Why teach young children about missions?
I recently taught an eight week lesson series on missions to our preschool Sunday school class. Why do missions activities with children so young? According to this video found at cmalliance.org, children statistically are not only most receptive to the gospel before the age of 12, but a child’s lifelong concept of God is largely shaped by age FIVE!
Wait…what? Age FIVE?!? I would have to take a deeper look at the study being referred to in the video, but my guess is we are talking about an intuitive sense of God’s character built on a child’s actual life experience of love, trust, safety, and identity given by parents, church, and others influential in a child’s life. Since a child’s sense of God early in life is so connected to their experience with those who care for them–a lack of care can later show up as a major roadblock to trusting God.
On the flipside, the spiritual nurture provided a child in the early years CANNOT be discounted. Teaching kids that
- God is God all over the world
- That Jesus died for all people
- That God’s plan to reach these people requires us to share the good news
- and that children are part of God’s plan right NOW, not just when they grow up
should be part of our discipleship vision for all children. I KNOW that my heart for missions was shaped by the missionary stories that were told to me in children’s church when I was four or five. I can still remember the pictures vividly and remember the stories being exciting as people took risks for God.
The stories were made even more exciting by the teacher stopping at cliffhanger moments and making us wait until the next Sunday to finish the story. I have tried to find these picture books. They must be out of print and I really can’t remember the names of them, but I do remember how they made me FEEL.
They communicated that following Jesus wasn’t always easy, that there were people in the world who were willing to go to far away places and were even willing to die to share the love of Jesus with people who had never heard about Him.
As I got older, God was able to use the impressions left by these stories and other experiences with missionaries during childhood to fuel my passion for ministry.
Missions Activities ideas for teaching children about serving others and missions.
So…now that I have children of my own and teach young children I want them to hear missionary stories, connect with missionaries (especially those our church supports), and see themselves as missionaries.
We include stories about famous missionaries in our curriculum, but they are mostly examples of people who lived a long time ago. I wanted them to catch a vision for what God is doing right now and what they could do for God with their own life.
We did an eight week series on Serving Jesus Together, Following Jesus Wherever and I attempted to pull a lot of ideas together to leave an impression on the children that God made us to Go! Serve! and Love! others. I wanted to provide a missions emphasis without leaving the impression that missionaries are only people who live in faraway places.
I used these missions activities with preschoolers, but actually think that they are better suited for Kindergarten-2nd graders who have a little better understanding of geography, etc.
Here a peek at some of the missions activities we did together:
Nesting Map Boxes
We started with these Nesting Map Boxes to help the children understand where they fit in God’s world.
Serving Where We Live
I found this HUGE map of our town in our church basement (if you read many of my posts…you may start to get the idea that our church basement has this endless supply of quirky things to use as teaching material–you would be absolutely right–it’s crazy down there!).
During our first lesson we found the children’s address on the map and placed a thumbtack on the map. We talked about serving our neighbors and used many of the pictures from our serving tree to talk about how we can serve our family and others every day.
We made this Serving Tree so that the children could see examples of children serving and caring for others in a variety of ways.
Personalized Missionary Prayer Cards
We created Missionary Prayer cards for each of the children to take home and hang on their fridge or give to someone to pray for them.
We made these Continent boxes to expose the children to life around the world. Each week we focused on a different continent and had some fun exploring all the fun stuff in these boxes.
I also included pictures and information about our missionaries that work in each of these continents as we used that time to introduce them to the missionaries our church supports. I contacted our missionaries in advance and had them send me pictures, videos or a letter that I shared with the children.
Puzzles, Maps, and Art Explorations
We had several puzzles, and art opportunities to support learning about our world.
We completed a couple of service projects for those in our church or community so the children could experience sharing God’s love with others. We kept this VERY simple. Our options were somewhat limited because of time constraints and because this was a class setting. I had wanted to organize a day of service with the kids and the parents, but couldn’t get an event scheduled on the calendar.
This lesson series really inspired me and I created a whole Pinterest board full of ideas. Of course we only did a handful of them, but perhaps you will find further inspiration for your own teaching here.
These are the missions activities we did together so that the children experienced serving others first hand:
We made Blessing Bags to hand out to homeless individuals. So sorry for my obvious negligence in snapping a photo! If you want to find out more about creating Blessing Bags for Homeless individuals. morewithlessmom.com has an awesome post here that is very insightful as you plan what to put in your care package.
We don’t live in an area where homeless people are very visible, but we do frequently see people sit outside of our Walmart with signs asking for food or money. My children always take note of this and I thought this would be a way for our family and other families in our church to have a ready response when we encounter this situation.
I gave each child several care packages to keep in their vehicle. To give an idea of the impact on these littles. My daughter (age 4) was out with her dad in his vehicle (not where we had stashed the care packages) more than a month after we made the care packages when she saw a person in need. She remembered the project and had my husband come back home so she could get the package out of our van and then go back to Walmart to give it to the person who was in need. Her response was self-initiated and sincere- a definite blessing to her and hopefully to the person who received the care package.
We made bouquets out of buttons, silk flowers, and cupcake liners and gave them to a class of elderly folks in our church who were meeting together after experiencing the loss of a loved one.
S’more Gift Bags
We made these S’more gift bags and gave one to each child to give to someone during the week to show them love.
Bible stories that help teach missions principles
We left a lot of time for our missions activities, but had a lesson time each week as well. Throughout the eight week series I told three Bible stories.
- The Great Commission where Jesus sends out the disciples and calls us to Go as well. I connected this story with our nesting boxes that we created to show how they can live out the great commission in their homes, their community, and their world.
- The Good Samaritan to build a sense of empathy for others and encourage them to be the one who loves their neighbor—even those who are different than us. I told this story twice expanding on the story the second week by getting out that huge map of our town and placing some of the pictures I made from our serving tree right on the map. We took some time to wonder about what the people in the pictures were doing and how that was helpful or showing love to our neighbor.
- The Greatest Commandment to help them understand that our service to others is deeply connected to our love for God.
- The remaining weeks lessons mostly focused on exploring our continent boxes and connecting with our missionaries. We pretended to fly around the world and visit each continent and then zeroed in our the places where the missionaries our church supports live and work.
What missions activities have you used to teach young children about serving others and about what missionaries around the world do?
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