Neighboring Churches Celebrate Growth in Children’s Ministry

Date Posted: 9/10/2015

Children are “experiencing” Sunday school in a new way that is creating buzz—and increased attendance at Deer Park UMC and First UMC Pasadena.
When kids are engaged enough in Sunday school to “tell two friends,” there must be something special happening. This is what Shannon Carlisle, Director of Children's Ministries for Deer Park UMC and Paige Cleland who heads children’s ministry for FUMC Pasadena are experiencing. Both leaders have seen a move from “drought” status in attendance to a children’s ministry that is flourishing by using concepts described in curriculum called the “Way of the Child.”
“This curriculum is very unique and is completely different than any other curriculum I have ever worked with or have been a part of,” shares Paige. “This curriculum is about spiritual formation; it is so much more than a children’s curriculum as it involves meditation, reflective, and contemplative aspects.” She adds, “As the students started coming to the program they instantly fell in love and were telling their other friends about it. Soon the program doubled the Sunday school hour and resulted in growth in other areas of children’s ministry.”
Paige admits the curriculum is labor intensive. “However, once you see the transformation resulting from the program, it is so worth it.”

The “buzz” traveled just a few miles down the road to neighboring church, Deer Park UMC. “I was immediately intrigued when one of our pastors shared the excitement from a child in the program at FUMC Pasadena,” admits Shannon, “so we contacted Paige and got a tour of the Sunday school rooms since the environment plays such an integral role in this curriculum.”
The environment and teaching system resonated with Shannon and she wanted the children at Deer Park to experience this program. “We weren't sure what rooms we were going to use or even where the funds to start the program were going to come from, we just knew it was going to happen,” she explains.
“The Way” is designed to help each child develop an intimate, personal relationship with God. It provides the children an opportunity to experience and practice spiritual disciplines that will guide them for a lifetime.
Order and Flow of Each Session
  • Gathering Time
    Each session begins with gathering time. The leader engages the children in dialogue about what is happening in their lives at home, school, and in other activities, listening for holy moments and the presence of God.
  • Reflection Stations
    The room is divided into 6 stations. The children choose a station to start and are free to move to another station at will. This allows children to engage in exercises that are meaningful and interesting to them.
  • Re-gathering and Closing
    At the appropriate time, the leader sounds a chime and the children re-gather. The leader invites the children to share their experiences at the reflection stations. The closing involves an assurance, blessing, or proclamation of God’s abiding presence, always reminding the children that God is at the center of our being and our living.
Why are the kids responding with a similar zeal to Shannon’s?
The atmosphere invites the children to be more spiritually aware,” she says.
For example:
  • The children remove their shoes before entering the space.  The space is lit with lamps only. 
  •  The leader lights a candle to signify God's presence. 
  • There are votive candles with every child's name. Even if a child is absent then their candle is lit. 
“Since we started, I have noticed that the children have a deeper relationship with God.  I have seen children respond to God in awe, like I've never seen before.  Leading this program has strengthened my relationship with God as well,” she shares.
She is excited to report that Deer Park UMC has more than doubled the number of children in Sunday school in the last nine months. Notes Shannon, “We will be meeting in 2 rooms starting Sept.13, which means we have a new room to share.  I can't say enough about this program.” 
Children Transitioning to Youth
Adds Paige, “We have just graduated our first set of students, with a “Way of the Child” background, into the youth program. Watching them grow has been such a blessing. As you sit and engage in conversation with them you notice the depth of the conversation, and realize these students are engaging in rich meaningful discussion.”