Kingdom Kids: What it is, what it does, and what it means to the vitality of one church
The staff of Kingdom Kids gathers in a circle for prayer, led by the Rev. Ellen Knight, before the children arrive. Then they leave to retrieve the youth awaiting them across the street at Lyons Elementary School. With a flurry of backpacks and winter coats, the children arrive, ready first for their snack, and then, more importantly, eager to learn about religion.
Kingdom Kids – a Friday afterschool program that educates children on Christianity – came into creation in 2009, when Rev. Knight, pastor at the Lyons United Methodist Church, suggested the church take advantage of the school’s proximity to do some ministry.
“All I did was cast the vision because once I talked to some of the people here, they just totally got on board,” she said. “And everything since then has all been a team effort.”
Kingdom Kids has even had a positive effect on the church’s Sunday school, which is usually attended by five to eight children, half of which can be attributed to the program. The ultimate goal of the Kingdom Kids is “to make disciples of Jesus Christ.”
“What does it mean to the vitality of (our) congregation? That’s the question,” Rev. Knight said. “That’s what we’re looking at now … We are seeking ways to deepen our connectivity with these families to try to bring the adults into church. We do not have the parents of the children in general. So we are looking at ways we can use that connection to revitalize the church.”
Richard Kenville, a lay leader at the Lyons UMC, isn’t very involved with the afterschool program, but he sees the value in it.
“Kingdom Kids is one of the most important parts of the church with ministry right now,” Kenville said. “I’m trying to get the parents more involved.”
Kingdom Kids has about eight volunteer staff members, who attend meetings, plan the curriculum, and assist with the program. Program volunteer Sharon Tiballi said she enjoys watching the kids learn.
“They’ve learned a lot. Most don’t come to church and didn’t know a whole lot,” she said. “But I learn more than they do. It’s very fulfilling.”
Kingdom Kids averages between 25 to 30 children each week. Of these children, the majority are unchurched. Rev. Knight said the church grew concerned about where children in the area received their religious education, as the church’s Sunday school was almost nonexistent. Most children were not being educated.
“We just felt we could get them here at an early age, getting them thinking about Jesus and singing about Jesus – you know, just getting to know who He is,” she said.
Rev. Knight recalled one girl who aged out of the program – the program only includes children through sixth grade – who can still recite the Seven Fruits of the Spirit and understand their meaning.
Kingdom Kids works in sessions six to eight weeks long. Each session revolves around a theme. This session’s theme is “The Lord’s Prayer.” In the past, they’ve taught “The Seven Fruits of the Spirit,” “Heroes of the Bible,” and “The Christmas story.”
Each Friday starts the same. The children are fed a healthy snack before they go up to the sanctuary for music, where they sing praise songs. Some gather in front of the group and sign to the music.
“I like the songs,” said Landen Chambers, a first grader in Kingdom Kids. “I don’t like singing. I just like the songs. All of them.”
Then the three groups – the Apostles, Disciples, and Shepherds, divided by age – go to their respective activities: story, crafts, or games. The children rotate to each, having a chance to experience all three.
“I like the activities we do and the teacher,” said third grader Kaylea Wagner while glancing over at Tiballi. “Kingdom Kids teaches you anything about God that you need to know.”
In addition to the Friday program, Kingdom Kids hosts a Christmas pageant.
“The pageant is a huge undertaking, but the kids love it,” Tiballi said. “One parent came up to me and said, ‘This is the most beautiful thing I have ever seen in my life.’”
Katie Garner signed up her children, William, Raymond, and Gillian, for Kingdom Kids because “it sounded like a nice program.”
“When I was their age, I went to church group and I liked it,” Garner said. “They’ve learned quite a bit, not just about church, but skills with peers and mingling.”
After two hours of learning and fun, the children rush back into the sanctuary. It’s time for some more song and some announcements. Downstairs, their parents wait for them, ready to hear what their children learned today.