If learning to be a Christian is like learning a language, then teaching children to speak Christian is more complicated than it used to be. Families don’t go to church as much as they once did, and the culture does not naturally support Christian speech or Christian ways of thinking about the world. When children seldom hear the Christian language spoken fluently, they can’t absorb its structure, function, and content. They learn only bits and pieces to carry with them into adolescence.
Teaching children how to speak Christian is something I’ve been working on since 1960, primarily through an activity called Godly Play. Godly Play is a process of leading children into a form of deep play that leads to wonder, encourages them to ponder the source of the wonder, and allows for their insights to emerge. Godly Play invites children in to a beautiful setting and uses well-trained mentors to show children how to speak Christian.
Children learn new languages easily because they uncritically absorb what’s around them. They take what they experience in church and associate it with “Christianity.” The associated feelings get buried as the years go by, but it is always deep inside them as part of what it means to be a Christian. This is why it is so important that the foundational aspects of Godly Play are laid out intentionally and also beautifully.
In that light, consider the room in which children gather to learn about God. The room communicates simply and nonverbally what your church finds most significant about Christianity. Is the room beautiful? Does it stir wonder? Is there a warmth and welcome to it? Is it well cared for? Is it safe? Does the space highlight the importance of our sacred stories, parables, and liturgy? Is there room for silence?