Why Is Creativity Important?
When I was a kid I attended a medium sized children’s ministry. I was very involved, listened intently and tried to learn as much as I could about God. My children’s pastor used attention-grabbing object lessons and dynamics in order to grab our attention. Even today, I can still remember some of those dynamics and the lessons it taught me. The vivid ones are rooted in my memory. I remember how they were done, why it was interesting and what the lesson was behind it. I remember the ones that were exciting and that not only captured my attention but involved my imagination. They made the gears in my brain turn and I was no longer an audience member. They engaged me in a way that made me an active participant in God’s narrative.
One lesson that I remember specifically was about Romans 12:2, “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind…” (NIV). My children’s pastor had put up a white curtain across the front of the room with a light behind it so we could see the shadows of people on the other side. One of the volunteers came into the room pretending to have a terrible attitude. Nothing nor anyone was good enough for him until the “mad scientist,” Pastor Jay, volunteered to give him a new mind. They went behind the curtain, the bad attitude guy hopped up on the table and the scientist began to remove his “brain”. We watched on with awe as the mad scientist pulled some substance out and proclaimed that the man needed a whole new mind. He replaced it with a new “brain” and Mr. Bad Attitude came back around the curtain a new man. He was transformed. We then had a chance to interact with both people and learn about renewing our own minds.
We could poke holes in their teaching method all day long, it is not a perfect way to teach on Romans 12:2 but, man did it stick! It gave me a visual understanding of transformation that will last a lifetime. Even as an adult, I still have a hard time listening to a sermon unless it engages me in such a way. If I can barely focus on a sermon, how can we expect our kids to be able to do so? We have to grab their attention but also create an environment that makes kids involved participants rather than audience members listening in a crowd.
Engaging kids is not just entertaining or maintaining a child’s attention, but allowing them to participate in a way that sticks in their brains and develops a relationship with Christ. I am particularly passionate about this because so often is this overlooked in children’s ministry. Creativity becomes a main goal of an event or a ministry and the reason creativity was brought into children’s ministry in the first place is forgotten. Creativity and children’s ministry are coupled because together they create an opportunity for children to step into God’s story and experience the lessons they are taught in a new way. The games, lessons and events in a ministry are not created for kids to have fun or even to get them to pay attention. Fun is a byproduct of kids being fully engaged in the ministry and what God is doing. Creativity is used as a pipeline or channel for kids to interact in such a way that they are personally involved the lessons you are teaching, the stories you are telling and, ultimately, in God’s narrative.
It is widely accepted by developmental psychologists, and put forth by James Fowler (Stages of Faith), that children around the ages of 3-7 grow in their faith through using their imagination and develop their faith through experiences. They can not yet see from any perspective other than their own and do not know the difference between mythical and reality. This makes certain aspects of teaching kids in this age bracket easy and others quite difficult. Kids in this age group take every lesson as truth but may not comprehend the significance of the stories. Faith experiences that a child has in this time will likely stick with the child for the rest of their life. Kids in this age group must use their imagination and have genuine experiences with God in order for their faith to grow. Using the imagination to captivate the hearts and minds of kids and creating authentic experiences for kids to meet God is crucial in leading the children in your ministry in their faith story.
It is important that we know the stages of development and a child’s ability to interact with lessons to further enhance the way we plan and teach. In younger kids we can see that imagination is of the utmost importance in their faith journey and while it is not as essential in older kids, it is still a tool for us to create a space for kids to grow. From years 7-11 kids learn the difference in mythical and reality and stories become very important for this age group as they begin to understand the underlying meaning. They can now empathize with characters in Bible stories, relate the meaning to their own life and can be moved deeply by the significance. Encouraging kids between the ages of 7-11 to use their imagination will allow them to see from another perspective and relate stories to their own lives. Using imagination in the younger kids will allow them to experience through doing, which is an important connection to the lessons being taught. Utilizing creativity and imagination in children’s ministry is not about getting kids to sit still and listen. It’s not even about getting kids to learn the material we are teaching. It IS about walking them through their faith journey using tools that will be most effective for their long-term spiritual development. Using creativity and imagination in your children’s ministry uses the children’s strengths and development path to merge with God’s story.
Creativity is a fluid term. It can look a million different ways and it often does in children’s ministry. We have to create new lessons, games, and make up dance moves to songs. We use creativity in every way possible, but what about the creativity of our kiddos? Do we use their creativity and imagination? In order to get the little gears in their brain turning we have to utilize their creativity. We aren’t trying to drill facts into them like their teachers might in school. We need to take the hand of a child and bring them along on an adventure with their Creator and this is not done by simply standing in front of kids once a week and telling a Bible story.
There are a lot people and places that use creativity to its fullest, even outside of children’s ministry. Some of my favorite places that engage the creativity and imagination of kids are theme parks (Universal Studios, Disney, etc.), children’s museums, and themed restaurants. Kids (and adults) idealize these places. They are fun places to visit but they create an environment that kick starts the imagination. These places are great inspiration for children’s ministries. When a kid walks into a place like The Rainforest Cafe, for example, immediately the imagination is engaged. They are in that world. They see themselves as an explorer or a jungle monkey. It was created for that purpose. When a kid goes to a children’s museum, they are able to create and imagine in a way that helps them learn. It doesn’t have to be the design of the space to make this happen. The activities in a children’s museum allow them to discover history, science and pop-culture in a new way. These places have it figured out. Our ministry spaces do not have to look like a children’s museum or Disneyland to engage kids, although that can help. We can use these concepts each week in our ministries on a smaller scale.
There are countless ways to start engaging the imagination of a child. You might be utilizing some already. What we need to realize is that having a creative idea, a game or an object lesson, is not necessarily engaging the creativity of a child. It might be reinforcing the big idea or explaining an abstract concept but it could still be lacking something special that ignites the student’s imagination and creativity to draw them into God’s narrative. The most creative person in all of KidMin could even be overlooking this concept. Our creativity, in any category, needs to inspire those interacting with it. It could mean creating an environment that engages the senses and activates a child’s imagination like turning your sanctuary into a jungle or teaching your lesson from “inside the belly of a whale”. It could mean performing a skit that leaves the resolution up for interpretation or creating a character to interact with the kids. It could even be as simple as doing a craft with some flexibility for their creative juices to flow. When we plan lessons we should switch from asking “How can I use my creativity to teach this lesson?” to “How can I tap into their creativity and imagination?”
So how do we? On a practical level, one of the most important things we can do to achieve this is to put ourselves in their shoes. I mentioned before how hard it is for me to sit through a sermon without my mind wandering. I would challenge each of you, in your next church setting, to take a second to think about how the sermon you are listening to could be better suited to capture and hold your attention. If you need help getting engaged in a lesson then kids in your ministry do too. If you were a kid listening to the lesson you are about to teach, what would help you? How can you involve the students to make them feel part of God’s story? How can you make the story relevant to their life today?
Some hands on suggestions that could help encourage your kids to engage:
• If you have a small group you can have the kids use play-doh to create an aspect of the story and explain why that part was important. This uses their creativity and critical thinking. They get to create a meaningful part of the story for them.
• You can use students in a dramatization. Dress up like a Bible character or any character and interact with your students. Ask one of the kids to be a character too. Give them a prop and have them improvise. This will use their imagination and get the other kids interested in what is happening and they will start thinking about what they would do if they were in the story.
• Create a new environment to learn. You do not have to decorate a whole sanctuary to use this technique. If you are teaching on Jonah and the whale, pretend to be in the belly of a whale and ask the kids to imagine what it would be like and what they might do in that situation. Tie down a tarp and put a fan inside to make it billow. Put some anchovies around the outside to make it smell and you have a whale belly to tell your story inside. Your kids will love being in a new environment and putting themselves in “Jonah’s sandals” to learn.
Although these techniques are not ground breaking, they hold a very important theme. They seem like any other “creative communication” technique when in reality they are not communicating creatively as much as they are harnessing creativity. They take our creativity as children’s ministers and transfer the ownership to the kids. They give them a chance to take part in God’s great story in a new way.
If you are hitting a wall, you might need some inspiration. This is where “put yourself in their shoes” comes into play. We talked about some of the places that are “getting it right”. Go to those places! Take your kids or your nieces and nephews to the children’s museum and study the way it is designed because it is designed to engage the minds of kids! Keep up on the popular trends in your ministry. Ask them about what shows they are watching and join in, what games they are playing, what music they are listening to and then check them out. This will give you an insight into their minds and what captures their creativity. If you can swing it, go to the “happiest place on Earth”! Keep a page of notes in your phone to jot down whatever inspiration you have. When you find things that really captivate you or your kids, think about how you can use it to your advantage and what methods that product is using.
If you can ask yourself a couple simple questions each week while planning your lesson you will see how easy it is to make the change from using your creativity to capturing their creativity. Ask yourself:
How is this lesson engaging the creativity of my students?
Is this lesson using their imagination to make them participants in God’s story? How can I improve it?
Creativity should always be at the forefront of your mind when developing a lesson to help a child learn and grow. We as children’s leaders have the ability to draw from our own experiences and lives to help create a place for kids to experience God and initiate a life-long adventure with our Creator. I invite you to not only teach bible stories, but help them come alive for your students.