Church Profiles: Elim Church in San Salvador, El Salvador, and Vine Church in Goiania, Brazil
Jenny was sent out by the Elim Church in San Salvador, El Salvador, to open a children’s small group in a very poor home in the center of San Salvador. An older lady and her eight-year-old grandson, Leonel, lived there.
The neighborhood children packed the house to overflowing each week. Jenny recalls the lack of space as the children crammed in each corner to hear God’s Word, memorize Scripture, worship God, and pray together. Leonel’s rooster would often peck at Jenny as she gave the lesson. Despite the pesky bird and cramped conditions, Jenny pressed on for the sake of the children.
Jenny thought Leonel seemed very depressed and sometimes spoke about not wanting to live anymore. Jenny asked if something was wrong, but Leonel always avoided talking about his problems. Over time, and after talking to the grandmother, Jenny pieced together Leonel’s history. Leonel’s mother was impregnated at the age of 13 by a gang member and turned Leonel over to the grandmother. Leonel’s father had to flee the country, and Leonel never heard from him. He had only seen a photo of his birth father. To survive, Leonel and his grandmother sold roasted bananas on the streets.
The good news is that Leonel received Jesus in the children’s small group and began the process of discipleship week after week. He memorized the verses and faithfully attended each meeting. Leonel’s mood changed dramatically, although he would sometimes become discouraged because of his living conditions. Many of the neighbors around Leonel were gang members, and Jenny knew he was vulnerable. She gave Leonel special attention, asking him to help her in the small group. This made him feel important and needed. She also prayed fervently that he would stay strong.
Leonel did make it through those difficult times. He’s now 19 and testifies about God’s grace in his life. “Before I didn’t care about even living, but now I have a new purpose in life,” Leonel says. “Jesus is my priority now, and he’s helped me to avoid the mistakes of those around me.” Leonel now attends an Elim youth small group as well as the weekly church services. He dreams of studying mechanical engineering in college. He’s polite, respectful, and a trophy of God’s grace—someone who was rescued by an Elim small group in the dark, broken city of San Salvador.
Elim Church’s Approach to Reaching Children
Elim Church uses two methods for reaching children through small groups, intergenerational groups (IG groups) and children-only groups (CO groups).
IG groups are attended by adults and children. The children normally come to the groups with their parents.
CO groups meet separately from adult groups. The children have their own icebreaker, worship, lesson, and vision-casting time. The Elim Church will often target densely populated neighborhoods with the goal of starting CO groups.
To help better understand the differences between IG and CO groups, we’ll take a look at location, meeting time, leadership, leadership training and meeting order. After briefly covering the basics of IG groups, we’ll go into greater detail for the CO groups.
Groups meet outside the church building—usually in homes.
The groups meet weekly.
Leadership is shared. Adults rotate to teach the children’s portion of the meeting.
Like the entire small-group ministry at Elim, every IG group leader must go through a six-month equipping program.
Children Only Groups
Groups meet outside the church building—usually in homes. Many CO groups meet at the same house as the adult group, although this is not always the case. The children meet in a different room and are separated from start to finish, although the children might gather with the adults during the refreshment time. CO groups sprout up all over the city, wherever Elim can find a willing host for a group.
The small groups meet weekly and are often held at the same time as the adult small groups, but many CO groups meet several hours before the adult small group.
Leaders are chosen for their willingness to commit to a particular small group. Elim’s CO groups are led by those 16 years old or older. Normally, one member of the adult small-group leadership team will sense a calling to lead the CO group, go through the required training, and then become the leader of the CO group.
Pastor Mario Vega, lead pastor at the Elim Church, is passionate about discipling the next generation and transforming the street gangs into harvest workers for Jesus, but he also knows he needs equipped and competent leaders to get the job done. In fact, Elim’s training for CO group leaders is more extensive than the training for adult small-group leaders.
Along with the 6-month equipping program mentioned above, an additional 8 months of training is required for all CO group leaders. So it takes 14 months before someone is prepared to lead a CO group.
The additional courses for those leading CO groups include:
- Biblical theology of childhood
- Childhood education
- Children and adolescents with traumas and addictions
- Child protection policy
- How to teach children
- Dynamic teaching methods
- Identifying child abuse
Because many of the children in the CO groups live in gang-infested neighborhoods of San Salvador, small group leaders are prepared to spot and deal with childhood addictions and trauma. They are also trained to make sure the small-group activity and lessons are dynamic, fun, and fast-moving, especially since many of the children have lower levels of education and short attention spans.
The order for the CO group is the same as the IG group:
The welcome time kicks off with an icebreaker followed by a time of sharing God’s current work in the lives of those present. Because the icebreaker is only directed to the children, the leader can focus on children-related themes.
A time of worship comes next. The adult facilitator then leads an interactive lesson, which is sometimes connected to the icebreaker. The leader tries to dramatize the lesson and will get the kids involved to make the teaching more dynamic.
If the lesson is on forgiveness, for example, based on how Joseph forgave his brothers, the leader might ask the children to act out the story of Joseph being rejected by his brothers in Genesis 37:12. The leader might ask a child to play the role of Joseph going to his brothers to give them food. Other children can play the parts of the brothers. A couple can act out the parts of Reuben and Judah who tried to save Joseph.
To make it practical, the leader may then ask the children about a time when they were not understood or when someone treated them roughly when they were trying to help out. The responses might lead to praying for one another.
After the lesson, the leader transitions to the witness portion of the group time. The leader reminds the children of the need to reach out and to share the gospel with their friends, family, and neighbors. Refreshments follow.
Example of an Elim Children’s Lesson
WELCOME AND INITIAL PRAYER
WORSHIP THROUGH SONG (10 Minutes)
THE WIDOW’S OFFERING
ICEBREAKERS (10 Minutes)
SCRIPTURE: Mark 12:41-44
SEARCHING THE SCRIPTURE (10 Minutes)
TEACHING (10 Minutes)
1- THE OFFERING OF THE RICH. As Jesus stood by the box where people were placing their offering, he noticed how the rich were giving large amounts of money. Most likely the people watching were admiring the great amounts of money that the rich were giving. However, God is not impressed by outward appearance. He sees what’s going on in the heart. It’s more important to God what’s happening inside us than the outward appearance.
2- THE OFFERING OF THE WIDOW. Jesus saw a poor widow who gave just a few cents. Even though she had so little to give, she actually gave more than all the rich people. The widow gave sacrificially from the little she had to live on, while the rich gave their extra money that didn’t require much sacrifice.
3- WHAT GOD SEES. Jesus explained to his disciples that the rich gave from their abundance but that the widow gave all that she had. She gave the money she used to buy food to live on. She gave from her heart, but the rich were most likely giving only a small portion of their great riches.
SUMMARY: What goes on in our heart is most important to God. God isn’t as concerned about what we do as why we do it. Great amounts of money don’t impress God; what impresses God is the motivation of our heart. Think about what your heart looks like to God. To be pleasing to God, a person must receive Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord. He knows if a person has done this sincerely or just to make a good impression. Receive Jesus with all sincerity.
APPLICATION (5 Minutes)
Are there times you do good things but for the wrong reasons?
When do you care more about how you look to others than how your heart looks to God?
What are things you do to impress people and how can you change your heart so you desire God’s best for you instead?
How can you be generous and give to God sacrificially instead of merely giving God what you don’t need?
INVITATION TO RECEIVE JESUS
MEMORIZATION: Mark 12:44 (10 Minutes)
OFFERING AND FINAL PRAYER (5 Minutes)
The Vine Church
Another great example of CO groups is the Vine Church, which started in 1999 in the Brazilian city of Goiania, located in the western center of Brazil. Aluizio da Silva and Marcelo Almeida are the cofounders of this sprawling, worldwide movement.
In 1999, Marcia Silva, Aluizio’s wife, prayed and fasted for God’s purpose and design for her own ministry in the church. She felt like God was calling her to minister to children through small groups.
God gave her an ever-growing conviction that children were members of the body of Christ and were often neglected. God confirmed his direction by helping her multiply the number of CO small groups to the current 10,000 with 100,000 children attending these small groups worldwide. In the mother church alone, there are some 2,000 CO groups with 20,000 people attending them.
They call their children’s network “Radical Kids.” Marcia and her team have dug deep to understand the values behind children’s small-group ministry and the three most important are:
- God is a God of generations. He is concerned that each generation wins the next generation. God has called the Church to pass the baton of faith safely to the next generation, which means winning the children of the current generation who will eventually win their own generation.
- Children are part of the body of Christ. If they are part of the body of Christ, they must not be neglected or forgotten. The church must not give them less attention because they are small and helpless.
- Developing disciples who will win the next generation begins with children. The discipleship process begins as children. The church must think far into the future and start right away to prepare disciples who make disciples. This means concentrating on the children.
The Vine believes that children are best prepared to become disciples in the home environment, just like adults. They also realize that they will never reach the multitude by requiring the children to come to the church building. Rather, the Vine takes their CO groups to the neighborhoods.
Christ is developing his Church to reach children through multiplying small groups. But Jesus is also thinking of future harvest workers. While on earth, Jesus saw the people as sheep without a shepherd and said, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field” (Matt. 9:37-38). Jesus told his disciples to pray for new harvest workers to reap the harvest. But where will these new harvest workers come from?
Effective small group churches realize that a significant number of the next generation of harvest workers will come from those children who are currently in small groups. These churches are actively involved in reaching and equipping the children. CO groups are a wonderful way to reach children and get them involved for future ministry.