Our Children Are Evangelizers
By Aristea Zekios
Train a child in the way he should go,
and when he is old he will not depart from it.
Proverbs 22:6 (RSV)
A child is taught by word, example, and experience. Of these three, experience is probably the most important because of its long-range effect.
An example of such an experience is evangelization. Children are a natural resource for evangelization. Their simple faith, trust in God, and desire to serve others can easily be channeled into evangelistic action. They learn to evangelize most effectively through experience - or, to put it in a child’s terms, “doing it.” No matter how much information is presented, children will benefit by “doing it.” And they’ll continue to evangelize in their adult years as stated in Proverbs 22:6.
One of the most constructive ways to show how the evangelization process works is to hold a “FELLOWSHIP FEST” or “FRIENDSHIP SUNDAY” (call it what you like.) The event can be channeled through the Church School, though the rest of the parish must share in the work. (That work will be mentioned later.)
The objectives of such an event are:
- To introduce the students to the importance of sharing their Faith with others;
- To help students recognize the importance of inviting othersespecially those who do not actively participate in church lifeto “come and see” who and what the Church is all about;
- To provide an opportunity for the students to “follow up” on their invited guests.
BEGINNING ONE MONTH AHEAD OF THE FEST . . . the priest announces the event and encourages the children (and adults as well) to bring a friend or friends to Church.
ON THE TWO SUNDAYS PRECEDING THE FEST . . . flyers about the Fest are distributed in the Church School class. (See sample) Church School teachers discuss them with the students -
- Encouraging them to invite one or more of their friends to the Fest, especially a friend who does not attend any Church or Sunday School.
- Emphasizing the importance of sharing their Faith with others by stating how Jesus Christ expects us to tell others about Him and the love He has for all people.
- Informing the students that special awards will be given to all who bring a friend to the Fest. Gifts are also given to all visiting children.
ON THE SUNDAY BEFORE THE FEST . . . teachers remind the students once again to invite a friend to Church for next Sunday. Students are asked if they have already invited someone, what responses they received, if they’ve made arrangements to pick up the friend(s) etc. Students who were absent the previous Sunday are encouraged to invite a friend to Church, following the guidelines provided above.
FELLOWSHIP FEST SUNDAY . . .involves encouraging visiting children to participate in the Liturgy and Church School with the students. It is not recommended that Liturgy books be given out to the visiting children. They become too engrossed in keeping their places and miss the essence of the worship. Following the final blessing, the students and their visitors are recognized by the priest by being asked to stand or raise their hands.
During the Church School class that students and guests attend together after the Liturgy, teachers -
- Allow time for each student to introduce his or her friend(s);
- Fill out name tags for visitors and students as well;
- Ask each of the visitors to tell the class a little about him/herself, including what Church (if any) he or she usually attends;
- Discuss the importance of sharing important things, such as our faith, with our friends;
- Record the visitors’ names and addresses for follow-up purposes the next Sunday;
- (Optional) take pictures of students and their visitors participating in the class. These pictures make an interesting bulletin board for everyone in the parish to see.
Visiting children are incorporated into the regular Church School lesson. They participate in the class project, join in the discussions, etc.
THE SUNDAY AFTER THE FEST . . .
- Discuss with the students how their friends felt about their visit, what they thought of the Church, how and why the students might invite them to come back. For the third grader and older groups, this is a good time to find out how many visitors were “unchurched” and to introduce this term to them.
- Ask the students to write a note to their visiting friends, thanking them for being at the FELLOWSHIP FEST and inviting them and their families to return for a follow-up activity, i.e. picnic, slide presentation, open house. Instruct the students to telephone their friends during the week to see if they’ve received the notes and encourage them to attend the follow-up activity. Those who show some interest in returning should have their names added to the church mailing list.
- Have the students write a short article on how they felt having their friend(s) attend the FELLOWSHIP FEST with them. They can include what their friend(s) thought about the Church or how their visitor felt that day. These articles make interesting bulletin board displays when combined with photographs. They can also be used for the parish news bulletin. (See examples of such articles that appeared int he Feb. 1988 issue of Young Life magazine.)
- Finally, adults will also play an active part in the FEST. They, too, are to invite visitors for that day. It is also their responsibility to provide special refreshments for all the participants, to send follow-up notes to the adult visitors, and make telephone calls as well. Of course, the success of the FEST depends upon its origin - the pulpit. The priest is a key person because the support and enthusiasm he projects can make or break the FEST.
Aristea Zekios is a member of Saint Luke the Evangelist Orthodox Church, Palos Hills, Illinois. In addition to serving as Church School coordinator in her parish, Mrs. Zekios is active in evangelization programs. She served as a panelist at the Eighth All-American Council and authors a series in Young Life magazine.