How Important is Bible Memorization In Your Children’s Ministry?

In many churches, Bible memorization is an essential part of their Sunday school or children’s ministry. Most Sunday school curriculum options have some element of Bible memory. Programs like AWANA are built upon a high value for scripture memory.

But memorization is not a universal value in Christian Education. I am in a master’s level course titled Biblical Worldview and Educational Practice at the Southern Baptist Seminary in Louisville, KY. We’ve been discussing philosophies of education and how they have impacted local church ministry. The goal is to arrive at a more biblical approach to Christian education rather than just copying the latest educational trends.

As you might guess, traditionalism (more specifically Perennialism and Essentialism) highly valued teaching methods like drills and rote memory. Their approach was to promote the learners’ will power and train their mental capacity. In other words, traditional education approached schooling like physical training or even boot camp.

But a movement called Progressivism came on strong in the early 1900’s. Its advocates were strongly opposed to any passive learning by memorization of information. High value was placed on problem solving and maximum student involvement.

Historically, churches have been moving away from rote memory. Some of this has been good. Any veteran Sunday school teacher will tell you the value of active learning. But sometimes I think we’ve gone too far.

The Bible speaks very positively about scripture memory and meditation. If you’re not convinced, just read Psalm 119 or Jesus’ temptation in Matthew 4. Knowing the Bible from memory is a great benefit for everyone.

Too often we confuse child focused teaching with low expectation teaching. It’s one thing to accommodate the developmental realities of childhood. But it becomes a problem when use “kids will be kids” as an excuse not to challenge children in Sunday school.

Our ministry has experimented with several ways of doing Bible memory. In Sunday school, our curriculum encouraged the children to learn one verse each week. In Children’s church I have a set of 10 verses we reinforce every week through drills and games. These verses rotate over time. We’ve also taught the children extended passages of scripture like Psalm 23, The 10 Commandments, The Lord’s Prayer, and Psalm 1. Our Wednesday night club program has children learn a 21 verse Gospel outline over the school year.

What do you think? Leave me a comment below to join the conversation. How much Bible memory do you expect from children in your ministry?

photo credit: culture.culte


Comments

  1. Pat says

    I totally agree. Scripture memory is appropriate. Your list is so like mine! (it’s encouraging). I’ve added Psalm 91 or 34 to that list. I’m going to let our 5th graders choose which of the two they want to memorize.

  2. Debi says

    I agree completely; I think you have a good balance here. Where can I find the Wednesday night club program you use?

  3. says

    Tony, I love the article! God desires His truth to be fixed upon our hearts.

    “Fix these words of mine in your hearts and minds; tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads” Deuteronomy 11:18

    ” Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly . . .” Colossians 3:16

    God’s Word, from the page to the heart where it does its best life forming and transforming work.

  4. Susan says

    I have to fall in on the memorization side! Growing up in Sunday School we memorized a good sized chunk every quarter, and these verses formed my perspective on life and have guided me – without thinking, many times – through the difficult parts of life. Knowing the Word is necessary for sharing with those with whom we come in contact and for participating in life, especially as we develop into ministry. Push it!

  5. coleen Mandean says

    I’ve been searching the net for kids’ ministry ideas ect. and came across your site…just reading through it, and also comments from other users, tells me this is “good stuff”

  6. Julie says

    As a child I memorized many verses. Those are the verses I remember. When I need them the Lord brings them to me. Now that I am older it is a lot harder to memorize them. Yes it is best to have the application along with it, but even if a child doesn’t understand or learn application at that time of memorization, later in life when he/she most needs it the Holy Spirit will bring it to their memory. God’s Word does not return void. I’m not saying you don’t need application – I’m just saying it is sooo much easier to hide it in your heart when you are young. when the children in my Sunday School class learn their verse they get to pick a prize out of the prize basket.

  7. Susan Robinson says

    How can you encourage children to memorize scripture each week? I was thinking of involving the parents of my children this year by emailing parents the MV and encouraging parents to drive home what I teach on Sunday. Parents are so busy these days I almost feel guilty for asking them to do one more thing, but in my heart I know that nothing is more important than each child’s soul. I have been very disappointed in the past at the “ho hum” attitude of the children in regard to memorization. Of course, there will be that “one” child that really is motivated, but most are not. Help! I’m teaching 4th grade this year. I’ve been involved in children’s SS for 35 years and don’t have the answer yet.

    • julia says

      try give something in an exchange to kids, last time I did little bibles out of chocolate, u can google that and passed it out in class, but I said that u cant eat the chocolate until u memorize the. verse, if next sunday u come and u ate the chocolate, u better know the verse, it works for most ages,4 th graders will like it

  8. says

    Because the truth of the Bible sanctifies us (John 17:17), I believe that Bible memory is key. Memory should not be divorced from application, yet the is an undeniable value in allowing the Bible is be permanently placed into the mind where it can renew the mind.

  9. Nicola Voisey says

    I had an interesting experience at our kids church. One of the leaders forgot which verse we were doing. I had not brought my planning and so asked her if she knew any words from the verse. She gave me a few words and the verse just flowed out of my mouth. She was amazed and asked how I knew it. I had no clue that I even knew the verse by heart. Reflecting upon it I realised it was a verse I had learned as a child and had locked in my head waiting for the right time to be recalled.
    I’m interested in….
    1. how you motivate the kids to learn the verses.
    2. how you test their knowledge of the verses.
    3. weather your motivation and testing is group orientated or individual.

    • says

      Nicola,
      From my experience working with the youth division of the mission department at our church,
      1. Motivating kids to memorize does not always mean motivating them learn the verses, and I think motivating them to learn the verses is easier, more effective, and produces memorization better. Here’s what I mean: though the kids I work with are required to be able to recite the verses every week, they do not memorize them alone. The material they study during the weak at home with their parents revolves around the verses. Their quiet times are based on the verses for the week. At class and at home, they have prayer times where they pray the verses back to God (there is a great value in learning to pray scripture). By the end, they have not just memorized the verses. They truly have learned them.
      2. Testing the kids’ knowledge of the verses is a struggle right now for us. At the moment, we have “check-in” time where the kids recite the verses and get their papers signed off. They are also asked to recite some verses during worship time, as a group, in a response of praise to God (when the verse is fitting). Sometimes though, the formal check-in takes too long and seems bulky. Not sure how to fix that.
      3. Testing is individual when it is formal, and group oriented when it is informal. Motivation for memory springs from several things, and is primarily individual/parent-to-child:
      - Motivation comes from a desire in the children, cultivated by their parents and the staff at the church, to know God. That is the motivation to have the quiet time, the prayer and praise times, based on the verses.
      - Encouragement comes primarily from the parents. The goal of the church (and youth ministry) is not to disciple the kids, but to facilitate the parents in their discipling of their own children. That is biblical and effective. So the parent is responsible for encouraging the children to do the work at home, responsible for instilling an appreciation for the value of God’s Word in the hearts of the children. The church staff reflect, model, and facilitate that, but are not the primary driver.

      I may have missed the mark in responding to you, I hope some of that makes sense.

  10. Carol Brigeman says

    Does anyone have a Bible memorization tool that rewards
    memorization and application separately?

  11. says

    Great article. Yes, memorization is very important and holds value in both a both Biblical and educational contexts. Memorization is a basic educational level and is a piece of overall educational aims. Too often programs like AWANA or others make “memorization” the aim. Yes, I agree, God’s word will not return void, but even from an educational context… it’s at the basic level.

    Just think of when we were in school as children. We had our multiplication drills. These were basically memorized. Even simple addition. We know that 4×4 is 16 because we memorized it. However, the fact that we memorized these basics, we can use this to solve complex problems.

    The same is true in the Biblical context. Jesus was a hands on teacher. He was “king” of the object lesson. However, how many times did he quote passages from the law? How many times did he quote the law during his sermon on the mount? Jesus as well as many of those he was teaching had already learned the basics… The children of this time “memorized” much of the law as children. As they got older, they learned to apply it and were given opportunities to reason through what they had learned.

    So, a truly balanced approach involves memorization along with application.

  12. says

    My experience with AWANA was good. My former church ran the program as and focused on reaching kids from the neighborhood. The Bible memory was intense, but all the teachers worked hard to put the verses in a life context.

    I remember hearing somewhere that Elvis Presley had hundreds of Bible verses memorized. Knowing the Bile is no guarantee that you will live it out.

    Josh & Ginger – I completely agree that we have to find a balance. You are right to point out that some kids really do struggle with Bible memory.

    Our Wednesday night program this year has kids learning 3 verses over 3 weeks. These are verses that are closely related to what I’m teaching in the worship rally. I usually spend some time in each lesson making the connections between the those verses and life.

    For Sunday morning children’s church I use the another set of verses, but have an application quiz game. Basically, I have two kids face off with game show style bells and then I ask them a life question like “Give me a Bible verse that can help you try hard in school?” or “Give me two verses that can help you when you’re afraid?”

    • Amy says

      Wow! Great stuff, Tony!
      Tony, I am in a large seeker church, and we currently do a verse a week in our ministry. We encourage it with contests etc, verse each week on the topic we are discussing. Kids say the verse when they first arrive the next week to earn points for their team. no pressure… voluntary. Certain verses will come up a few times a year. John 3:16, Matthew 5:16, Mark 12:30…
      But I love the idea of a list of 10-20 that you revisit throughout the year in a game type format- with an application quiz. Would you be willing to share your verse list each year? and maybe sometime a video clip of your verse contest? Wow… you got the wheels turning now.

  13. Ginger Johnson says

    experiential and application is of course important, but there has been a major shift to that extreme. Teaching values without Scriptural basis… eg. article on this site regarding Veggie Tales, etc.
    If we know Scripture, we will have wisdom to make decisions regarding behavior throughout life. The Bible is full of practical lessons, parables, and stories. I disagree about AWANA being too focused on memorization and not application. There are many activities in the books regarding evangelism, Christian service, devotions, prayer etc. Kids are seldom getting any of these important lessons anywhere else! For a child that struggles with memorization, certainly that takes a special consideration, etc. But Scripture never returns void. We are commanded to KNOW the Word. I haven’t found many churches who are ‘over-doing’ it.

  14. Josh Trommer says

    I do agree that kids should memorize the Bible but if that all they do how will they apply it to their lives? You need some practical application with it as well. I think that there needs to be a balance between experiental lessons that engage the kids in the Bible Story and Bible Memorization.
    I also think though that the AWANA program is too focused on Bible Memorization and not on the application. Like it says in the Bible, if you know what is right and don’t do it what good is that? Also, I’ve seen kids really struggle with Bible Memorization. I’d rather have a kid learn about the Bible through an experiental Bible lesson and get it than a kids having trouble memorizing Scripture and not get the point that is trying to be made.
    God Bless,
    Josh Trommer

  15. says

    Terry – Your daughter sounds like a blessed little girl!

    Liz – Thanks for your input. I like the idea of a systematic set of memory verses aimed at forming a Gospel worldview. I should have written more about our Bible program on Wednesday night. I will try to get our system posted next week. We do one verse a week but in batched of three, so the kids repeat the same three for points over three weeks. They seem to stick better.

    Ginger – You are right, it is about truth. If we really believe what we say about the Bible then we would all work much harder to shape our lives by its words.

    We actually did Psalm 23 in the King James Version the first time. Most of the kids didn’t have a problem with the modified vocabulary. They also go the benefit of some cultural literacy.

  16. Ginger Johnson says

    Thank you for this article!!! I am often amazed by how many ‘Christians’ want to argue AGAINST ‘making’ kids memorize Scripture! I have never found that children have trouble with it, even in the KJV, which I honestly find the easier version for most verses. Training Sunday School and Children’s Church leaders is important. Child Evangelism Fellowship has offered a great program for many years in training people how to teach Scripture, songs and Bible stories.
    One of my favorite tools (I use a variety) is the Abeka Bible Doctrine booklet. It has great recitations of catechism, as well as the verses that go with each point. Kids can memorize it and enjoy the interaction.
    In our postmodern church culture, I salute those who don’t dumb down the TRUTH. Our next generation desperately needs a Biblical foundation!!

  17. says

    I am not a children’s minister, but a homeschooler. Our curriculum for 1st grade has my grandson memorize a Proverb each week. I think our Sunday School reads and introduces plenty of scripture, but no effort is made to memorize.

    I teach GA’s and they must memorize a Scripture monthly, but they are usually related to the monthly missions lessons and not of very much use to the student in their daily lives or for salvation.

    I tried the Baptist catechism for children for a while, but found it dry. Then I found Brannon Howse’s Building a Biblical Worldview Verse by Verse. He takes 52 (one per week) verses that outline the central doctrines of the Christian faith and children are asked a question, like catechism, but instead of repeating a truth, they learn and memorize a scripture verse that answers the question.

    I think it would be a good book to use in a church setting like Sunday School or Children’s Church.

    You can find the book at http://www.worldviewweekend.com

  18. says

    My 3 1/2 year old is memorizing verses. The way I see it, we are only laying a foundation that can be used in the future to build upon.

    We just incorporate the memory verse into nightly family devotions and quiz throughout the week. We are not pressuring him but simply encouraging him to memorize.

    We are using Tom Ascol’s book, “Truth and Grace Memory Book” available at founders.org. I would highly recommend it.

    Terry Delaney’s last blog post..Encouragement from a Certificate

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