Not everyone teaches in the same context. Bible Quest™ was designed as a tool to help train children to use God’s Word as the foundation of their thought process, but the context that a teacher or a parent uses to instruct their students can vary. While we use Bible Quest in our home environment with our own children, we’ve also had the opportunity to use it very successfully in a church program setting. In this article, we’ll start with two approaches from a general schedule and program standpoint, and cover some of the pitfalls to avoid. We’ll also look at some practical tips to make Bible Quest a success in your large group environment.
The first program approach, and the one that I used in our home church in Kansas, was a two-part program, divided into a Sunday School and then a Worship Service portion. The Sunday School portion ran for 45 minutes, and we used it to reinforce the Big Bible Story Song and teach the content for the 4 Big Questions, WHO, WHAT, WHEN, and WHERE. In so doing, we had multiple multi-sensory activities that we used, including a huge wall map that we painted. We put large-headed nails in the wall where the various sites in Bible Quest were located. Using small, round magnets from Hobby Lobby as markers, we played games and activities that allowed the kids to mark the correct locations with their magnet markers. Part of the time was also used to review previous weeks' material. Some of our workers took time to build Bible-study skills in our students, such as Sword Drills (quickly finding Bible verses that the instructor calls out), discussing the passage of Scripture we looked at that week (for older kids), or doing a reinforcing craft for the week.
The part of the program that took place during the Worship Service began with review of the material from that morning (and teach it anew to children that hadn't made it to the earlier session). Telling the story for that week in a fun, creative, and INTERACTIVE way was next on the agenda. See the Reactive Storytelling tip below. We often finished the day with review exercises. A lot of story ideas and crafts can be found for free in our forums on our website.
Note that we did not use the direct connection activities found in Bible Quest in a church context, mostly because of time constraints. Some connection activities would work well in the time we had allotted, but many are more time intensive than our schedule would allow.
A second model comes from one of our partner churches in New York state that splits their Sundays, doing one week focusing on the four Big Questions, then doing the connection activities during the next week’s session. They therefore take twice the time that they would otherwise, stretching a two-year program into four. This gives them additional time to focus on each story, learn the grammar, and then take time to go deeper.
A third model could also be used. Imagine this: a church full of new believer families opens their Sunday morning worship each week with ten minutes of committing verses and Biblical information to memory in a fun, upbeat environment. Not only would all of the children be included in the learning, but church staff would be able to model for parents how to teach and utilize the factual information in their homes! Connection exercises and deeper questions could still be used in a classroom environment with children and teens, or they could be sent home with the families to work through on their own. Clearly, the details of the program would depend on the culture of each individual congregation, but the idea of full-congregational involvement in at least part of the discipleship of the next generation is exciting to me!
Pitfalls to Avoid
Some of the best advice is advice that highlights mistakes that others have made, so that the reader can avoid doing the same!
Not enough buy-in — One of the biggest problems new Bible Quest programs encounter is a lack of buy-in from volunteer staff. The Bible Quest program contradicts many other methods that have enjoyed a long history in churches, and not everyone immediately appreciates how it works and why. An excellent way to onboard new staff members is to gather a small core of volunteers that ‘get’ the Bible Quest model, and then use them to demonstrate the program to your other potential workers.
Not enough training — Because the Bible Quest model is so distinctly different than many other Sunday School methodologies, it is imperative that the staffing for the program be thoroughly trained. Without adequate training, old thought patterns and contradictory methods can creep in, damaging the effectiveness of the program. To keep your staff excellent, plan consistent training times throughout the year. Always reinforce the most important parts of the program, but then feel free to highlight a particular aspect of training or emphasis that is different each time. While there is no absolute answer to how often trainings should be offered, I would recommend that a new team train together at least quarterly, and a more established team do at least one training per year.
Not enough great workers — All programs require dedicated, enthusiastic team members to continue long-term. While it can be tempting to allow a few sold-out volunteers to keep plugging away week after week, leaving no wiggle room for them to take an occasional break to refresh and renew can lead to volunteer burn-out. Instead of building programs with only the bare minimum human capital, program leaders should always be on the lookout for fresh volunteers to develop. In short, recruit so that dedicated people don’t burn out.
The flipside to this discussion deals with too much allowance for who can work with children. The attitude that anyone can be in a position of ministry to children can be more harmful than failing to recruit new workers when all of the volunteer positions have been filled. While it is important to make sure that enough adults are in a room with children for safety’s sake, be careful to only allow dedicated, friendly, loving, Christ-centered staff on your team. In today’s world, background checks are also essential.
We knew that for our demographic at my home church, many of the children that attended did not have much in the way of Biblical background. As a result, we built story-telling methodologies that reinforced the WHO material and gave students further context to speak about the people that we were studying. So, we tried to include the key ideas from the WHO for each week in an interactive experience for the kids. This could be as simple as giving each child a piece of paper and crayons and having them draw specific things while the story is being read. It could be as complicated as running a skit with the children or building individual felt boards for them to manipulate. Find ways to involve their minds and bodies in the story. A future blog post will deal with these ideas further.
Build active review exercises
Every child is different. Some will respond very well to low-energy memorization activities or crafts, but some will have a harder time if they cannot move their bodies. One solution to this common issue is to have active, well-planned games and activities to help them review the days’ material. If an active youngster can use his or her newfound knowledge to compete in a game, they are much more motivated to succeed, and expending energy before children go home always helps build goodwill for your program among parents!
Connect your older kids
Older students (5th and 6th graders) desire to make active, meaningful contributions to the class. If they are not given these opportunities, they can lose interest or feel that the classroom is ‘beneath’ them. On the other hand, a wise program director that can capture the imaginations of their older students will have a ready and enthusiastic supply of helpers that can contribute greatly to the health and vitality of any children’s program. For tips on how to tap into your older students, check out our Connecting Older Children in the Equip Phase blog post.
No matter your schedule or your specific activities, leading children to know and understand God’s Word is a plan that works and will not return to God void. (Isaiah 55:11) Use this reality to encourage your workers, your students, and your congregation! When volunteers see something working, that energizes them, so let them have opportunities to see how much the kids have learned, and let the church see how well your volunteers are teaching the kids! Hold Bible quiz games, map competitions, and other similar activities to showcase your students’ capacities for the content they’ve studied. Be faithful, and let God use His Word to lead children in your large group to a greater and greater understanding of who He is.