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Big Church Hurts

Debbie Vallejo and Jennifer Hooks

"The Bible is hard to understand."

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.

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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