Feb 2024 children Building Connection and Belonging
Missions Discipleship

Building Connection and Belonging in Children’s Missions Groups

This blog is part of a series on Fostering Healthy Minds in Children at Church that provides strategies children’s leaders can use to foster healthy minds in children to whom they minister. And, hey, you may even pick up a tip or two to help those in your personal circles! If you’re new to the series, we encourage you to check out the introduction here.

At our core, we are all social beings. We long for connection and a feeling of belonging with others. If you have any question about that, dust off your Bible! In Genesis, we learn God created Adam and Eve to have fellowship with Him and with one another. Even though sin breaks our fellowship with God — and often with one another — it does not get rid of our yearning for it.

When people feel socially disconnected, they are more likely to withdraw. In the case of church, they may choose not to come back. But shouldn’t they want to come to church just because they want to learn about God? Realistically, not everyone has this mindset, especially kids.

When looking at discipleship, we have to truly meet people where they are — and where they are, they might need to feel like they are seen as a person who is worthy of love and friendship, not a number (“five people were saved tonight!”) or a project (“we have 20 people in discipleship!”).

Let’s put this into an adult perspective. You may really like money (don’t we all?), but if your job leaves you constantly feeling alone, disconnected, or cast out, how long can you sustain it? Probably not long. (If you are currently one of those people, hopefully I didn’t just send you into an existential crisis!)

In a church setting, nothing is physically holding you there — not money, not life, not death. It’s pretty easy to leave and find somewhere that provides the social connection you desire. Unfortunately, for some, that means giving up church altogether and finding connection in secular places.

Intentionally Creating Connection

How do we help children feel connected and also learn how to connect with others?

You can create connection among the children in your group in so many different ways. It can be short, five- to ten-minute exercises, or you can do something more extensive, if needed.

Group Activities

The opening activity of each lesson in Missions Journey: Kids Leader is a good example. Creating a quick connection at the start of your meeting time — especially one that helps link children to the lesson — can be a great way to break the ice and help children feel comfortable with each other and with you. Make sure your quick connections are something everyone can participate in and includes the whole group or can be done in pairs (random pairs, so it doesn’t get cliquey).

Personal Check-Ins

Time goes by quickly in your meetings — I get it! By the time everyone gets settled in and focused, you’re stressed about getting through everything you prepared. Before you say “Ain’t nobody got time for that,” just hear me out.

If your room has enough space, a great idea would be to have a small area where you sit and have a child work on their activity with you for a few minutes while you check in with them. Of course, that may not work for your space. If not, just find a time to sit with each child individually at some point in the month to ask them about them.

This allows you to foster an individual relationship with each child and sends the message that they, as individuals, matter. As I have mentioned before, you may be the only person in their life who asks about them as human beings.

Spiritually, this would also be a great time to get a better idea of what the child’s mental, emotional, physical, and spiritual needs are. How can you specifically minister to and pray for this child? There are so many things — I guarantee — a child would not say in front of a group but would tell you one-on-one when given the opportunity.

The Bigger Picture

Let’s take a look at how this plays out beyond the church walls: The more connection is modeled by you and ingrained in children in your group, the more your tiny disciples can embody it as they go out into the world.

I distinctly remember a moment when I was on a missions trip in Washington, DC, listening to another group plan their day in terms of numbers of people they were going to pray with and how many people they could “get saved.”

It took me about half of a second to feel like a “lesser” leader because we weren’t doing that. But when I made eye contact with my team, I instantly knew we were all on the same page: Today, our mission would be to love people. We’d start there and let God do the rest. What we did do that day was sit with the homeless. We gave them water before a prayer. We offered them food before offering the gospel.

When I think about Jesus, I imagine Him lending a hand with gentleness and genuine care — first and foremost. As leaders, let’s create an environment where those we are trying to reach with the gospel feel safety, compassion, and genuine interest in their well-being so we can then be heard when we share the gospel.

Brooklyn Hancock is Licensed Mental Health Counselor, Registered Play Therapist, former Certified School Counselor, and a mom. Her passions are working with children, adolescents, teens, adults, and parents to navigate life’s toughest challenges.

Disclaimer: The information shared on wmu.com is not meant to diagnose or treat a mental health condition. We encourage you to follow up with your health-care provider and seek a mental health professional for individual consultation and care.