How can you tell if a preschooler is having a good time when you walk into a room? You only need to look around.  Is the room a complete and utter mess? If so, good job! They are having fun!

There are few moments of greater joy for a child than unrestrained play. Put a child in a room full of toys, stand back, and watch. Everything will be pulled out of place. Each toy will be picked up, judged for it’s potential for fun, and then either discarded in search of a better option, or tucked under arm to take to the next play spot. You can follow the path of the child through the room simply by following the trail of strewn toys.

A messy room does not bother a preschooler in the least. In fact, it seems like they thrive on it. A preschool leader, on the other hand, is constantly on the task of keeping things clean. Or at least, attempting to. Opposite forces moving in the same space each week.

One of the first chores we teach a toddler is “Pick up your toys.” They hear it at home. They hear it during play dates at friends’ houses. They even hear it when they play outside.  “Time to clean up! Pick up your toys.”

What would happen if we made church a place where they can make a mess?

While we do want them to learn to pick up after themselves, it’s also necessary sometimes to enable the “messy” inside of each preschooler. And sometimes, it’s necessary to not only enable the mess it but also to encouraged it! What if we planned activities designed to reinforce the lesson of the day that we knew they would love to do, even if the activity makes a real mess? What would happen to our preschool ministries if small group leaders became the Ministers of Messy?

We could, on occasion, pick out the messiest of activities and set them up for the little ones to have a great time. And in doing so, we give ourselves to creating the most joyful place for our preschoolers to learn about the God who loves them so and has a wonder-filled plan for their lives.

I think it could change the way they think about church. We very well could see them running to the door of their classrooms anxious to see what they would be learning that day. Just imagine what their parents would think as they stand in amazement that church could be so much fun.

Consider all of that. And then consider the necessary clean up afterwards.

Time is short on Sundays for most leaders. We only have an hour or so with our little ones to help them learn the lesson of the day. There simply isn’t enough time to have off-the-charts fun and clean up too.

Is it possible to “count it all joy” when the floor of the preschool room is covered with confetti that needs to be vacuumed before we head home for the day? Can we go from simply being present to being willing to stay a little longer in order to make sure that everything is done and clean? Our willingness to clean up a mess could very well mean that our preschoolers experience a whole new level of fun at church.

And isn’t that worth a little extra effort? I think that we could all use a little bit of a perspective shift if it means that we could all get excited about cleaning up a mess because a mess means happy little ones. We’re all short on time, and if you’re a volunteer, your sacrifice is incredibly valuable. Let’s be honest. Most of us aren’t thrilled at the prospect of cleaning after a handful of precocious (albeit precious) kiddos. But if a little bit of mess means a little bit of fun, then that isn’t so bad. And if a huge mess means that they were beyond thrilled with the fun that they were able to have—fun that connected them to a spiritual truth—then I think we can figure out a way for that fun to be had. If the cost of overflowing joy is fifteen minutes of extra cleaning, isn’t it worth it? I think so.

Those feelings of fun and happiness translate to how they view God and His family. When God’s house is a place of joy, children will be excited to come and join in the family of God.

What if we allowed our little ones to view church as the place where they have the most fun of their entire week?

Is it worth it?

Break out the confetti, and see for yourself!

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Barbara Graves

Barbara loves God, children's ministry, coffee, the Braves, and her granddaughter Eden-Grace. She's been in ministry for over 30 years and wishes she didn't have to sleep so she could write, teach, and read a little more.

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