'Sam I Am'
By Julie Hagen
Sam, a shy 1st grader, asked his small group leader if she would call him 'Sam I Am' from now on. They hadn't seen each other for a few weeks but last Sunday, she remembered and his face lit up when he sat down by their group and heard "Hi Sam I Am." Every time he was called, his group called him by his new name. As class ended 'Sam I Am' saw his parents coming to pick him up but before they left the room, he ran back and gave his leader a hug. They both know that they belong and that's what this is all about. Adults who care about children. And children who know they are accepted to be who they are.
There is a culture shift in children's ministry. The traditional Sunday School classroom setting is moving to a large group/small group model among many congregations. The youth ministry world has a grasp on small group ministry as a vital tool in building relationships using it in Confirmation, peer ministry, and sr. high programming. Children's ministry is slow to catch up.
No matter what age you are, relationships are important. Building friendships is a part of most every TV show children watch. As they get older, it doesn't change. Just ask a jr. high student. Relationships matter. During the First Third Conference on "Why Can't My Church be more like Camp?" we heard how central relationships are in outdoor ministry. Children are put into cabin groups that become their family for the week. Trust is built among each member of the group as they spend every day together in bible study, prayer and play. While congregational ministry (Sunday School or midweek programming) usually meets for just 1 hour a week, relationships can still be formed. But it takes time. And it takes committed adults. Lots of them.
A large group/small group model means children will be placed in groups of 8-10 along with a small group leader. Excitement is raised during large group time where the lesson can be presented in a bold and creative way, but small groups allow children to process their lessons in a safe and comfortable environment. They can ask questions, actively explore the Bible story, and connect with other children their age.
But multiple small groups means multiple adults...every week. If we want children to experience the power of relationships with caring adults and with Christ, than we must focus on who those adults will be. Now is the time of year to start recruiting leaders for next fall. Be creative as you look for leaders. Have those currently involved share stories about their experience or serve as mentors. I'd love to hear your 'Sam I Am' stories. How do you see relationships transforming the faith lives of children and adults in your congregation?
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Julie Hagen works with Lower Elementary children and families at Lord of Life Lutheran Church in Maple Grove. She is a pracitioner on the ground who is a First Third Voice for 2012-2013.