When you think of the word “gospel”, do you think of a specific age group?
We often think of sharing the plan of salvation with older kids and many get baptized. We think of teenagers who start digging deep into their faith. Maybe we think of adults who we encourage to share the gospel.
We don’t often think of the importance of the presence of the gospel in our youngest classrooms.
Brain research indicates that the early years are critical for brain development and that this development is impacted by early experiences. The world recognizes the way God has designed little brains. We as the church need to catch up.
If you work with little ones, you know the importance of nursery and preschool. Serving God’s littlest ones is much more than babysitting and changing diapers.
We have the opportunity to provide children’s very first experiences with gospel truths.
The Gospel in the Nursery
Our ministry can have gospel implications for even the youngest ages. The nursery may not be the place for sharing the plan of salvation or altar calls, but it is where babies are developing their very first impressions of what church is and what God is like.
Parents will have the greatest impact on their children’s impressions of who God is, but church nursery volunteers are next in line.
Researchers identify the primary emotional task for the baby stage as developing trust. Trust is essential for these little ones to eventually accept the gospel.
We can help babies associate trust with church by providing consistency with volunteers. Babies develop trust when they see the same faces and hear the same voices each week.
Trust is also developed when our volunteers respond quickly to babies’ needs.
The church nursery is not the place to let babies “cry it out”. Volunteers’ ministry should be nurturing, not just babysitting. Their care should be combined with God’s Word.
Even when changing diapers, nursery volunteers can speak gospel truth to babies by saying, “Jesus loves you”, “God made you”, and “God has a plan for you.”
The Gospel for Toddlers
Toddlerhood consists of many developments. These developments lay the groundwork for age-appropriate gospel conversations.
Toddlers gain large vocabularies and begin “parroting” what they see and hear. The beauty of this “parrot” stage is that we can help God’s truth sink into their hearts by giving them truth to parrot.
When my youngest was eighteen months old, I heard her repeatedly say, “Let’s pray!” in her gibberish way. Then she would clap her hands together and close her eyes.
Her church leaders on Sunday morning had been teaching the toddlers to pray before snack. She was parroting what she had seen and learned at church!
At this age we share the same gospel truths that we whispered in the ears of the infants, but we can now share them in the midst of play and exploration.
We can model and repeat truth. We can begin to teach very short, simple memory verses.
Did my daughter really understand the deep theological in’s and out’s of prayer? No. Does that matter? No. Her teachers were helping her build a foundation.
As we invest in toddlers, we can capitalize on their desire to copy us by implanting God’s Word in their hearts.
A toddler stage that is not as endearing is defiance. Toddlers learn how to say “no” and say it often. These instances of “no” open up our very first opportunities to talk about sin.
Imagine the two-year-old who has just bitten his friend. Of course, this behavior has to be corrected.
We can say, “God doesn’t like it when we bite our friends” and that would be true. Or we can say, “God doesn’t like for us to bite our friends. But He loves us even when we mess up” or “Jesus came because we all mess up sometimes.”
Toddlers are not going to fully understand all of these words, but we begin to lay foundations of the gospel.
The Gospel in Preschool
Three and four-year-olds’ sense of wonder gives every Bible story the opportunity to capture the awe of who Christ is.
Our ministries should take full advantage of kids’ curiosity, to continually point them toward the truth that we need a rescuer from our sin and that God sent Jesus to be just that.
It is our responsibility to help preschoolers experience Him as more than just a character in a story. Provide worship experiences that go beyond cute songs and allow preschoolers to show their love for the real Jesus—the rescuer they learned about in the Bible.
We must share the whole story of the gospel. Sometimes we are afraid to talk too much about the cross with young children.
Understandably, we don’t want to scare them. But we are not being true to the gospel if we only tell them half the story.
Keep age-appropriateness in mind. With younger kids, “Jesus died on the cross for our sins” is enough. Every detail is not necessary right now. And always, always point back to the good.
When we share that Jesus died for our sins, we must always follow up with how He rose from the dead. Preschoolers need the whole story of what Jesus did for them.
Preschoolers can begin to understand the key components of the gospel. But preschool classrooms are never the place to call for public decisions or lead kids in a “sinner’s prayer”.
Remember, the preschool years are all about laying a foundation.
You could absolutely get four-year-olds to repeat the words of a prayer, but that isn’t the goal. The goal is to lay a foundation so they truly understand the gospel one day.
Share the Gospel at Every Level of Ministry
Gospel conversations look different in nursery and preschool classrooms than they do at other stages, but they are just as important.
Look for ways to integrate the gospel into every level of your ministry, so you can help kids fall in love with their Savior from the very beginning of their lives.
If you liked this article, you may also like:
- How to Love Your Ministry with Littles and Their Parents
- How to Make Your Church Nursery Attractive to Visitors
- 11 Creative Ideas for Teaching Kids How to Pray
- How to Teach Kids in Ways They Actually Learn
- Know How to Play? You’re Absolutely Qualified to Teach
- The Best Places to Find Outstanding Bible Games