It’s back-to-school season! Along with buying new school clothes and restocking crayons, glue sticks, and pencil boxes, many families are learning new school routines. Others are diving right back into a hectic weekday schedule, after a brief summer respite.
The start of a new school year might be exciting, scary, joyful, or dreaded, depending on the individual. It might even be a mix of all those things!
How can we minister to the children, youth, and families in our congregations during this busy time? And how can we encourage them to keep growing in their discipleship as they start a new school year?
Here are a couple of ideas to get you started. I hope they spark your own ideas as you reach out with the love of Christ to the children, youth, and families in your congregation!
● Lunchbox Prayers
My first grader loves getting a daily joke or riddle in his lunchbox; my goal this school year is to include a faith affirmation each day too. If this is something you’d like to do as well, try writing a short daily note—I fit mine on a regular-size sticky note—or print out a whole week’s worth on card stock and cut to size. Older youth might appreciate seeing their confirmation verses again, tucked into a pocket of their backpacks or athletic bags. Seeing these will give your kids some encouragement along with their midday meal.
● Baptism Reminders
With a new school year comes all kinds of pressure: academic, social, and athletic among them. Children and youth can feel overwhelmed and unprepared to stay true to their faith in the face of such pressures. Standing up against bullies, acting with integrity and truthfulness, and treating others with respect can seem like impossible challenges when peers are making different choices. Help your kids ground their worth in God’s love for them, rather than in the grades they earn, their athletic prowess, or their popularity among peers. Make a simple zipper pull using a key ring, some beads, and a short length of paracord. Include letter beads that spell out their name, or just their initials, and a cross, shell, or ICHTHUS to remind them of their identity as God’s own child. Make one for yourself while you’re at it!
Most schools host a “back-to-school” night for parents to meet teachers and get to know more about classroom procedures, curriculum, and special events coming up during the year. Consider hosting a similar event for your Christian education ministries. Give parents the inside scoop on what children and youth will be learning in Sunday School, confirmation, and youth group. Share important dates so families can block them out on their calendars. Solicit volunteers and support for upcoming events by passing around a sign-up list for things like healthy snacks, paper products, craft supplies, and the like. Walk parents through behavior expectations for youth events and Sunday School classrooms. Talk about how they can encourage their children’s faith at home. Pass along a simple outline for home devotions and encourage them to sign up for an email list that might include weekly discussion topics and prayers. Make it abundantly clear that the congregation is there to support them in their roles as parents and as primary faith teachers for their children.
● Parent Support & Encouragement
For ongoing parental support, create a closed Facebook group for the parents of children and youth in your congregation. Invite them to join the group for private discussion, encouragement, and ministry updates related to kids and family life. Post a weekly devotional thought and prayer, perhaps connected to what’s being discussed in Sunday School and youth group. Encourage parents to seek out and support one another as they do the hard work of raising young disciples of Jesus Christ.
● Parent Prayer Partners
Often, young children in Sunday School or confirmation are paired with adult prayer partners, people in the congregation who commit to praying for their assigned student and maybe sending a postcard on special occasions, like baptismal birthdays. But what about the parents? As a mom of three little boys, I can use all the prayer I can get! Just as you would assign prayer partners to your Sunday School or confirmation students, invite adults of all ages to become parent prayer partners. With permission—you can easily include a yes-or-no checkbox on your student-information and registration forms—share parent names and preferred contact information with volunteer prayer partners. Encourage partners to pray weekly for their assigned parent and to reach out with a note of encouragement during special times of the year, like the start of school, holidays, birthdays, and baptismal birthdays. It could make a big difference in the busy lives of parents to know someone is praying for them by name.
May God bless your back-to-school season with joy and hope as you encourage the children, youth, and families in your congregation to bring their faith with them into a new school year!
For more ideas on youth ministry and how to keep youth connected to Christ during the busy school year, try this great guide.