Children's Church Structures -- How a Missionary Family is Impacting the Next Generation
It is Sunday morning. As you stand in your church’s foyer, you observe families arriving at church. The adults enter the sanctuary for worship; their children are excited and eager as they join their friends and head to children’s church. There, trained workers welcome them. In this setting, these children are safe, will experience lively worship, and will learn from God’s Word. Your church believes that ministry to children is a priority.
But things are different across the continent of Africa. According to Scott Berkey, an Assemblies of God missionary serving in Kenya, “The majority of churches in Africa (usually less than 10%) have no room or dedicated space for the next generation to hear and learn about the love of Jesus.”
“Many times children are either chased away or forced to have class outside,” James Thuo, national children’s ministry director for Kenya Assemblies of God, remarks.
When Scott and Sarah Berkey, along with their three teenage children, arrived in Kenya to work with the NextGen team of the Kenya Assemblies of God (KAG), they quickly discovered that even though the KAG had more than 4,000 churches, only about 400 churches understood the priority of ministry to children and had constructed places for children to meet on Sunday morning.
At most of the churches the Berkeys visited, children were either meeting early in the morning before the adult service or they met during the adult service outside under a tree. Scott described one church they visited. “This church had more than 500 children meeting under a tree each week. If the sun was too hot or if the rain was too heavy, the church canceled children’s church and the children had to stay home so they would not interrupt the adult service.”
Africa’s Children is working to change that. Its mission is to develop a healthy ministry to children and teens within walking distance of every one of the more than 650 million young people living in Africa.
The Berkeys had heard about the children’s church structures that had been built in other places in Africa, so they reached out to Mike Ness, the director of Africa’s Children. Scott wanted to discuss how he could start this program in Kenya. After learning from Ness, the Malcoms, and other AGWM missionaries serving children across the continent, Scott developed a plan with Thuo to begin building children’s church structures in Kenya.
Berkey and Thuo decided to build the first structure near Kimana, Kenya, at KAG Enkii — the church that had more than 500 children meeting under a tree. This structure was completed in November 2021. But God was not done.
God was continuing to move on the Berkey family. They knew one structure was just the beginning. As Scott, Sarah, and their family began to pray, they felt strongly God was calling them to build at least one structure in every district across the country. The KAG has 57 districts and the cost of each structure is approximately $2,000 (USD). They were not sure how they could accomplish this goal, but they knew this was from God.
Africa’s Children helped the Berkeys accomplish this goal by providing the cost of the first structure. Then, as churches throughout the United States heard about the Berkey’s goal, they started sending funds through Boys and Girls Missionary Challenge (BGMC) and to the Berkey’s AGWM account for these structures. “It was incredible to sit back and watch God work,” states Scott.
But this was more than Scott and Sarah’s project. When couples accept the call of God to become missionaries, their children often work alongside their parents to fulfill God’s call on their lives. This is true for Myah, who is Scott and Sarah’s daughter.
In January 2022, 14-year-old Myah had a project for school. This project was designed to challenge 8th graders not only to learn but to do something that would make a difference in the world around them.
Myah decided she would use her project to raise funds and awareness for the need for children’s church structures in Kenya. Her goal was to raise $2,000 to build a children’s church structure. She chose the Mara district because her family loved to visit the Masai Mara and see the animals. Every time Myah visited there she saw boys and girls from the community walking around. She remarked, “I want them to learn about Jesus. I know Jesus loves them and they will love Him, too, if they can hear about Him.”
As part of her project, Myah had to develop a marketing plan. She explained, “I created social media posts, made a video showing a miniature children’s church structure, and sent text messages and emails to friends and family.”
A friend and mentor, David Boyd (former BGMC director), encouraged her to not put a lid on what God wanted to do in Kenya. He told her, “Do not say ‘I want to build one structure,’ but instead say, ‘I want to put up as many structures as possible.’” Because of Boyd’s challenge, her goal immediately went from building one children’s church to building multiple structures.
After the first week, Myah had raised more than $3,500. By the time of her presentation at the end of the school year, she had raised almost $14,000 — enough to build seven structures.
Later Myah visited the structure that was built in the Mara District. Myah exclaimed, “It was incredible to see the boys and girls enjoying church in their new structure.”
At the end of the adult service, the pastor asked Myah to come to the front of the auditorium. He told the congregation that she had blessed their church with the children’s auditorium. He asked the church to show Myah their appreciation. Scott and Sarah stood back and watched as nearly every person in the church presented Myah with beaded jewelry and other gifts they had made. They were thankful how God had used this teenager to provide their children a place out of the sun and rain to worship.
Myah has a heart for this project and is continuing to spread the word that Kenyan kids need structures at their churches. She says, “We want a healthy kid’s church within walking distance of every Kenyan child and teenager.”
Thuo explains, “When we build a children’s structure and a children’s ministry begins to grow, suddenly the church, and even the district, sees the value of children. As children are discipled, they begin to bring their entire family to church.” One example is Yves.
Yves’ mother gave birth to him before she was married and she was raising him as a single mom. When Yves was 5 years old, one Sunday he heard kids singing, “Who is a child of God? I am a child of God.” Yves told his mother they needed to go to that church. Every Sunday morning he pestered his mom to take him to church.
One Sunday his mother got Yves dressed and ready for the 6:30 a.m. children’s church service. However, Yves did not go home at 8 a.m. like the other kids. Instead, he stayed with his mom and made sure she went to adult church. Soon Yves’ mom gave her heart to the Lord. Yves is now an adult who serves as a church usher and is on the security team.
Pastor Yembe, Yves’ pastor, states, “The soul of a child is the same as that of an adult. God is just as concerned with children as He is with adults coming to Him.”
Yembe continues, “Unfortunately, not every pastor has this same burden for ministry to children. In some African countries, church leaders don’t prioritize ministry to children. These churches miss the opportunity to start a child on the right path, a path that can lead them to years of faithful service to the Lord.” But this is changing.
As the children’s structures were built, one district saw the impact these structures had on their churches. The district raised money to build a children’s church for one of the churches in its district.
“They raised the money for the floor and the walls,” Thuo says. “When they came to us and asked for help finishing the roof, we were excited to help them finish. As a result of these structures, we are seeing entire villages changed for the kingdom of God.”
Up to that point, the Berkeys had completed 45 children’s structures in Kenya. In May 2023, they learned that two churches in America had sent funds to build an additional 16 structures.
“It is incredible to think about how much God has done in the last 18 months for the boys and girls of Kenya,” Scott says. “Those 60 structures represent thousands of children who now have a place to go, out of the sun and the rain, where they can learn about the incredible love of Jesus.”
Even with the success of their ministry, they are not finished. As Myah stated, “We want a healthy kid’s church within walking distance of every Kenyan child and teenager.”
*This article originally appeared in volume 9, issue 4 of Worldview magazine. Used with permission. Edited for style.