainment may seem subtle at first since entertainment can and usually is engaging, but the implications are far reaching.

  • Learner engagement starts with a different set of presuppositions.  It treats children as spiritual beings who because they have something to offer to the worship environment, don’t need to “just be entertained.”
  • Learner engagement is fun on a whole new level.  It is personal involvement.  At its best, engaging learners allows learners to not only participate in active learning, but have opportunity for reflection, collaboration, and formulation of independent thought that makes connections beyond what has been explicitly taught.  Dare I say, it is learning on a spiritual level?
  • Learner engagement values all learning styles and personalities.  Not all children enjoy big, loud, and fun all the time.  In fact, the more busy we become, the greater our inherent need for something other…something that simply values people. Engagement provides space for learners to enter the learning process in different ways and at whatever level they are ready to commit.
  • Learner engagement works in any size church and doesn’t rely on technology or gimmicks to be effective.  In fact it may be even easier in a smaller church where leaders are better able to adapt learning to meet individual needs.

What does learner engagement for spiritual growth require from us?

Jesus is real and discover-able AND He has the power to create real life change.  But ONLY when someone experiences Him for themselves.

Great books to explore deeper

How does your ministry work to engage learners rather than entertain them?  What ideas for practical application does this spur in your imagination?