Laying A Spiritual Foundation In Preschool Ministry

Kelly Stockdale is the Preschool Director at The Orchard Fellowship outside of Memphis, Tenn. During Orange Conference 2015, we featured Kelly on Instagram, highlighting her work with preschoolers. We asked Kelly about her experience with her phase and how Orange is being used in her environments.

ORANGE: Tell us about your church.

KELLY: Our church, The Orchard Fellowship, is an almost five-year-old church plant in a suburb of Memphis, Tenn. We currently do not own our own facilities. We utilize two private schools one mile from each other, to meet on Sunday mornings. One campus houses our worship, preschool and elementary and the other houses our student ministry and our Sunday morning equipping classes. Even though we rent our space, our goal has always been to create environments that feel permanent—not so much a church in a box feel. We average 750 people on our campuses on Sunday morning with about 250 of those being preschool through high school. One of our core values at The Orchard is Family, and we have prioritized a significant portion of our church budget to family ministry (staffing, resources, environments, etc.). Even though our church is reaching a wide demographic age, the concentration of people coming through The Orchard is mainly 30-50 years old.

ORANGE: What was your first Orange experience?

KELLY: I had just begun serving with our preschool area when the decision was made to switch our curriculum for all of our family ministry. We had been using a curriculum that could be described as dated—it seemed to be “boring” for the kids and also was missing the parent piece. Not soon after we switched curriculums, I had the opportunity to attend The Orange Conference. I was blown away! Here were 5,000 ministry leaders and volunteers who were so pumped to get to do what they do. These were people who believed that there was no reason—when it comes to the Bible—that learning and fun couldn’t go hand in hand. And for as many times as I would hear about kids, I would hear just as many things about parents—partnering with parents. The creativity and passion for family was contagious!

ORANGE: Can you tell us of a time when you saw changes taking place within your church, within families in your community, within the lives of children, as you came to implement Orange strategies?

KELLY: You can’t live or die by what social media always says, but it definitely can be a source of encouragement at times. It has been incredible to see parents posting videos of their children reciting their Bible verses at home, parents posting about how much fun their kids had at church, and all the pictures of the kids and parents with the resources we send home to further the conversation.

I was leading a class on Playing For Keeps for a group of preschool parents this past semester. To get to know each other, I asked them to give their name, their kids names and ages and how they came to our church. Almost every parent said one of the main reasons they are at our church is because of how we partner with parents. One parent said she wouldn’t even know where to begin on her own to pour into her kids—and we make it easy for her to do so.

Last week, I received this email from a parent of a two-year-old who has been attending our church for about three months:

“I wanted to tell you that coming from a very large ‘mega church’ in Grand Rapids, I am so thankful that the preschool ministry at The Orchard is so similar to where we came from. “Partnering with parents” was something they strived to do and I felt they did well, but what’s more awesome is that the team at The Orchard is just as brilliant and well run. You are a beautiful body of people who embrace what true ministry is to children/parents. So, thank you! Thank you for helping us continue the conversation during the week. Thank you (and all of your volunteers and staff) for your hard work, your heart and your passion!”

When you hear and see comments like that, you know you’re on the right track. Our goal is to help parents “win” in their home. And when we get to see any evidence of that, it is the best feeling!

Another benefit to using the Orange curriculum and working with preschoolers, is that we have been able to take volunteers who are young in their faith or some who weren’t sure what their faith in God was and use them in some way in our ministry. Some of these volunteers didn’t grow up in church. They don’t know the story of Cain and Abel or Joseph. And sometimes, the best place for those who are young in their faith, is in the preschool environment. I have seen many volunteers learn so much alongside the kids they help teach! These volunteers do not start out in our lead small group role or our storyteller role, but they do serve in an assistant capacity at first. What’s been so neat is to see these volunteers growing in their faith throughout the years and now leading their own small group!

ORANGE: What Phase, or age-group, do you currently work with? What do you love about this Phase? What puzzles you about this Phase?

KELLY: I am the Preschool Director at The Orchard, which means I get to serve kids from birth though five years and their parents.

I love the Preschool phase for two reasons. First of all, who doesn’t love those sweet babies that come through your door? And with those babies come the parents. The two times in an adult’s life that they will typically give church another try is when they get married or when they have a child. We have a huge opportunity to “hook” parents in and make them want to “stick” with church. What an honor!

Secondly, I love how much information is being absorbed constantly by the little people we serve! To hear them repeating back Scripture, singing truth in large group and answering questions during the Make It Real time, is so rewarding as a leader. I joke that sometimes we don’t get to see the “fruit” of our labor like they do in our elementary ministry since kids typically accept Christ at those ages, but that doesn’t make our job any less important. We get to be the ones that help plant the seeds of faith in preschoolers—we’re helping to lay a spiritual foundation in them!

What puzzles me about this phase? I’m always trying to figure out how we can do more for our infants through one-year-olds. It’s such a hard age to know if you’re being effective. And maybe it’s not doing more for the kids, maybe it’s taking a more targeted approach to keep pouring into their parents to help them grow in their faith so then they can help grow their kids in their faith when the time comes.

ORANGE: What is your most vivid Orange memory?

KELLY: My most vivid Orange memory was in 2014 at Orange Conference when Reggie Joiner spoke in his main session. He spoke about tension—when we say YES to kids, we are saying YES to tension. As a believer (and frankly, as a Type-A woman), I believe I operate better in black and white. But when you deal with people, it’s gray. Reggie said, “Tension doesn’t make truth any less true, it makes it more real.” That main session challenged me in how I look at people, kids in particular. Because when you say YES to kids and families, you say YES to messy . . . you say YES to the gray area. I’ve thought about that so many times over the last year when I’ve encountered the preschooler who’s acting out for attention, the parents who are separated or the volunteer who is experiencing a personal tragedy. Ministry is full of tension and messy.

ORANGE: Is there a particular resource, book, product or event by Orange that’s been pivotal in your ministry? If so, what is it and what did you get from it?

KELLY: Hands down, the most instrumental resource/event from Orange, has been BabyD: A Baby Dedication Celebration. Until my first Orange Conference experience, I didn’t even realize such a thing existed. The breakout at Orange Conference and then the kit helped us think through the logistics of creating our own event. From the content/homework to the celebration event and everything in between—it is all designed to help parents feel the weight of their responsibility. We’ve been able to take the great content from the kit and make it our own, First Steps. We’ve even begun incorporating some of the principles from Playing For Keeps into First Steps. We reference the 936 weeks a parent has with their child until their high school graduation. One of the gifts we give the parents is a jar of marbles customized to their child’s age.

What’s been incredible to see is how First Steps has been used as a front door for a lot of these parents’ family and friends who may not attend church. We’ve seen their friends and family begin coming to our church after First Steps! But most importantly, we have seen the fruit of being able to get in front of those parents early in their parenthood and to help them realize that the most important thing they can do is to introduce their kids to a relationship with their heavenly Father. After all, outside of a person’s faith commitment and marriage vows what other commitment could be more important than the one we make to raise our children in God’s Word and impress upon their hearts a love for God? That’s the end that will matter the most in our kid’s life!

For more information about how The Orchard implemented the BabyD resource, Kelly wrote a series of blog post about First Steps on her blog.

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