Circles Are Better Than Rows in Children's Ministry

What does your elementary ministry look like on Sunday mornings?  Kids in rows of chairs?  Kids in circles?  Both?  I believe circles are better than rows in children's ministry.  Here are some reasons why.

Circles are more conducive to relationships.  Kids want to be personally known.  It's hard to be known when you're just another kid sitting in rows of chairs.  But when you are part of a small circle of 6 to 8 kids, you can be known and build relationships with the other kids in your group.  Kids may walk in your doors because of a cool building, fun games and high-energy music, but they will stick around because of relationships they establish.  In a row, you're looking ahead at the person up front.  But in a circle,  you are looking into the eyes of other kids and a leader.  This is where connections can be made and relationships can be formed.

Circles create more effective learning environments.  Rows of chairs stem from the bygone industrial age where teachers prepared kids to work in factories.  Everyone was taught the same way.  Sit down and be quiet while I download information into your brain by lecturing you.  Problem is...that's the least effective way to teach kids.  But that's what you do when you've got kids in rows of chairs.

But when you place kids in circles, you open up an endless world of teaching possibilities.  You are able to replace lecturing with collaboration, engage all learning styles, do activities and crafts and get kids involved in hands-on, active learning.

Circles compel you to keep proper ratios.  For kids to be personally known you have to have the proper volunteer to child ratio.  Ideally this should be 8 to 10 kids for every volunteer.  When you have kids in rows of chairs you can skimp on your ratios and get by with it...but the kids are shortchanged.  When you have circles of 8 of 10 kids, it forces you to make sure you have enough volunteers.  Is it more work?  Yes, but the return is exponential.

Circles make intercessory prayer possible.  When kids are in a small circle with other kids and a leader, they can share real prayer requests and be personally prayed for.  In the ministry I led, we would even take time for kids to write down their prayer requests.  The leaders would then take the requests home and pray for the kids during the week. 

Circles encourage conversation.  When you're in a row, you are facing one person.  And as stated before, the conversation is usually one-sided, a teacher up front lecturing.  In fact, if kids try to have a conversation, they are told to be quiet and turn their attention back up front.  Conversation is discouraged in this format.

But when kids are in a circle, they are facing each other and conversation can flow naturally.  Questions can be discussed, ideas can be shared and deeper dives can happen.

Circles make guests feel welcome.  When kids are in rows of chairs, a new guest can come in, sit down and never be introduced to the other kids.  But in a circle, guests can get to know other kids and establish friendships.

Circles help kids attend more frequently.  When a child is part of a circle, they are missed when they are absent.  When a child is part of a circle, they are held accountable.  When a child is part of a circle, the leader can encourage the child to be faithful.  When a child is part of a circle, they develop friends who they look forward to seeing.

Circles give volunteers an opportunity to make a significant impact.  Long-term impact happens when leaders have the ability to invest in children individually.  This can't happen in rows, but it can happen in circles.  Volunteers want to know they are making a difference.  If they find themselves standing behind a row of chairs just helping with crowd-control, they will grow discouraged and not feel needed.  But place them in a circle, face-to-face with a small group of kids and they will embrace the challenge.  Kids will begin to call their name in the hallway and parents will know them on a first-name basis.  They can truly become a champion in the life of a child.

Several years ago, our ministry had the typical large group/small group format.  For 30-40 minutes the kids sat in rows of chairs and then moved into circles of small groups for the remaining time.  This was good, but we found we wasted precious time transitioning the kids from large group to small group.  So we decided to remove the rows completely and we brought round tables (circles) in.  When kids come in they are immediately connected to their circle at a table and remain there the entire service.  The results have been outstanding as kids are connecting, engaging and learning together.

Your turn.  The floors is yours.  Do you believe circles are better than rows?  Why or why not?  What format do you incorporate at your church?  Share with us in the comment section below.