Pray First: How to Engage Students and Motivate Them to Learn

1st in a Series on Engaging Children and Motivating Them to Learn

Marrena Ralph

He sat in the seat I wished wasn’t there—you know, that seat where the portable wall pulls out into the room and kids try to “disappear.” He sat slumped in his seat, a blank stare on his face. A few years earlier, he had been one of our most engaged children, earning awards, answering questions, singing with the rest; but now he just sat there disengaged, unmotivated, not participating or interacting with others.

My heart broke. I started praying for him and a couple others that I noticed were not engaged or had started pestering others during the lesson. Yes, they were among the oldest in the group, but that clearly was not the issue. Something was different, and it was not that they were ready to go to the youth department or were too old to be in the class.

Something was bothering these students. But what? My thoughts were constantly on the situation: “What can we do? How can we get them involved again?” As my husband and I prayed, talked, and thought about the situation and the ones involved, my heart broke further for them. Much had changed in their lives, especially the older ones: our church had moved locations (from one most of them had known since birth); the school they had attended had closed; and many of their friends had left the church for other churches. This particular child also had a sibling get married and move away and another one leave for college. The child was hurting. “Father, what can we do to get these children engaged in our program? How can we reach them? They are hurting. They aren’t bored, and they aren’t trying to be disobedient. They are hurting, Lord. What can we do? How can we get them engaged in the program so You can use the program to minister to them?” I prayed.

Each child is unique, which means there is no one-size-fits-all answer or technique for engaging students in a program. Some children want to grow up way too fast, others do not want to grow up at all, and some are babied by their parents, so they act less mature. Some children may be totally engaged in your services while others (even the same age) seem to not care. Some are spiritually mature, others are in the midst of an internal spiritual battle, and still others are baby Christians.

In this weekly series I will share with you ideas that will help children become and stay engaged—whether those students are listless with grief or do not want to participate for other reasons.

Before you read the remainder of the series, stop to pray. Ask that as you read, God will show you ways you can engage your students and motivate them to learn. Realize that teachers and leaders are nothing without God. We have no strength, wisdom, energy, or ideas that will work for our students without Him. Ask God to give you an effective ministry with children.

Marrena Ralph is the mother of five children. She was part of the team that created Kids4Truth Clubs. After Regular Baptist Press acquired the program, Marrena stayed on as clubs program specialist. She is available for consultation and workshops. Contact her at 866.754.4272 or

Kids won’t let you get away with it: you cannot fake excitement and zeal. So how can you be excited and zealous? Find out in next week’s article, “Be Excited and Zealous.

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