Last year, after almost 20 years of working in children & family ministries, I started a church. Alongside an amazing group of friends, we created a dinner church experience—where adults & children gather on Sunday nights for dinner, communion, a brief sermonette, and a cake benediction.
After a year of dinner church, and a lifetime of writing children’s ministry curriculum, I’ve noticed something: Learning seems to happen best when you’re sitting at a table across from someone you know and trust. When you sit together for a beautiful meal to genuinely listen and learn and seek to find the image of God in each other, soul-transformation happens.
So then, how do we create a spiritual table experience for kids in our children’s ministries?
A few thoughts:
At the table, all are equal
When a child shares an answer to a question, a relevant application, or a story from his/her life, highlight the unique perspective. Say, “That’s great! We would never have known that without you sharing. Thank you!” A table mindset means that various opinions and backgrounds are represented, and the benefit is hearing from and learning from all. Encourage children to share about their families, schools, hobbies, culture, their perception of God—all of it relevant for expanding faith.
At the table, all are seen as a reflection of God’s image
As children share or discover new things about God, point out the image of God you see in them. For example, “I saw the image of God in you when you said that caring word about your friend” or “I saw the image of God in you when you bravely shared your fears.” By doing this regularly, you’ll create a culture where kids will begin to notice the image of God in themselves and each other and have a language to express what they see.
At the table, great listening happens
Because a table is life’s great equalizer (mostly because everyone is the same height!), at the table everyone can have a voice to speak and ears to listen. Encourage children to be great listeners to each other by not interrupting, re-stating details they heard, and asking great follow up questions. Oftentimes we praise children for speaking up and sharing. This is great, but it’s also important to praise children for listening well and stating the value in listening well to each other.
At the table, learning is fun
At the best tables, you are seated across from friends, eating great food, participating in an interesting conversation, all while having fun and usually laughing! Imagine creating a similar experience in your children’s ministry. Show children that church is fun by expressing joy as you teach, highlighting that they are amongst friends who know and love them, and reminding them that learning about the Bible and God is always fun!
Final note: These principles can be integrated into any curriculum. In fact, integrating these into small group times or during activity stations will only enhance the curriculum you are currently using. Encourage your volunteers to implement these principles by taking them out to dinner, gathering around a beautiful table of food and casting the vision for a “table mindset” in children’s ministry. Ask them to recall a pivotal moment in their faith while out to dinner with a friend, or around a small group table at someone’s home, or even while cooking and sitting down for dinner with their family at home. As they share their memories, encourage them to consider creating a table experience in their own children’s ministry where all are equal, all are seen as a reflection of God’s image, great listening happens and learning is fun!