Big Church Hurts

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“The Bible is hard to
understand.”

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We may not know the percentage of churches that use
difficult-to-understand Bible translations, but it’s safe to say
many churches rely on versions that aren’t easy to read-even for
adults. Did you know the New International Version has a
seventh-grade reading level? Determine the
reading level of your church’s Bible of choice
.

For kids listening or reading along with parents during big
church, the passages they’re exposed to may not make sense or may
sound like a foreign language to their young ears. Even churches
that use a common-language translation aren’t likely to tailor
their Scripture readings so kids can follow along and understand.
This big-church obstacle is significant, because kids who are
picking up on the prior message that they’re not included in the
worship service also get the message that they can’t make sense of
the most important book of their faith-a huge double-whammy.

“Faith is just for older people. Someday I’ll love
Jesus.”

This message is often the cumulative effect of a variety of
signals kids receive during their big-church experience. When kids
see that only big people seem to understand and find meaning in the
songs, message, and Bible, it’s a logical conclusion for them that
faith is only for big people. One day, in the far-off future,
they’ll be big too. And, maybe, they’ll believe then.

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Solutions For All Sizes

There are some significant obstacles inherent in having children
attend a full adult worship service every Sunday. But as Sanders
states, there are important benefits of having kids experience at
least part of Sunday morning worship. So is it possible to strike a
balance between teaching children at their own cognitive level,
while at the same time letting them experience worship with a full,
unified church body that includes all ages of Christians?
Quite simply, yes. Here are some options churches are using to do
just that.

Incorporate Kids
One way to make the corporate worship experience relevant
to kids’ lives is to include them in the fabric of it. Aylesford
United Baptist Church in Aylesford, Nova Scotia (featured in the
book Comeback Churches) strategized to involve kids in the larger
worship service by including them in the worship band, providing a
regular emphasis on children, and holding different family worship
services throughout the year. Other churches have kids making
announcements, passing offering plates, reading Scriptures, singing
in the choir, and more. When kids have regular avenues to
participate, they learn that the service applies to them. They see
that they are participants, not distractions or disruptions.

Mix It Up
Another solution is to have kids experience corporate worship with
their parents for a portion of the service, and then release them
to small groups before the main message begins.
“I recommend that children go for the first portion of the
multigenerational worship service and then dismiss them to their
own age-group experience,” explains Sanders. “This offers the best
of both worlds. Children are seen and valued, children can
participate in the larger faith community, parents can worship with
their children, and age groups receive ‘age-appropriate’
teaching.”
While this seems like a solution ideal for smaller churches,
Sanders notes that his own church is fairly large and the system
works well.
Kyle Zoboroski, a second-grader in Houston, Texas, attends church
every week with his parents. He says he loves going off to
children’s worship rather than staying for the sermon during big
church.
“I think I learn more because it’s a story with pictures,”
Zoboroski explains, “and they have lots going on.”

The New DO’s
Follow these tips for ensuring kids are experiencing and learning
what you want them to-and not something else-during big church.

DO provide kids with weekly packets that are
developmentally appropriate for each age group and have a direct
tie with that week’s message.
DO offer small items that’ll help children listen
to the sermon. Work with your pastor in advance to plan for small
manipulative items kids can hold and play with that have a bearing
on the message. For instance, kids can hold small plastic fish
while the pastor talks about the feeding of the 5,000. If you’re
lucky, your pastor may work in a children’s message that includes
the item, and then kids can take it home as a reminder of what they
learned.
DO make the sermon relevant by giving
age-appropriate examples throughout. A mention of homework,
cleaning a room, or playing soccer can perk up a child’s
ears.
DO give kids a simple word list with pictures and
definitions of terms they’ll hear during the service. Encourage
them to read through the list with their parents before the service
starts, and listen for the words during the service.
DO provide children’s Bibles so kids can look up
Scripture references during the service.
DO encourage parents to help their kids sing
along with songs that have printed lyrics by following the lyrics
with a fingertip while singing.
DO provide snacks for younger children such as
fish crackers and water bottles in case they need a boost during
the service. Older kids love peppermints, and the hidden benefit is
that these little treats help keep kids alert. Consider including a
few of these in your weekly packets.
DO ramp up your creativity and willingness to
work with your pastor and families to make the big-church worship
experience engaging for kids-and explain why you’re making the
effort.
DO offer three discussion questions that relate
to the week’s message that parents can talk about at home with
kids.
DO eradicate random word searches, coloring
pages, and other busywork that’s solely meant to keep kids occupied
while they sit in the service.
DO work with your pastor and senior
leaders
to find ways to include children in all aspects of
the service, and then encourage all kids to do so rather than just
a handful of “good” kids.

• • •
Establishing worship as a lifelong, joyful habit within kids is
every children’s minister’s dream. And making kids’ big-church
experiences healthy and positive is key to developing an attitude
of worship that’ll nourish kids’ souls and give them a faith that
starts now-and lasts when they’re big. cmDebbie Vallejo (above) a
children’s minister for 15 years, lives in Frisco, Texas.
Jennifer Hooks (below) is the managing editor for Children’s
Ministry Magazine.

 

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