Creative ways for churches to include children in
If you've ever dreamed of the children in your ministry becoming
more involved in worship and visible to the rest of your
congregation, you're not alone. Churches everywhere dream of the
same thing -- but many find themselves blocked by logistics,
resistance, and a drought of ideas.
Obstacles aside, nothing makes your ministry shine quite like
those opportune, creative moments when kids become part of
Children's Ministry Magazine spoke to a variety of
churches, and we found that some keep kids in their regular
services at all times, some have separate worship experiences for
kids, and others use a combination of both approaches. Churches
everywhere have created imaginative and life-impacting ways to make
children active, vocal participants -- and even leaders -- in their
So no matter your church's size or style, you can use these ideas
to excite kids-and involve them -- when it comes to worship.
Front and Center
Regardless of the size of your church, your kids can have a
super-sized role in worship. Read on to learn how churches have put
kids front and center in worship.
• Part of the Action -- St. Paul's Lutheran Church, a
congregation of 600 in Medford, Wisconsin, incorporates children
into church services "in as many ways and as often as possible,"
pastor Peter Warmanen says.
For example, kids regularly interact with Warmanen. They get to
blow out candles for Jesus' birthday at Christmas. On Palm Sunday,
kids lead a palm parade, and on Easter they gather up front to help
release helium balloons.
Seasonal celebrations aren't the only opportunities for children
to get an up-close view. In addition to weekly children's messages,
Warmanen often uses stories about kids in his adult sermons. Before
baptisms, Warmanen invites all the children up for a front-row
"By being right where all the action is, kids feel as if they're
part of the baptism," he says. "Oftentimes I even splash them with
a little water."
• Serving in Worship -- At First Lutheran Church, another
small congregation in Xenia, Ohio, children are involved in many
aspects of worship. They light candles for services and special
events, assist with the Lord's Supper, and even help clean up after
services and events.
"We encourage children to sit up front so they can be closer to
what's going on in the worship setting," says education volunteer
Catherine Bengson. "Many times when prayer requests are taken,
children will mention someone they know who's sick or in need of
Kids quickly pick up on the service, and they respond with gusto,
Bengson reports. "Repetition is very comforting" for children, she
says, and it makes them feel like they're an important part of the
• Learning in Seasons -- Children play a key role in the
changing seasons at St. Peter's Lutheran Church, a small church in
Toms Brook, Virginia, with 57 weekly worshippers. At
intergenerational events prior to Easter, Advent, and more, all
ages gather to learn the events behind the seasons, traditions and
their meanings, and church celebrations.
"That's a lot of fun and helps my congregation understand why we
do some of the stuff we do," says licensed lay minister Patti
At these special intergenerational events, kids make small
banners. Then on Sundays, they walk into church with the banners
and hang them in front of the congregation.
• Helping and Hands-On -- Numerous hands-on opportunities
also exist for children to play supporting roles in worship at
Immanuel, a medium-size church in Loveland, Colorado. During a
worship tracks program on Wednesday afternoons, kids can choose
between dance, artistic activities, and several choirs.
Family togetherness is another important way children are
incorporated into worship. Cheryl Wilkie, director of children,
youth, and family life ministry, says families sign up together to
greet or usher, run the soundboard, and light candles. And when the
pastor poses questions to families or small groups during sermons,
children are often the spokespeople who share answers with the
Kids love music -- and music loves kids. One of the most powerful
ways to incorporate kids into worship is through intergenerational
harmony. One church's program allows children to choose between
options such as bell choir, vocal choir, performing in a musical,
and "just singing" for the sheer joy of it.
• Melody Makers -- Music is an important way kids
contribute to worship services at Woodmen Valley Chapel, a large
church in Colorado Springs, Colorado. Woodmen Valley has a separate
weekend worship program for kids that's packed with music and
motions. But kids also lead "big church" at both of the church's
campuses about twice a year. Kids sing and perform using a blend of
choreography, jumping, dancing, and American Sign Language.
"When kids are up front leading the congregation, adults seem to
lose their inhibitions and join in the motions," says
communications coordinator Katie Haas.
All ages enjoy the church's largest children's community outreach
during a celebration weekend after vacation Bible school, where
kids teach adults some of the action-packed songs they just learned
• Harmony Helpers -- When the organist is unavailable at
the church in Xenia, children perform musical accompaniments. They
also frequently play piano or flute solos during offering. And
sometimes in the worship service, Bengson says, kids perform rhythm
instruments to a hymn. "That lights their faces," she says.
Just for Kids
Other churches have successfully created worship experiences just
• Wild and Crazy Worship -- Perimeter Church in Atlanta,
a megachurch with 4,000 weekly attendees, takes fun children's
worship seriously. Each month its KidsQuest ministry offers four
special services just for kids: a Blacklight Sunday, a Wild and
Wacky Sunday with Nickelodeon-style games, an Ike and Angus Sunday
featuring puppet mascots, and an In Concert Sunday.
All these services take place in a huge auditorium built just for
children that holds about 600 kids sitting on carpeted tiers. Brent
Weber, Perimeter's producer-director of children's worship, says
KidsQuest "shows kids that worship is fun and crazy, and that God
is a God of love and excitement." Their approach is working because
the auditorium is filled to capacity each week.
KidsQuest also teaches young people about leading worship. Fourth-
through seventh-graders can make a one-year commitment to be
Worship Kids who help develop and teach choreography and run the
lights and sound with the help of adult volunteers.
Discipleship is Perimeter's #1 ministry and is the focus of each
worship program, says Weber. "We engage children's imagination to
give them opportunities for transformation," he adds. Visitors to
KidsQuest plug into small groups led by church laypeople.
• Worship Worth Talking About -- You don't have to be
part of a megachurch to have an exciting program for kids. Just
before the adult sermons at First Lutheran in Xenia, children
through fifth grade gather at the front of the church to learn what
they'll be discussing that day in TALK: Teaching and Learning Kids.
Then they have a separate time of exciting Bible learning that
includes stories, arts and crafts, and songs. And after the
post-sermon prayer, children return to worship to sit with their
Resources that Bengson recommends for this type of program include
CDs from various VBS programs, as well as the Pray and Play books
(Group) and My Read-and-Do Bible Storybook by Debbie Trafton
When children actively participate in church, they develop
positive attitudes about worship and are empowered to serve and
praise God. And they're excited to come to church and Sunday
• Attracting People -- "Children want to come to worship
because they aren't just watching but are being included," says
Bengson. "The best thing I ever heard [from a child] was, 'I can't
wait to come next week to see what you're going to do.' "
As important as children's participation is to kids themselves,
Warmanen says benefits to the congregation as a whole are even more
impressive. Four advantages he lists: "We no longer have to pull
teeth to get volunteers for Sunday school. Worship is now more warm
and friendly. I no longer hear complaints about 'noisy kids.' And
the number of kids who come to church is higher than when I came
Warmanen's church has grown a great deal in the two years he's
been its pastor. "In a small town like Medford, people hear whether
or not a church is welcoming to children," he says.
He's also been performing "tons" of baptisms, some of which occur
because kids have asked their parents if they're baptized. "Because
our kids get a front-row seat for baptisms, they now have a great
interest and understanding of its importance," Warmanen says.
• Togetherness -- More families are worshipping together
at Immanuel, now that children play a key role in worship. "When
the family comes to see their child being involved, they stay and
worship together," Wilkie says.
Despite discouraging demographic trends in their area, Bengson's
church also has been able to attract more young families because of
the church's welcoming atmosphere. And an increasing number of
longer-term members now bring their children, she says.
• All-Inclusiveness -- "Connections across generations"
is another bonus of keeping kids visible in worship that Bengson
values. "The older adults know about children's gifts and talents
and are able to communicate and share with them," she says.
"Children frequently hug the older ladies all sitting in the back
pew. And when we share the peace during worship, all ages hug and
mingle and share the blessing."
Having the rest of the congregation familiar with the church's
children creates opportunities for mentoring, Bengson adds. Mentors
remember birthdays and special holidays and check in periodically
to see how things are going. Some pairs go to lunch or to the park
together for one-on-one sharing time. "That's beneficial to the
quieter children who don't easily speak with adults," she
• Worship That Works -- In general, there's "a more open
feeling of family" at First Lutheran in Xenia because children are
involved, Bengson notes. When children are invited to be full
participants in worship, "their eyes take in the attitudes and
feeling of all God's people gathered there for love, forgiveness,
and reconciliation," she says.
A 5-year-old girl at First Lutheran sums up the benefits of
incorporating kids into worship: While returning to her seat from
the front of the church, she proclaimed, "That's great-God loves
Stephanie Dyslin Martin is a freelance writer and editor in
Creative worship activities occasionally require creative
problem solving. Children's ministry leaders share obstacles they
face when children play active roles in worship.
• Numbers Game -- "One challenge we face is not knowing
exactly how many kids will show up to participate in leading
worship at 'big church,' " says Haas. "We have sign-ups ahead of
time, but inevitably kids show up and see us practicing and want to
Because they don't want to turn anyone down, adult leaders have
learned to stay flexible. "We always find a place for kids."
The payoff for adapting to this challenge is having powerful
kid-led worship. "The congregation loves when the kids are involved
in the service," Haas says. "There's rarely a dry eye in the
Tips for success:
• Keep track of average attendance. Plan for 10
percent over typical attendance numbers.
• Create a sign-up rotation and cap it at a reasonable
• Foster an inclusive atmosphere.
• Control Issues -- While Warmanen strives to help kids feel
comfortable in regular worship services, he says they sometimes get
almost too comfortable participating. "Occasionally they're almost
out of control during the children's sermon, especially if I use
too many props," he says.
"I think that's partly because they see me more as a friend or a
big kid than as a pastor," Warmanen explains. "Occasionally, I have
to get a little more stern to keep them behaving."
But he adds that he'd much rather have kids be too comfortable
Tips for success:
• Set a few ground rules with kids and remind them gently of those
rules when behavior slips.
• Don't overstimulate kids with an abundance of props, supplies,
activities, or information. Keep it simple.
• Redirect kids when misbehavior happens. Assign roles of
responsibility to your most challenging kids.