Children’s ministry pastor, Ashley Lee, of LifeSpring Wesleyan Church in Richmond, Indiana, started an after-school ministry for elementary students in Wayne County, Indiana.

The ministry, D.I.V.E, which stands for “Developing Important Values for Eternity,” saw nearly 130 kids prior to COVID-19 shutdowns and online school options staying after school, devoting themselves to learning more about Christ. Lee is quick to note that while she launched the program in her county, a fellow children’s ministry leader in the area is the one who wrote the curriculum and started the program.

Lee, who has worked in children’s ministry for more than 14 years, sees the fruitfulness in investing in children for God’s kingdom and wants to ensure that the children know “they are valued and loved by God.”

“Spreading the news of Jesus in the schools is the best form of unleashing a Kingdom Force in the next generation,” said Lee. “Seeing kids accept Christ, pray with their peers, navigate the Word and have fun together is so exciting! Each week, new kids would come because they heard about it from their friends.”

D.I.V.E.’s format is fairly unique, in that it meets kids where they are, rather than trying to encourage parents to bring them to the ministry. Following COVID-19, however, Lee and other D.I.V.E. leaders had to become creative to continue to safely engage with the children.

“Through the digital experience, we were able to promote to every Wayne County, Indiana, school — creating in-roads for future in-person programming,” Lee said. “I think it is important for us to be adaptable — where our mission stays the same, but our methods can change. This has proven key in this COVID season.”

Though not as many students are involved as before COVID hit, Lee says they averaged 89 viewers on YouTube in September and had kids from eight county schools, an after-school care program and several home schoolers participate in D.I.V.E.

“Teachers have told us things like, ‘you didn’t know this, but John* has been a completely different kid since joining the D.I.V.E. after-school program. We heard he [placed his faith in Christ], and we can see a difference in his life. John’s dad was murdered a couple years ago, and he was on a trajectory to be stuck in this cycle of drugs and poverty. We can now see the hope in his eyes, words and actions!’” Lee said, “This is just one example of how the program is having a positive impact on the kids’ lives. Parents are looking for something for their kids to do after school until they get off work, and this is an easy yes for them.”

Since starting D.I.V.E., Lee says she has seen families visit LifeSpring because of the kids’ involvement in the program.

“Our church began to see families come see what we were all about because their kids talked about D.I.V.E. so much. It created a ripple effect, and we are excited to see how this program grows,” Lee said.

Though she has experience in a wide age range of children’s ministry, Lee said, “It has been a privilege to instill Scripture into kids in a way that they can comprehend and apply it to their lives.” In recent months, Lee began partnering with other churches in the county to implement D.I.V.E. in other children’s ministries.

*Name has been changed.