On Prizes, Drawings and Giveaways

Prizes in children’s ministry are tricky things. The general thinking by leaders is that kids like winning prizes. So we use them at outreaches and for special events. We’ll give away a couple of bikes or even an iPod or two. The hope is that the prize will bring in a lot of new faces and that we’ll have a lot of happy winners. But all to often, in reality what I’ve seen is two happy winners… and a whole mess of disappointed kids and parents who didn’t win the big prize. I’ve seen a lot of new faces in the crowd, but none of them were smiling on the way out. So are we really getting what we wanted and hoped for or is there a better way?

I don’t do the big giveaways… and here’s why:

  1. They cost a lot.
  2. They only bless one or two kids.
  3. They make the rest of the kids sad, upset, disappointed, jealous or even hateful.

Kids don’t deal well with the concept of Random. They get it in theory… they just don’t like it. It works fine for the randomly chosen winner of said prize… but to the rest of your group Random suddenly turns into just being Unfair! Remember how that felt when you were a kid? It felt Unfair!

What I suggest instead of a big prize drawing is a prize that everyone gets or must be earned. I don’t mind telling a kid that someone else got a prize because they said last week’s bible verse… because I can transform their disappointment into determination. I tell that child that they could get the same thing next week if they say their verses too.

Here are some examples. In an outreach situation, rather than a flier that tells of an iPod that will be given away at the event… what about saying that every child that comes out will get a bag of sour Skittles and a cold soda… plus a special prize at the end of service! Every child wins! And you’ve probably spent less on the candy and soda than the iPod!

For a special event at church you could have a prize for new visitors… and the kid who brought them! Every child has a chance to ‘win’ this prize… and any kid who doesn’t bring a friend that week could do so the next for a second chance.

Just a bit of thinking from a child’s perspective will help guide you when planning your next promotion in children’s church or sunday school. Here are a few of my guiding principals.

  1. Prizes shouldn’t be so big that it breaks the hearts of those who don’t win… but still good enough to work hard for.
  2. Every child has a controllable chance to win the prize. If they don’t win it’s because they didn’t earn it.
  3. All of the prizes are always the same per event. That way children aren’t comparing what others got over (or under) themselves.

Some would argue that it’s important that kids learn self-control and good sportsmanship… and I would agree. But I would also argue that we don’t need to create situations that put kids in needlessly difficult situations. I don’t know about you but I want my visitors leaving my service happy!

Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments.

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