Children are an essential part of the local church. The Lord Jesus gave two commands in Matthew 19:14 that underscore this truth: “Let the children come to me and do not hinder them.” In view of these twin commands, churches must strive to provide appropriate support to parents as they train their children in the discipline and instruction of the Lord (Eph 6:4). One way that the church can provide supplementary training to its youngest demographic is through faithful instruction in the Scriptures.
But this important task is also a challenging one. The Scriptures reveal that the heart of a child is bound up in folly (Prov 22:15). An instructor who wishes to faithfully impress the truth of Scripture upon the hearts of young men and women must be equipped with the right tools for success.
The purpose of this article is to provide one of those tools—a structure for an effective hour of Bible study with children. Disclaimer: This is just one method that has been tested and found to be effective among children. It is up to each individual teacher to adjust and adapt these recommendations and time allocations as their specific circumstance requires.
Relational Time (10 Minutes)
I highly recommend that the first part of your hour is devoted to relational time. There are more than a few reasons for this. First, it will give children who are running late the opportunity to arrive before you start your lesson. Having to catch a student up in the middle of a lesson because they are late can cost you the attention of the students who arrived on time and were following you closely. Second, the hearts of children are always bubbling over with personal information they want to share with the world. Consider the following (real life) scenario:
Teacher — We just read John 3:16. By raising your hand, what does God promise to all who believe?
Student — This week my family and I are going to Disneyland.
Allowing children to share about their personal lives before the lesson will help prevent (but not eliminate) situations like this. And third, the goal of our instruction is discipleship (Matt 28:19). Discipleship involves more than the transfer of truth about God from Scripture to the children in your class—it involves relationship! Anyone who has served in children’s or youth ministry knows that relationships formed during those formative years can often lead to deeper gospel ministry in later seasons of life.
Bible Verse Memory and Song (5 Minutes)
This next section is specifically designed to accomplish a few purposes. First, Scripture upholds the value of Bible verse memorization (Ps 119:11). By God’s grace, I still have Bible verses memorized from my time in children’s ministry many years later! Second, this is a great place to incorporate other learning styles. Some people learn better by moving around or using their hands (kinesthetically) than they do by just listening (aurally). To achieve this in our own ministry, we enlisted the help of a woman in the church who knows American Sign Language (ASL) to help us create hand motions to go with each Bible verse. To maximize retention, we chose songs that were simply musical settings of the present memory verse (with matching Scripture version to prevent confusion of translation). And third, this gives the children an opportunity to get some energy out and move before the lesson starts.
Object Lesson (10 Minutes)
The next section of your hour should be an object lesson specifically crafted to set up your lesson. This helps to accomplish two primary goals. First, it serves as a great transition from the movement of the previous section to the focus of the lesson that follows. This is the time to remind students of things like the classroom rules (raising your hand, staying seated, etc.).
Second, the object lesson is designed to engage the mind of the students toward the main point of your lesson. One of the most common object lessons I use is a game called, “What Do They Have In Common?” I begin with four pictures on the whiteboard that are face down (the suspense of not knowing what the pictures are can help hold the children’s attention). One by one, I will reveal the photos and gather their observations until all the photos have been revealed. While the pictures may have many things in common, I will highlight the similarity that relates to my main point and transition to the lesson. (Note: You can find specific object lesson examples in our Children’s Church Curriculum — That You May Believe, in the Children’s Corner of With all Wisdom).
Lesson (15 Minutes)
At this point, you have finally arrived at the Bible teaching portion of your children’s hour. While 15 minutes may seem like blasphemy to some (remember: the times in this structure are recommended not commanded!), consider that the goal of Bible teaching is understanding for the purpose of obedience (2 Tim 3:16-17). In view of this biblical aim, I would argue that there are more effective ways to help children achieve understanding than forty minutes of lecture style Bible teaching.
Here are a few tips to help you maximize the time that you spend in the Word. First, labor to produce a very clear main point. This requires that you understand the author’s intent in the passage you are teaching. Once you achieve that goal, your main point will help you focus your lesson to reflect the author’s main point and keep you from wandering off on tangents. Understanding the author’s main point will also help each bullet on your teaching outline enhance and not detract from your main point.
Second, labor to make the lesson interactive with good questions. Opportunities for children to participate in the lesson can strengthen comprehension and hold focus.
Third, be intentional about Scripture reading. When possible, summarize large portions of Scripture to help keep the momentum going. If you must read a long passage, give the children a task to help them stay engaged during the reading (i.e. put a finger up each time you hear the word ‘believe’ in this passage).
Fourth, use visual aids. Pictures and illustrations can help children who learn visually remain engaged. While many other suggestions could be made, these four should help you in the right direction.
Activities (10 Minutes)
Activities work very well after a Bible lesson. This is an opportunity for the children to do crafts, word searches, puzzles, etc. to help solidify what they just heard in the lesson. While parents may throw them away immediately, works produced by their children in the study can remind them
Individual Review (10 Minutes)
The final section of your children’s hour should be focused on individual review. Whether the children continue to do crafts, or head outside to the church playground, the goal of this section is to check comprehension with each student individually. We refer to it at our church as, “The Main Point Patrol!” While corporate teaching is necessary and good for the church, it can be easy for individuals to hide and slip away after a sermon or lesson without a true understanding of what was taught. This intentional time at the end of your session provides a great opportunity to check retention and engage in one-on-one teaching. In my personal experience, 40-50% of the children can recall the main point and key supporting truths about the lesson in the first round of individual review. But after two or three rounds of review, we can get that number to 100%.
Now, it’s still possible that the children are just regurgitating answers and will forget once they head off for lunch with their families. But at the very least, this individual review between the teacher and children provides opportunity to assess how each child listened and observe trends of understanding that can help make future lessons specifically tailored to the group that they teach on a regular basis.
It is our hope that the above structure, or at the very least the principles behind it, will be a blessing to you as you seek to instruct children in the fear of the Lord so that they might respond in faith and obedience to Him.