Love First is more than a children’s ministry. Or rather, it can be. At its best, Love First can build a meaningful intergenerational community with a children’s ministry at its core. To begin, it’s important to think more broadly about your children’s ministry and its place in your parish. Is your children’s ministry a silo, separate from the rest of parish life? Do children and families feel like they are welcome – and that the church is prepared for them?
Beginning with your children’s ministry is a perfect place to start because children and their families are an essential component to building an intergenerational community. To rethink your children’s ministry, you might want to consider:
Reading the book
This should be considered Step 1 of implementing Love First. It provides a broad overview of Love First, including the process of how it started and why. This is an important piece for any parish that is looking for something different but isn’t quite sure what that is — or how to get it. The book will walk you through all of the challenges of children’s ministry today and how to creatively overcome them using your own gifts.
Consider reading the book together with your incoming volunteers. Host a gathering to talk about how Love First could look in your parish and what steps you’d need to take to get there. It can be a slow process, but a rewarding one. And we’ve found that many teachers like to be part of building a meaningful children’s ministry.
Your sacred spaces
How do your spaces look to a newcomer? Are they warm and inviting? Do they convey to visitors what will happen in those spaces? Are they deliberate? Are they clean and tidy? Can teachers easily locate materials?
A little bit of time and intention will go a long way to make your spaces look like they are loved. This can take time. In fact, this will take time, but it’s worth doing.
Your precious hour
At most, you have one hour with children in classrooms on a Sunday morning. De-clutter this time together like your sacred space: make it intentional and deliberate, and save only what is meaningful and important.
You can read more about this precious hour in our book, but the takeaway is that your time with children is precious. You don’t have much time with children, and to send the message of love you might need to rethink your hour and perhaps let go of some things that have always been there.
We get more questions about our curriculum than anything else in the Love First program. Despite it not being a curriculum, people desperately want lesson plans. It’s true that we had to give our teachers plans to help guide them in the classrooms, and we have shared everything we can with you. But Love First can be a framework that lays on top of other existing curricula, as long as you follow the Love First guiding principles.
That said, it’s worth mentioning again that Love First is more than lesson plans. In every case, we put love before lessons.
To put love first, you should expect to prioritize current events that are impacting your community. A well-planned story and activity should be replaced by an opportunity to tend to real suffering in your presence. If we want a child’s religion and faith to bring meaning to the rest of their life, then we need to find meaningful ways to apply it to more than the classrooms on a Sunday morning.
Similarly, building an intergenerational faith community means prioritizing loving connections between children and other members of the parish even if it means saving a story and craft for a later day. If church is meant to last a lifetime, then building relationships between generations is an essential part of making that happen.
If we want children to care for others, then we must do that ourselves. We are our children’s best role models when it comes to connecting to others in the parish and tending to the suffering of our neighbors. Love First is not only for a children’s ministry, it is for the whole church. That means it can bring life to the entire parish. Not merely because having children in a parish makes it feel more lively, which it does. But because having a Love First children’s ministry means children are paying attention to others and others are paying attention to them in ways that typically don’t happen.
We aim to do more than light up the faces of the older generations when children enter the sanctuary or do something cute. We want others to know the children, to feel connected to them in a real way.
Once you get going, there is no end to what Love First can do for your parish. Think about what Love First would look like for adult formation, preaching themes, or outreach activities. Your parish is full of opportunities to find ways to make it a more loving community, to make parishioners from every corner of the parish feel like the community is bound together by love, that their presence matters, and that God is authentic among and between you.