Children gather around an outdoor table for a summer Bible club.

Sunshine of God's Love

Children by the millions will never hear about Jesus from their mom or dad. But many fortunate kids may first encounter Him at a summertime Bible club in a neighbor’s backyard.

When I was an 8-year-old boy growing up in Southern California, I won a red-letter edition of the King James Version and a Bible-store novelty—a tiny picture of Jesus piloting a sailing ship through heavy seas. These awards were given for memorizing Scripture in a children’s backyard Bible club.

A soft-spoken woman who lived in our neighborhood gave the prizes to me. Early that summer, she put out the word that she was hosting a kids’ party every Tuesday afternoon in her backyard. Festivities came with the promise cookies would be served. I quickly committed.

It turned out to be a Bible study, and that was fine with me. I had heard of the Bible and Jesus, and they seemed important. Our teacher appeared to know Jesus well, leading us in songs about Him and using flannelgraph figures to illustrate stories from His life for us.

Soon, there was an assignment and a challenge.

Our hostess handed each of us a mimeographed sheet of Bible verses. “For next week’s meeting, I want you to memorize the first verse on the list,” she said. “Then we’ll each learn a new verse every week and, at the end of eight weeks, the children who can recite all the verses will win prizes!” The gauntlet had been thrown.

A week later, I recited the first verse. When the big finale for the contest came weeks later, I managed to recite all the verses though I was still largely unfamiliar with the Bible.

For my diligence, our hostess handed me a King James Bible. It was personalized with my name inscribed in gold!

Flipping through the book, I had no idea why so many lines near the end of it were in red but knew it meant something important. I also received a tiny print of Jesus, framed in white plastic, no more than 2×3 inches. It depicted that stormy sea with a boy—who appeared to be about my age—hanging onto the Lord for protection.

Though I couldn’t have explained why at the time, the picture perched on my bureau all the way through high school. I kept the red-letter edition even longer, reading it regularly when I became a Christian—16 years after I won it. The brittle cover of the inexpensive book crumbled a few years later. I still miss it sometimes.

I also miss the kind woman who was faithful in the Lord’s work. Like so many other unsung Christian women who have valued the lives of children, she was happy to share her greatest joy with all the children of our neighborhood.

Over time, the name of that woman who opened her heart and her backyard has faded from my memory, but she will never be forgotten by me.

Three girls move their homemade sailboats across a tub of water.

For a Craft

Give kids a little direction and a few crafting materials, and you may be surprised at how easy it is to spark their imaginations. The greatest gift you can give children is your time and attention. A trip to the craft store offers a great diversity of crayons, paints, clay, paper, glue, buttons and all the rest. But if you need to keep costs in check, look around—crafting materials are everywhere! Here are a few materials you may have around your house or be able to gather from neighbors or stores. We also offer some ideas for using what you gather.

Brown paper sacks and string: Use to make handmade books or journals. Have the children cut pages and a book cover from the brown paper and stack them on top of one another. Fold pages in half to mark the spine. Use clothes pins to hold the stacks together. Make holes along the spine using a hole punch. Thread the string through the holes and tie knots to secure the book. Encourage kids to write and illustrate a book about themselves or a favorite Bible story.

Old socks and a marker or two: Make sock puppets using markers to make eyes, nose and mouth. Older kids who can use scissors and a needle and thread safely can repurpose worn-out clothing to make more elaborate puppets. Use puppets to stage a theatrical Bible story or take them out during playtime.

Appliance/large box(es) and washable paint or markers: Help kids cut out windows and doors for a house or a minivan, or shape the box into a boat or a puppet stage. Kids can decorate it with crayons, markers or paint and use it with puppets to act out a Bible story or take it out during playtime.

Homemade clay: Several clay recipes are available by searching online. All are simple to make using pantry ingredients. One—perfect for making beads—requires mixing two slices of cubed white bread (crusts removed) with a tablespoon of white glue.

Rocks and craft paint: Encourage kids to find a rock and paint it to look like one of God’s creatures.

Wood scraps, wooden skewers, craft paper and paint: Make sail boats, above, using 1×6-inch pieces of wood. Pound a nail into the top of wood. Remove the nail to make a hole for the wooden skewer. Trim off skewer points and glue in place. Carefully poke two holes into a piece of paper for the sail. Paint the boat and sail, adding a Christian symbol (cross, fish or crown). Thread the sail onto the skewer. Download template for sail >

“He said to them, ‘Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.’”
Mark 10:14 NIV
Snacks are served on a table for a backyard Bible club in containers with Bible verses and Christian symbols.

For a Snack

The tradition of Christian hospitality started with Jesus. Throughout the New Testament, we read stories of Jesus breaking bread with people. All of those He dined with left the table nourished in body and spirit. It’s a wonderful tradition to share with kids. When craft projects are finished and the message that nourishes spirits has been delivered, serve them light refreshments.

Before eating, ask everyone to wash their hands at a garden hose or offer hand wipes, teaching that we honor God and show respect by staying clean. Provide lower-fat and low-sugar snacks with safe options for kids who have allergies. It’s important to accommodate the needs of everyone present. After a brief prayer of thanks, serve snacks in individual containers—cupcake liners or homemade paper boxes work fine. Lemonade drunk out of old-fashioned milk bottles or decorated disposable plastic glasses is always a hit. Add straws and a modest embellishment to each container to help everyone identify their own drink. Juice boxes and frozen treats are good summertime options too. Download drink markers >

Have fun by making the snack relevant to the message of the day. Teaching about the fruit of the spirit? Put oranges, bananas, berries or other fruits out so kids can eat the message illustrations. Sharing the story of the loaves and fishes? Mini loaves or fish crackers fill the bill. Download templates for cracker boxes >

A guitar and fish-shaped tambourine rest on a picnic blanket next to a tree.

For the Message

Children are naturally inquisitive and love learning. God placed an innate curiosity in each one of us from the time we were born. Think about how many questions children ask: What makes grass grow? Why are flowers different colors? Where do I come from? Kids’ questions offer the opportunity to teach about God, His amazing creations and His love for us. Answering these easily leads to telling stories about God’s son, Jesus.

You can help kids learn about the Lord through music, games and the natural setting where you meet. To improve comprehension, tell Bible stories using hand puppets or a flannelgraph. Get kids involved by having them act out tales, parables or other truths from Scripture. Read the story of the good Samaritan and have your club play the parts. Or have them perform the story of Zacchaeus, the short tax collector found in Luke 19, who climbed a tree to hear Jesus teach. An older child can climb on a chair or tree, if safe, as others sing the traditional kids’ song Zacchaeus Was a Wee Little Man.

Active games like Moses’ Kickball Croquet and Noah 2-by-2 help kids learn Bible verses as they burn off their excess energy.

Even in this age of sophisticated electronic games and high-tech toys, kids still respond to adults who care about them. For help with planning messages for children, go to:

  1. sundayschoolsources.com
  2. kidssundayschool.com
  3. sundayschoolprintables.com
“Let my teaching fall like rain and my words descend like dew, like showers on new grass, like abundant rain on tender plants.”
Deuteronomy 32:2 NIV
A small boy holds a Bible with the adult leader of a backyard Bible club.

For the Leaders

Sharing the Gospel with children is the goal of your backyard Bible ministry. Keep your eyes on that prize. There will be many demands as you organize this adventure. Time will evaporate as you line up refreshments, prepare decorations and pray about what songs and messages you want. Stay flexible so you can spot the children in your group who need special attention and an introduction to Jesus.

The Apostle Paul said we should always be ready to share the Gospel. Watch for the child who presses in toward the Lord, the child who eagerly responds to Bible teaching that he or she may never have heard before, and to the child whose face betrays life’s difficulties. Jesus said He came to seek and save those who are lost. Some of the children who come to your home for a song, a snack and a Bible story are likely to be among those He was speaking about.

A few years ago, Debbie Stewart was troubled by who was not showing up for her church’s annual Vacation Bible School. Only a handful who attended were from outside the congregation of Hermitage Hills Baptist Church in Hermitage, Tennessee.

“We had to go out to where the children were,” says Debbie, minister of children and preschool at the church.

The revamped program isn’t too different from countless backyard Bible clubs that faithful women once commonly organized during summers for neighborhood children. This tradition is still alive but not quite as vital as it once was. Debbie found the simple strategy of backyard outreach still works.

“At the beginning of each session, we have a large group gathering and some music time,” she says. “We have recreation, crafts, a Bible study and a snack time. There is an emphasis on life application, so kids can see how the lessons applies to each of them.”

Through her experience, Debbie has discovered some keys to success. Here’s her advice for those who want to launch a children’s Bible club.

  • Meet the parents. Invite children by walking your neighborhood to meet parents and kids. Hand out flyers stating where and when the club will meet.
  • Host a kick-off event. This can be as easy as setting up a few yard games and putting out a few snacks. This meeting gives parents a chance to get acquainted and ask questions. Make them comfortable with honest, direct answers.
  • Go where the kids are. Your backyard may be an ideal location for a kids’ Bible club and all its activities. If not, a local park may work.
  • Be flexible. Accept that only a few children may show up at times and that there are kids who will always arrive late. Also, learn to adapt to various ages. If you have a second grader, a few third graders and some in fifth, aim lessons at about the middle age of the group. If there is one older child and many younger, ask the oldest to serve as your assistant, helping smaller children with crafts and activities.
  • Keep it simple. You don’t need a yard full of decorations or elaborate crafts to share the Gospel with children. Kids demand little: Simple songs with fun motions, cold lemonade, a couple of cookies and an understanding of John 3:16 are all you need.
  • Attach to a church. It’s best to operate as a church ministry. In our litigious and often dangerous society, parents need assurance that adults have honest motives.

For more information, talk to a church youth minister. Child Evangelism Fellowship is also an excellent resource for training. Check their website at cefonline.com.