9 Strategies for Reaching Over-Churched Kids

In a previous post, I described the spiritual dangers for overly religious kids. I was writing about kids who get too much church and not enough relationship with Jesus. Most of the comments from that post were supportive and agreed with my assessment. Many readers saw a connection with being over-churched and giving up on church as teenagers. That makes this issue even more urgent.

No the hard part – doing something about the problem.

In this article I will offer specific ways you can help those children overcome those dangers. This is my first attempt to dealt with this topic, so your input is important. Please leave a comment at the bottom of this page.

1. Empower Them To Teach: If they really know it all, why not let them assist you in teaching. This should be done with care, because they might not have the spiritual maturity to fly solo. But there are many ways to get them involved. It’s like Amy wrote on our Facebook Page, “The way I use kids who have heard the bible stories a hundred times over is to put them in the teaching role. One of the best Sunday’s I ever had is when a few girls who had been in church since day one of their lives explained Jesus’ death and resurrection to kids who didn’t even know who Jesus was. I was so proud of them.”

2. Teach for Heart Change: Educators call this the affective domain or emotional learning. When our teaching only targets the cognitive domain, we can miss the heart. Over-churched kids need transformational learning that can move their attitudes and values. This is at the core of effective Sunday School teaching.

3. Use Creative Storytelling: The Word of God is the most amazing document ever created. Poor storytelling can get the facts right and completely miss the soul of the story. Over-churched kids have suffered through too much of this and need creative Bible teaching. Do the extra work and make your story amazing. Here are some hints for creative Bible storytelling.

Wayne shared this idea in our forums, “If they already know the story, having them act it out, or play a game show, or something else active will be more likely to keep their interest than just telling a story.”

4. Pray for Every Child: Sometimes the deepest problems require a spiritual solution. Ask God to make a difference for those over-churched kids. It’s great when we pray for those outside the church, but don’t forget to lift up those familiar names to the Lord. Remember, effective ministry depends on prayer.

5. Teach the Bad News: According to the Bible, we are all sinners who have earned the displeasure of God. Without Jesus, we would have no hope of passing God’s judgment. Over-churched kids need to realize that they too need a Savior. They need to learn about sin. Keep teaching the 10 Commandments, but also teach what Jesus said about loving your neighbor. None of us can really meet those standards on our own.

6. Model Repentance: With over-churched kids, we can’t pretend that Christians are always the good guys. They see behind our Sundy morning smiles and know that we’re not perfect people. When we are honest about our failings, and confess our sins, it points them to the Gospel. When teaching, use examples of Christian repentance and be transparent about your own struggles. This is a key to parenting, but it’s also a great strategy for kids ministry.

7. Make It Relevant: Connecting the Bible content with real life is something we often overlook. Even kids who have heard all the stories need help connecting the dots to real life. Kristi made this point on our Facebook page, “I find those kids get more involved if you can make it relevant to what they are going through at the time.” So take a few minutes and think about relevance. Why does this Bible lesson really matter in each child’s life? How can the truth of this passage help them with the problems they are facing?

8. Go Deeper: Why not flip this challenge around and take these over-churched kids even deeper into the Bible verse. Let them struggle with the hard stories in the Bible. Show them the questions that Christians still debate. Help them integrate theology and move beyond milk. This was also something Wayne suggested on our forums, “ It seems like this would give you a great opportunity to go deeper with the stories since you don’t have to spend as much time on the basics of storytelling. I’m not sure what this would look like, especially in terms of the others (kids just learning about God), but it seems like an awesome opportunity.”

9. Get Them On Mission: The message of Christianity was not made just for hearing, God wants us to embrace the mission of Jesus and participate in the new creation now. Too much learning and not enough doing is always a problem. Find ways to get kids involved in sharing the Gospel, serving the poor, and laying down their lives for others. Help them serve in the community or get them involved in missions. Jonathan made a great point about this in his comment, “My kids are in church all the time…so I fight constantly to remind them that most of doing what the Bible says happens in our schools, on the soccer fields, and at our house.”

What Do You Think?

I’d love to hear what ideas you have about breaking through to these over-churched kids. What strategies work best? What actually drives them farther away from God? Leave a comment below to respond. Here is the link for What I said about Over Churched Children


  1. Irene Anum says

    Hi, this topic I think is easily overlooked. As parents we try to do our best to get our overchurched children be practical in their christian lives; and I see my children getting fed up at times and we can over do it unconsciously. all the suggestions given are helpful and lets pray that our children absorb and practice what they learn rather than go astray only to come back after much hurt from worthless living.

  2. Sarah says

    These tips are so helpful…thanks Tony! I do not have kids of my own, but I do teach sunday school with kids ages 4-11. Sometimes I focus more on reaching the younger ones, and I forget to make it fun and memorable for the older ones. I will definitely try some of these tips tonight, so thanks!!

  3. says

    Hello Tony,
    Thank you for sharing this and for having others share as well. There are so many great points here and I can’t wait to implement them more in my home. Every night we choose a different Bible story to read from the children’s Bible with Timothy (2 1/2 yro) and have been doing that with him since he was born. Last night was his turn to choose a story and he started out by pointing to the pictures and telling us who was in the story and what the story was about. It was so neat to see and hear him acting it out.
    Well thank you Tony and many others for all that you do. You are a wonderful blessing!
    Cullen :)

  4. K Gray says

    This is a tough issue. As a volunteer teaching children, I had no idea how to respond to some of the overchurched kids who totally ignore you, distract others and do whatever they want.

    I have left these classes crying on occasion, and eventually stopped volunteering in the childrens’ area.

    On the other hand, in Bible Study Fellowship (a Bible study for women, in which even young children are also taught), the equipping is so excellent that it’s like “children’s ministry for dummies.” Everything is in 5-10 minute intervals, there is a lesson (often done with a puppet or the like), questions (for example, drawn from a jar), play time (play is related to the lesson), rest, snack (at a table, with a simple lesson-related discussion question that relates to their lives), structured clean up, etc. Discipline issues are prayed over by group leaders. Sometimes parents are brought into it. In any case, the atmosphere is loving, children actually learn, and the structure calms and assures everyone.

    One small thing I became personally convicted on: “Bible stories” and “characters.” I quit using those terms b/c children think stories are fiction.

  5. says

    With the kids who I’ve had who ‘know everything already’, I really try to encourage them in relationships.

    Church isn’t just about Sunday school and the teaching. It’s also about being together & reaching out to others & making changes in their lives.

    They need to bring friends or get to know the visiting kids. They need to fellowship with others at church. They need to be challenged to apply the lessons to their life & act on it.

    I also think we need to teach our kids to think in less-judgemental ways, too. It bugs me to no end when a parent complains that we shouldn’t be teaching about David because my kids already knows about him. Their child hears this & voila! The child has just learned how to be judgemental.

    Honestly, I can hear lessons on the life of David and still learn new things from it. And, at age 42, I’ve probably heard it a few hundred times.

  6. Phillipa says

    Too much church and the consequent familiarity often seems to lead to a sense of ‘I’ve done it all before’ and a critical attitude ranging from ‘it’s boring’ to all sorts of more destructive attitudes. This in turn takes the focus off following Jesus and places it firmly with an organisation full (inevitably) of flaws. In our experience it has been helpful to encourage young people to see that they are equal members of this ‘organisation’ along with all the adults and as such are totally free to have ideas and make suggestions – as long as they are also willing to be involved with and work with the outcomes. Some examples include playing in worship bands – and in time getting to choose songs etc, meeting the candidates for youth pastor and feeding back to the interview panel, helping out with children’s groups – and attending planning meetings along with the adult leaders….. Of course the aim is always to be serving Jesus and seeking his guidance – in other words, growing in practical discipleship, and not being a passive observer.

  7. Stephanie ~ Maine says

    I am so pleased to see this issue addressed! I admit I have had a bad taste in my mouth about Missionaries and Preachers kids because I feel their children get overlooked or Spiritually abandoned… One on one attention and nurturing in this area is vital. Praise God for those of you who have come up with a plan to Reach these souls…. Thanks you

  8. Sam says

    I was very concerned when my 9 year old son came home from church camp and told me that with all the chapel services, he didn’t think he had sinned all week long.
    Galatians 5:22-26 has been very helpful in dealing with him. He has head knowledge, but no heart change. He knows the fruits of the Spirit, and can name them or sing them backwards and forwards. But he’s never looked past the list of the fruits to the warning in vs. 26 “Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another.”
    This verse was so convicting to our 9 year old that he realized his conversion was head only in order to please his grandma. I rejoice in the fact that he has seen his own sin, and repented of it!

  9. Wikus Meyer says

    I think that the bigest danger for chidren of God, does not matter if they are children or adults, is our personal time with God. Then we never never will get to be over-churched. Actually, the Bible is so rich that the Word will be new every time we read it, hear it or teach it. I think that if children or adults can read the whole Bible through every year, their lives will be changed. Personal relationship with God is of the utter most importance. Thank you. Love in Christ! Wikus

  10. says

    Another thought I would add to this discussion is that kids need to be taught to think critically about the Bible, just as they are taught in school to engage literature, science, math, etc – we tend to have lower standards for them when it comes to Biblical education, and that should be the other way around.

    As was mentioned above, teach the hard stories. Let them wrestle with why God allows certain things, why weird stories (like Judges!) are in the Bible, whether or not the familiar Bible characters are actually living in line with God’s law or against it. A classic case of misteaching stories is Samson – usually he is presented as a strong man who did great things, when the point of his account was how desperately wrong he almost always was and that God used him anyway to deliver his people.

    I think pushing kids (as they are developmentally able, of course) to think on these deeper levels really helps to remove the “I know everything” syndrome… because when we are forced to study and think critically, we suddenly realize we don’t know it all.

    It also engages them with the fact that all people sin and sometimes sin terribly – Abraham, Moses, David, etc aren’t “heroes” – they aren’t in the Bible because they were great, they are in the Bible because their GOD is great. All of us have sin, too… and sometimes looking at the “yuck” of the people in the Bible jars us to reality on that point!

  11. says

    Dear Tony, THANK YOU! The Peruvians had a word (sorry forgotten) for new Christian wives who neglected their homes for church meetings. We need teaching on the church/family home balance. In all places my heart goes out to the “church orphans” whose Mums and Dads were busy at church and the children were left to their own devices in some unused space whether, hall, office or sanctuary. I felt they equated church with time killing and too much “déjà vu.” One prays indeed about their relationship with the Lord. M.

  12. says

    I would add the impotance of teaching these kids about the reality of true and false conversion. The apostle Paul said that we should examine ourselves to see if our faith is genuine. We dont talk about this enough even with adults.

  13. says

    I am a PK (PREACHER’S Kid) SO I have experienced personally the “Over Church Syndrome”
    I was so ever grateful of teachers who saw this and used me as teacher assistant or allowed me to do a demostration project for each lesson -(they give me a sneak previewof next Sunday’s Lesson)
    (And recently obtained my creditials as a minister)
    Because of these teachers My relationship with God GREW VERY STRONG AT A YOUNG AGE
    Now I specialize in helping PK adjust as well as overly smart gifted children to adjust
    for if this is not addressed these children often return to world of sin and develop a Hte for Christianity
    Where do you think the saying comes from
    but really we are just crying out for the meat and bored with the milk
    I often use the techniques of application
    I brain-storm scernio and have the kids make decisions as how to solve the situations
    This experience also has taught me how to multi-age teach all in the same room at the same time which is what smaller churches are forced to do
    Children Love Suspense and VARIETY
    and all of it does not like up to the bible
    Hope this gives other teachers some ideas
    karan- n.c.

  14. isaiah says

    since i’ve been in the children’s ministry. i always face this dillema of having children over in religious act not simply worshiping the Lord. They made rituals and not making a sweet aroma to God, i ask the Lord to what i’m going to do? then He teaches me to make them a leader for a month not a plain sunday school attendee, they are in charge of food distribution, care for the preps, and do the likes. They seem to enjoy it without compromising the worship and listening to the word of God. but one day parent try to confront me on what the children are doing in the sunday school. i simply answer “they are ready for God’s service,” and things seems to develop in the children church. also, it reinforces me reading the aboves message, when children gets bored, they are ready for more. keep it up and i like reading your notes.

  15. Darel Finkbeiner says

    I erased a very long comment.

    In short, here’s what I learned as a pastor’s kid who attended every church event: Acting becomes doing. Often it doesn’t sink in until well into adult-hood, but there it is nonetheless. Don’t worry if the kid seems to not really understand the things he “knows” in his head. Some things take time.

  16. says

    Very helpful points. Thank you.

    I wonder how much of this over-churched problem is a result of the cultural shift to farming out our education to others. I am not necessarily calling everyone to homeschool their children; but there is too much of an attitude that it is some else’s responsibility to educate my children during the week and the church’s responsibility to disciple my children on Sundays. As a Sunday school teacher I have felt convicted that I am usurping the role of parents in being their children’s primary spiritual educator and enabling the parents to continue to make excuses for their lack of leadership in the home.

    Parents need to understand the enormous responsibility it is to raise children. Dedicate time daily to discuss the Scriptures as a family. Then they need to allow the children to tag along as much as possible to see how Christian adults must live out what they discussed during family devotionals. Bring the kids to your Bible studies; bring them on your mission trips; bring them to help in your mercy ministries; let them help you work in the yard; involve them in preparing and cleaning up after meals; bring them early on in life into worship to see how mature Christians are to worship.

  17. says

    Thanks for your comments. It sounds like you’ve had some life experience in that direction. “educated beyond obedience” is a great way to put things.

  18. says

    I agree with all of your points, but would add one more. Too often when we learn things at church it is taught as purely head knowledge. We assent intellectually to faith but don’t actually do anything. The problem with the over-churched (young and old) in my opinion is that they are over-churched but under applied. I think the missing part of most churches, not just youth programs, is that we teach stories without teaching how and why we need to live them. As many have said before we are always “educated beyond our obedience.”

    I think it is when we are encouraged to actually live out our faith that we start understanding our own weakness. As a 5th generation pastor’s kid, that was always in church myself, I am still struggling to understand how to transfer knowledge into action.

  19. Loretta Arts says

    I agree with Wayne. It’s time to go deeper. Children need to be challenged with deeper thoughts. I am teaching summer Sunday school from a book that I believe that God put on my heart to teach from, “Tales of Persia”. I’m telling the missionary stories and putting activities together. This past Sunday was about Jesus being the shepherd and the gate. They understood very well how we enter the fold, so I asked how we know the Shepherd’s voice. I was met with silence and then one little hand went up. Even though the answer was quite simple, “we can read our Bible”, it was a start. I talked our way through it as others had the basic answers, but they were listening hard. I went away rejoicing, because I felt we did go deeper and they maybe understood a little more about a relationship with Jesus is.

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