Do you want to come with us to Togolese Children’s ministry this Sunday? We hope you do because we want to share with you the whole reason why we are here in West Africa! Much of what you see on a Sunday morning in Togo is reflective of what you will see across the entire West Africa region where we work. We want you to see these precious faces, hear their happy voices, see what their reality looks like. If you can come with us, even if it is just via a blog post, maybe you will see why the ministry to them is so important!
Across Africa, the three biggest needs in children’s ministry are training for volunteers, space for children’s ministry, and appropriate curriculum. No matter where we visit today, you will witness all three firsthand.
What kinds of programs does the church offer for children?
Different churches offer different ministry to children.
On a Sunday morning, some have both a Sunday school hour and a Children’s church.Some only have a Children’s church.
During the mid-week, a few churches have discipleship programs for children, such as children’s choirs or dance groups, scouting programs, or children’s prayer meetings.
Far too many churches have no ministry targeted to children at all. In these churches, either the children remain in the adult service on Sunday mornings or they are dismissed to play outside and wait for their parents.
Since we want to take you to see a Children’s ministry, we will choose a few that have active ministries and represent the reality across West Africa.
What will a Sunday school be like?
If the church offers a Sunday-school for children, they will divide the children by age into small groups. Even if they have a building, they won’t have separate rooms for Sunday school classes. They will partition a large space into several classes. Sometimes they are able to put up dividers made of plywood, reed mats, or fabric hung on clotheslines. More often, they don’t have any way to divide the classes. The classes just all meet at the same time in the same big space. This makes for a lot of noise!
A Sunday school hour may involve a time of prayer in which children are encouraged, one at a time, to pray for various needs. It may involve a song or two. But the primary focus will be a Bible lesson.
Teacher training is a growing movement and creative teaching methods across the region are gradually improving. It is still most common, however, to see teachers teaching using the only example they have ever had– rote learning. The teacher may read a Bible verse or part of the Bible lesson and have the children repeat it, in a back and forth call and repeat until the children learn it.
What will the Children’s church be like?
A Togolese Children’s church is a lot like a Togolese Adult service- Exuberant, joyful, expressive! (If you didn’t get a chance to come with us to a regular church service, you can read about it here.) There will be music- choruses that the children know, in a mixture of French and a local language. (Ewe, in the Lomé region). You may even recognize some of them as translations from older Sunday school songs! Usually a few of the older boys play the drums and children will dance and move just like they have seen their parents do.
Various groups of children may come and perform for the others- a choreographed dance from a dance group, a song by a children’s choir, or even a drama.
There will be a Bible-teaching time in which the children are expected to sit still and listen to a teacher. As with Sunday school, a teacher who has received training may be gaining skills at using games, storytelling methods, and illustrations to teach. An untrained teacher may still be relying on lecture and rote learning to teach the Bible lesson.
Throughout any service, whether it is a Children’s church, a Sunday school, or any other kind of program, you will see children encouraged to pray aloud. They are taught from an early age how to pray, and you may be surprised to see how much power is in their prayers.
What will the facility be like?
Space for children’s ministry is almost always an issue.
Occasionally, the church has a building for children’s ministry. This may be their own building, or it may be a nearby school that allows the church to use their space on Sundays. The building may or may not have finished floors or walls. Sometimes the children must meet in a passageway between the property wall and the outside wall of the church. Sometimes children meet under a brush arbor shelter. Sometimes children meet outside with no shelter at all, or perhaps only the shelter of a tree.
In Togo, it is estimated that 80% of churches have no shelter for children to meet. In 2001, we started a project in Cote d’Ivoire to build simple, inexpensive Sunday school shelters for churches with a heart for children’s ministries and a need for help. In 2007, we brought the project to Togo, and since then, the idea has been growing. You can read more about the Sunday School Shelter Project here.
How many children will be there?
No matter the size of the church, it is certain that there will be as many, if not more, children than adults. Children’s ministry spaces are almost always overcrowded. Sometimes there is barely room for the teacher to move! Because there are so many children, there are often not enough helpers, so you may find a classroom of 100 or more children being taught by only two people.
Imagine what kind of passion for children’s ministry it takes to volunteer week after week in a classroom of 100 or more children in which you have only one helper, there are no resources or supplies, and your service may last 2 1/2 -4 hours!
What kind of curriculum is the teacher using?
It is possible he or she will not have any. Some churches have curriculum and other do not. Many teachers teach with nothing more than their personal Bible as curriculum.
A few countries have curriculum options available to their churches. In Togo, it is likely that a church that has a children’s ministry will be using the Togo AG materials produced by the national children’s department. The curriculum is a good set of solid Bible lessons, but it doesn’t yet have any creative teaching ideas included (they are working on it) and many teachers don’t yet know how to use it. (They are also working on this.)
I promise to write more about the curriculum conundrum later, but this question is deserving of its own blog. We are working towards local curriculum resources for West Africa.
Teacher training, appropriate curriculum, and solutions for children’s ministry space, are the three main things our ministry in West Africa is focusing on. Growth in any of these areas translates directly into more children won to Jesus and discipled into mature believers.
I hope you’ve enjoyed your visit to a Togolese children’s ministry! On behalf of everyone involved in children’s ministry in this country, I would like to ask that you continue to pray for the ministry to the children of Africa. These are dedicated men and women doing a huge job with no resources. As they say in Ewe. . . . Mawuko. . . .”Only God.”