Back in the day, Willow Creek Community Church put the “mega” in “mega-church.” Nearly 25,000 worshippers showed up weekly and Willow’s children’s ministry, Promiseland, shaped thousands of those lives.

At the time Sue Miller was directing Promiseland and, early one fall morning, I visited Willow Creek to meet her for an interview.

The hike to Sue’s office was a long one. Promiseland’s main hallway alone was bigger than my church’s entire Children’s Ministry area. Colorful murals and Disney-quality play areas stretched off in every direction.

Intimidated? You bet I was. You’d have been, too.

But sitting in her office, Sue told me something that’s stuck with me. “Half the challenge of a church this size is for us to feel small, to get people connected,” she said. “We don’t want kids to just hear about God’s love at Promiseland. We want kids to experience it—and that means we need for each child to be in a relationship with an adult who can model it.”

Sue’s insight has shaped my ministry with kids for decades—because she was right. Children’s ministry is all about relationships with God and others. That means we need to connect with kids, not just teach at them. And it’s not enough to simply tell kids about God’s love—they need to see and experience it, too.

But how do we do that? Through relationship, yes, but how precisely do we go about it?

Never let a week go by without stating clearly your kids are loved by God—and you.

6 Ways to Help Kids Experience God’s Love

I’d like to suggest six practical ways kids in your care can experience the love of God through you—because you’ll be loving those kids in the very ways God loves you.

1. God tells you He loves you—so tell your kids He loves them, too

Good news: your Wonder Ink lessons mention God’s love often, so you’ll frequently reassure kids of that truth. But other words you share—and how you share them—will either reinforce or undermine that message.

On days kids are bouncing off the walls it’s easy to let frustration creep in. About the sixth time a fifth-grade boy interrupts me I can get snippy—and that’s a mistake. 

Let’s be in the habit of relentlessly encouraging and affirming kids—even while correcting their behavior. Speak to your kids the way God speaks to you: patiently and with love. And never let a week go by without stating clearly your kids are loved by God—and you.

2. God knows your name—so greet your kids by their names

Greeting a child by name is relational gold. It signals the child is seen and valued—and what you say next carries far greater weight. I’m terrible at recalling names but have a safety net: in my children’s ministry we use name tags. If name tags aren’t part of your check-in procedure, consider adding them if only for this reason. 

When kids know you care about them, they’ll care about what you say. Greeting kids by name is an excellent start to showing you care.

Wonder Ink’s 3-year, 52-week children’s ministry curriculum offers kids space to fully find their place in God’s Big Story. Children discover they are Known by God, Loved by Jesus, and Led by the Holy Spirit.

3. God connects with you in many ways—so do the same with your kids

God is ever and always reaching out to show you His love. Affirming words in Scripture, the sacrifice of Jesus, spiritual gifts, the indwelling of his presence through the Holy Spirit, the warm and nurturing hugs of other believers.

God’s love speaks your language, no matter what love language you speak.

Gary Chapman, in his book The 5 Love Languages, lays out ways God has wired your kids to give and receive love. Most show up often in children’s ministry…except for touch.

You likely have a policy regarding when and how it’s appropriate to touch children—know and follow it.  But if you’re allowed to give high fives and fist bumps, or to place a hand lightly on a child’s shoulder, do it. If touch is a child’s love language, we want them to experience it on Sunday mornings. Jesus wasn’t above touching others—lepers included.

By the way, consider The 5 Love Languages required reading for every children’s ministry volunteer.

4. God responds to your immediate needs, so pray for kids right on the spot.

Jesus often prayed for situations and people in the moment. Praying for your kids as they share needs and concerns gives them a sense of their importance to you—and to God. They experience God’s love when you pause to pray for them, asking God to be with them.

Should you pray for kids between Sundays, too? Absolutely. And when you do, let kids know it when you’re next together. You’ll be modeling trust in God that they can experience, too.

5. God listens to you—so listen to your kids

Some say listening is how love shows up in relationships…and that’s true. So become an excellent listener, focused and attentive. Sit or kneel to get eye-to-eye with kids and don’t be afraid to ask follow up questions when kids share with you. Digging a little deeper shows you’re interested and often opens up deep sharing. Now and then repeat what you’ve heard to make sure you’ve got it right—kids will correct you if you’ve missed something.

When you listen well, you’re modeling God’s love. You’re giving your kids a glimpse of what God is eager to do in a friendship with them.

6. God invites your interruptions—so you be okay with them, too.

The lessons you find in Wonder Ink are prayerfully, carefully created. But we aren’t offended if a particular question prompts such a deep dive conversation with your kids that you decide to ditch the rest of your lesson and camp out there. That’s great!

When you listen well, you’re modeling God’s love.

We’ve invited the Holy Spirit to be with you as you lead, so don’t be surprised when the Spirit hijacks a lesson now and then. As you’re attentive to what’s happening in your room, and sensitive to the needs of your kids, the Spirit might lead you to interrupt your plans. Consider those interruptions opportunities and embrace them—they can lead to lifechanging moments in a child’s life.

Keep a keen eye on kids as you lead. Does a specific point ignite their imaginations? Do they seem to be especially attentive to a Scripture verse? As you lead be constantly asking the Holy Spirit to reveal ways you can encourage discovery and wonder.

Even if it derails your schedule.

I’m still grateful Sue Miller gave me that hour so long ago. God spoke through her and it changed me. And God is speaking through you to your kids, too. His love for them is boundless, His passion for their hearts without measure.

He loves them so deeply that He’s given them Jesus … and you.