5 Ways to Make Conversation Part of Your Ministry

Conversations with kids are free, require no supplies, and are a snap to drop into a lesson. And best of all, they deliver huge value! At Group, we make conversations an integral part of every activity. That’s because they’re the “Relational” part of R.E.A.L.—a learning philosophy focused on creating ministry that’s Relational, Experiential, Applicable, and Lifelong. R.E.A.L. is the secret sauce that makes learning stick! Over the years, we’ve found that friendship-building is a powerhouse ingredient in the recipe for faith development. Maybe that’s why Jesus spent much of his ministry developing relationships with his disciples. His model demonstrates how friendships create a rich, fertile soil for God’s Word to take root. Relationship helps faith move deeper—beyond the head and into the heart. Plus, kids who have friendships at church are eager to return. You’ll even find they’re more likely to engage in everything from worship to prayer.

Of course, relationships and conversation go hand in hand. Think back to many of your treasured friendships. It’s likely they kicked off with good conversation—sharing ideas, stories, thoughts, laughter, and questions—that helped you get to know each other.

In our efforts to keep kids engaged, educated, and entertained, we often forget to include plenty of time for heart-to-heart conversations with the kids who come to church. A friend who recently volunteered in her church shared her disappointment. “I was looking forward to getting to know the kids,” she confided, “but my main role seems to be keeping kids quiet while the leader teaches. There’s never a chance to hear about what’s going on in kids’ lives.” In this instance, Sunday school had turned into a tightly-scheduled show, designed to keep kids in their seats as observant audience members. (Of course, leaders peppered their lessons with, “Raise your hand if you…” or “Does God want us to do that?” But those aren’t relational opportunities.) While this church wanted to teach kids about Jesus, the underlying message was that kids should be seen and not heard.

Take a quick “relational temperature” of your own ministry. Which phrase do you say most often on a Sunday morning:

“Be quiet and let’s listen.” Or “Tell me more about that.”

Well? Genesis 2:18 gives us a hint that we’re all wired for relationship—from the beginning!

“Then the Lord God said, ‘It is not good for the man to be alone.’ ”

God created us as relational beings! We need human connection. And conversations are an important way that kids grow in faith. Let’s explore five easy ways to make this free, simple-to-implement practice part of your ministry every week. You can make faith in Jesus grow as you incorporate conversation and relationship throughout your entire lesson!

1. Set the stage for conversation.

Think about the last time you got together with a few friends for coffee. How did you gather? Did you sit side-by-side or face-to-face? Why? It’s likely that you sat across a small table, gathered in a circle of chairs, or somehow facing each other more naturally. How can you create that same cozy, conversational dynamic in your classroom? If we want kids to have conversations, we need to make it physically easy for them to talk with each other. Rows of chairs make it hard to gather, and oftentimes even tables position kids far from each other so it’s hard to hear. We’ve found that kids are generally more comfortable sitting on the floor.

In Group’s VBS programs, we encourage small group leaders to gather kids in knee-to-knee circles when it’s time to talk. Undoubtedly, this takes practice…and time! Kids need time to shift their attention from the leader up front, physically move a little, and get “eyeball to eyeball” with friends in a smaller group. That’s why it’s important to allow time for that to happen. Simply wait until everyone has moved into a smaller conversation circle. (And don’t worry! Once you make this part of your routine, kids will make the transition quickly.) The conversation will be richer, as kids can tune into what others are saying.

Why it’s valuable:

Body language plays a key role in conversation. We talk best when we can face each other, lean in, and listen. Kids will be taking in a lot from their friends and leaders as they talk—facial expressions, eye contact, hand gestures. Each of these silent dynamics add understanding and depth to the conversation. Remember, those conversations are key in developing relationships. And relationships create the perfect environment for long-lasting faith development.

2. Start your lessons with a great question.

Before kids arrive, post a fun, friendship-building question that connects to your lesson. Be sure to choose a question that gets kids talking, rather than one that can be answered in one word. For example, if your lesson is on Jesus feeding 5,000 you might ask, “If you had to eat only one food for a whole month, what would it be and why?” or “Describe the perfect sack lunch.” Later, when you begin your lesson, it’s easy to bridge conversations into Scripture by saying, “Wow, all that talk about food made me hungry! Today we’ll hear about a huge crowd of people who got hungry. Let’s explore what Jesus did.” (See how Simply Loved Sunday school curriculum provides opening options that include engaging discussion-starters.)

Why it’s valuable:

You’ll get kids thinking about part of your lesson while letting them engage verbally. A talk-starter question instantly connects Bible times (or faith concepts) to real, everyday life. Envision a warm-up discussion a bit like stretching before a workout. Plus, conversation at the start of your time together creates the perfect opportunity to learn kids’ names. Besides, it’s a simple way to welcome newcomers and get them involved in a natural way.

3. Invite volunteers to share.

It’s more fun to volunteer if you come away with a bunch of new friends—especially if those new friends are all under the age of 12! Be sure volunteers know that discussions are for them, too. That means when you ask a question, let leaders participate in the conversation right along with kids. In fact, sometimes you might direct volunteers to share first. This gives kids “think time” if you’re asking them to share more deeply about a life event.

Many years ago at VBS, we were talking about forgiveness. Our leader had the kids think of something they’d done that they needed forgiveness for. Then the leader honestly and openly shared (in a simple, age appropriate way) that she’d argued with her husband that morning…and had said some not-so-nice things! Kids gasped a little. A grown-up admitting they’d messed up? Wow! This allowed the leader to consider what God’s grace meant to her. Then it opened up an opportunity for kids to freely share about their own need for forgiveness, providing a wonderful moment to focus on the power of Christ’s forgiveness. Everyone in the room—kids and leaders—acknowledged their need together.

While it’s important for leaders to join the conversation, guide them to be listeners first. A conversation becomes tedious when it’s an “I can top that story” marathon. Help them tune in with body language as they listen. Remind them to look kids in the eyes. Encourage them to use children’s names. Model good listening skills by using phrases such as “tell me more,” “that’s interesting,” or “thanks for sharing.”

Why it’s valuable:

Kids can see what it’s like to live as a modern-day friend of Jesus when they hear real life stories from leaders. When adults or teens participate in the conversation, relationships between kids and grown-ups can deepen—and that’s important! Research shows that kids who have a caring adult in their lives are more likely to volunteer, engage in their school and community, and talk with their parents about “things that really matter.” And they’re less likely to bully or internalize problems. Faith becomes tangible and practical when kids discover how adults are living out a friendship with Jesus.

4. Allow time for talking during the Bible story.

Sometimes the conversations end when the Bible story begins. After all, that’s our time to shine…right? How can kids be listening to us and learning the Bible if they’re talking? Yes, there is a time for a leader to share God’s Word or Scriptural truth. But sprinkle plenty of conversational moments throughout your lesson.

Remember, a conversation isn’t a quiz. Asking kids to call out Bible facts or repeat a tidbit from the story doesn’t foster relationship. Fortunately, God set us up to succeed by filling Scripture with real people we can relate to! Here’s how to incorporate conversation into your lesson: Tell about a character in the Bible, then pause to let kids reflect and share about their own story. For example, Joseph and his family had a complicated and even dysfunctional history. After introducing Joseph and his many brothers, you might take time to let kids (in small groups or pairs) tell about what makes it hard to get along with their family members. Say, “I’ll give you and a partner one minute to talk.” After one minute, use a sound effect such as a bell to draw attention back to yourself. Then continue the lesson about Joseph.

Even videos can allow time for conversation. Every DIG IN lesson includes a “Talk About” video. These short videos might be a fresh telling of a Bible story, a skit about a Bible concept, or the story of a real kid and his or her faith journey. Each video focuses on a Bible truth, followed by a few talk-starter questions for kids to dive into with others.

Stumped about what kinds of questions get kids talking? Check out the Throw and Tell Life-Application Ball! Kids bat a ball around until you say “Stop!” Then the person holding the ball answers the question under his or her thumb. Who knew conversation could be so fun…and fresh?  (Plus, there’s even a version for preschoolers!)

Why it’s valuable:

Sprinkling small discussions throughout a lesson gives every person a chance to talk—rather than just the one person who can pipe up with the right answer. Furthermore, all those kids you’re “shushing” in side conversations with friends actually get to talk as part of your lesson! As a result, it’s likely that you’ll see discipline problems vanish, because you’ve given kids the chance to be kids! Plus, a discussion can take life-application deeper, allowing kids to explore how God’s Word applies to everyday life.

5. Use small groups.

Oftentimes we’re teaching a large group, so discussions seem impossible. That’s when we revert to “Raise your hand if…” or “Who can tell me…” types of questions. We’re involving the kids…right? Not really. These methods actually hinder relationship-building, since only one person gets to share. Additionally, active kids may tune out if they don’t know the answer. This, in turn, leads to discipline issues or kids simply being unengaged. Instead, place an adult or teenage volunteer with 5-10 kids. Pause during your lesson for small groups to talk about a question or part of Scripture. Yes, your classroom will be noisier…but that’s the sound of learning! Short on volunteers? It’s okay to have kids talk in pairs or trios, too.

Let’s imagine you’re leading a lesson on Jesus feeding 5,000. Rather than asking “How many baskets of bread were left over?” just tell kids the number. (Remember, a conversation isn’t a quiz!) Then have kids form small groups to talk about a question such as “When is it hard for you to trust that God will provide?” You haven’t derailed learning for the sake of discussion. You’ve enhanced learning, because everyone has participated in a thoughtful way—connecting Scripture to everyday life.

Why it’s valuable:

Small groups allow conversations in which everyone can participate. The smaller the group, the better! When kids are engaged, they’re tuned in and excited. They’re thinking, talking, listening, learning, and connecting. In addition, kids are learning from each other (“Wow, I’m not the only one who’s afraid of the dark!”) and forming friendships as they get to know each other. Those friendships are what keep kids coming back to church week after week. Best of all, small group conversations reflect Jesus’ style of teaching and discipleship. Kids can become involved learners, who show God’s love and care for those in their class.

Are you looking for ways to grow your Sunday school? Would you love to see new faces at church? Make your environment fun and friendly—a place where everyone gets to share. Kids are more likely to bring a new friend to a community than a classroom.

It’s time to get kids talking!

Humans long to be heard. The Psalmist repeatedly cried out for God’s listening ear:

“Oh Lord, hear me as I pray…” (Psalm 5:1)
“Praise the Lord! For he has heard my cry for mercy.” (Psalm 28:6)
“You know what I long for, Lord; you hear my every sigh.” (Psalm 38:9)
“Because he bends down to listen, I will pray as long as I have breath!” (Psalm 116:2)

Kids are craving conversation. Yet, too often, we talk at kids, and miss out on meeting one of their most basic human needs—relationship. Make it a point to engage kids in conversation each week. As you do, you’re creating a rich environment for God’s Word to take root…for life!

Get ready for some noise. And, even better, get ready to learn more about the incredible kids God has put in your ministry!

Need more inspiration for building relationships? Check out these simple ways to build friendships with kids in your class.

© Group Publishing, Inc. All rights reserved. No unauthorized use or duplication permitted.

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