Genuine Worship: Children’s choirs. Children’s bulletins. Children’s sermons. Children’s church. Sounds like kids in our churches today are really a part of the action, right?
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I’ve asked pastors and other worship leaders how they involve kids in worship. These people usually list the standard things-bulletins, choir, sermons.
Are these the only ways children are part of worship services? Sadly, yes. The churches that break this pattern are few and far between.
And the kids are paying for it. Two-year old Morgan cries when no one speaks to her during greeting time. And 11-year-old James is really in between-too old to be part of a children’s sermon, too young to join the “adult” choir. Kids such as Morgan and James need to be involved in relevant worship experiences.
In a CHILDREN’S MINISTRY Magazine survey, 60 percent of churches say they provide alternative experiences to involve kids in worship. Forty percent of churches said they involve children in the regular worship service. For both types of churches, involving children in the worship life of our churches should be a priority, a privilege, and a blessing.
But how can you make children feel part of an adult corporate worship service? Try these kid’s ministry ideas:
*Form a committee! Not just any old committee, but one that includes children of several different age groups. Also include at least one adult who’ll be the children’s advocate when discussing changes with the worship committee. Some of our best ideas in children’s ministry come straight from the kids themselves. Do they want to help pick hymns to sing? light the candles? be ushers? What about having a regular Kids’ Sunday where kids do everything-from reading the gospel message to singing special music?
*Include children. Get kids doing things often during the service as readers, soloists, acolytes, greeters, and ushers. Give them each a job and teach them how to do it. Pride of ownership is an important part of belonging.
*Teach kids about your worship traditions. Incorporate the parts of the worship service, such as a special prayer response or offering hymn, into the Sunday school hour. Periodically, kids can learn a new part of the worship service-it’s more fun when they can join in!
*Involve specific classes. Have different Sunday school classes and their teachers lead the prayers of the church during the worship service. And remind congregation members to pray for the children throughout the week as well.
*Have kids create prayers. During Sunday school, have a class write a special prayer or litany to be used during the service by the entire congregation. Then allow that class to lead the congregation in that prayer or litany.
*Use kids’ artwork. Ask different classes to design bulletins to be used for the worship service. Photocopy their artwork to make the bulletin covers for everyone in the service.
*Educate parents. For the smallest children, print a brochure for their parents with suggestions about appropriate church toys and snacks. See the “Church Survival Kit” box for ideas. Although some people object to these diversions during the service, it’s better to make the worship experience enjoyable for small ones. A gradual introduction to the worship service is a good way to teach children proper behavior during the service.
*Provide resources. Put your children’s library books on a cart or shelf near the church entrance and encourage children who might be restless to check out a book or two to look at quietly during the service. So much the better if the books you place on the shelves correspond to the sermon message!
*Make sermons relevant. Encourage the pastor to include examples that involve children’s lives and experiences within the sermon. If the pastor’s sermon is about loving your neighbor, why not use an illustration about two friends fighting over a bike and how to resolve the conflict? Children have an easier time grasping the true meaning of the message when they’re clued in that it also includes them.
*Use various mediums. Although children thrive on predictable routine, encourage worship leaders to vary parts of the service. A drama that retells the Bible story or even a puppet show can share God’s message in a meaningful way to children and adults alike. Have the children act out the Bible story as an adult narrates.
*Revamp the children’s sermon. Encourage the children’s sermon leader to sit and speak on the kids’ level. Suggest that he or she focus on one point at a time, using props, and citing examples from a young child’s perspective. If a children’s sermon is truly for children, then it must be simple and to the point. Advise the children’s sermon leader to avoid abstract object lessons that often go over a child’s head.
Another point: The children’s sermon is just that. It’s for children, not adults. If your children’s sermon leader is using the sermon to subtly (or not so subtly) communicate to adults, gently correct him or her. If a children’s sermon is all your church does to involve children, it’s a crime to make it so heady and adultlike that kids still feel worship is not for them.
Take another look at your worship service. If you have children running cars over the pews, climbing between parents’ legs, or just bored to tears, you need to do something. When you welcome and involve children in worship, you’ll follow Jesus’ admonition to “let the little children come to me”– for they belong to the kingdom of God.
CHURCH SURVIVAL KIT
For church-friendly toys and snacks, let parents know these do’s and don’ts:
Do bring: Books, soft toys, blank paper or coloring books, crayons, Wikki Stix, pipe cleaners, and Magna Doodle or Etch-A-Sketch.
Don’t bring: Toys with lots of pieces such as plastic building blocks, marbles or puzzles, cars, hard toys with banging potential, or plastic figurines.
Do bring: Chewy fruit snacks, a closed thermos with water (if drinks are allowed), Cheerios, and Wheat Thins.
Don’t bring: Citrus fruits, peanut butter, bananas, crumbly foods such as granola bars or cookies, or soft drinks.
Debbie Trafton O’Neal is an author in Washington. Please keep in mind that phone numbers, addresses, and prices are subject to change.