You can successfully involve kids in intergenerational worship. Here’s how to get started.
I walked into the church with my children, feeling a bit unsure in the unfamiliar environment we were visiting. The church building reminded me of cathedrals I’d seen on television, far more beautiful than any church I’d ever been inside before. I looked down at my kids and thought, Oh my, I’ve brought three bulls into a china shop! Where’s the Sunday school room…stat!
But to my surprise, when I asked where I could drop off my kids, I heard this: “Oh, we don’t have kids church. We welcome kids into our service. Trust me, it’ll be fine. We want them here.”
All my “buts” rose to the surface: But what if they make noise? But what if they’re loud? But what if they squirm in the pews, or sing too loudly, or turn around and look at people? As we sat, I noticed a card tucked into the back of the pew. I picked it up to read, and my heart was instantly relieved. It said:
“To the Parents of Young Children, May We Suggest… RELAX! God put the wiggle in your children; don’t feel like you have to suppress it in God’s house. All are welcome!”
Farther down it read:
“To Our Other Worshippers… The presence of children is a gift to the Church and a sign of a healthy congregation. Please welcome our children and give a smile of encouragement to their parents. The way we welcome children directly affects the way they respond to the Church, God, and to each other.”
I relaxed. It really was okay… my kids could be here. My kids were welcome to worship alongside me in this church.
If your church or ministry is working to get kids more involved in corporate worship—whether in small doses or every week—read on to discover ways it can be successful.
Intergenerational Worship: An Evolution
Over the past few years, many churches have started adopting a similar mentality when it comes to including children in times of corporate worship. There are many reasons churches have moved in this direction. First, there’s been a rapid decline in church attendance from the Millennial generation, and some research indicates that one reason is a sense of “not belonging” in the large-church assembly. Fuller Youth Institute released a study in 2010 that traced church attendance of youth group graduates and found that those who chose to stay in church often did so because of relationships they had with adult members. In fact, “involvement in intergenerational worship and relationships had one of the most robust correlations with faith maturity,” Dr. Kara Powell notes in the article entitled “The Church Sticking Together”.
Another reason some churches have moved toward increased inclusion of children in worship is their view of the biblical and historical precedent for the place of children within the corporate gathering. Throughout the Old Testament, there are numerous places where children are included in the larger assembly. In Paul’s letters to the church, which were read aloud to the entire congregation, children are specifically addressed. Jesus himself welcomed children into his presence saying, “Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me” (Matthew 18:5).
So what does intergenerational worship mean in your setting? Good question.
There are many ways churches include children in the larger congregational gathering. Some choose to have a celebration service or combined service once a month or once a quarter. Others have specific service times and invite children to join them in worship for part or all of the service. Still, others have found that intergenerational small groups or midweek services are the best way to grow relationships in the congregation. To be clear, though, intergenerational worship isn’t simply having children come in to perform or hosting a service that’s fundamentally geared toward families or children. It’s coming together as a church family to worship and learn as one.
Ways it Works Well
Last year, the church where I serve started its own journey into intergenerational worship. During our 9:30 service, we include children with adults in corporate worship. We’re still getting a feel for how and what this looks like, but overall, our congregation has been excited to see the increased involvement of children and youth in our times of worship.
Intergenerational worship will look different in your church and in the church down the street. Don’t feel compelled to imitate something you’ve seen, but don’t be afraid to do so, either— especially if it seems like a good fit for your church. The key is to find ways to bring generations together in a way that complements your total church and its mission—not only your ministry or your mission. Cooperation between your ministry, other ministries, and your pastor is critical to effective worship opportunities. You may be the one who comes up with the initial plan, but you’ll have to be willing to honor and incorporate input from other leaders in your church.
There’s no perfect plan or way to do intergenerational worship “right.” It takes time and work because, in many ways, it feels like a new thing for everyone. It won’t look the same for every church. Some may have more hands-on interaction while others engage in traditional practices; some may include children weekly while others include them during specific days or service times. Regardless of how it works, though, it will be this: the whole church worshiping—together.
Perspectives: Three Generations
“What stands out to me the most is that having all the ages together now is ‘normal.’ It’s not a special treat or program that gets us together. It’s just the church gathering to worship God. One Wednesday night really stands out to me. I shared about salvation to kids and adults—and watched them learn together and from each other.”—Aaron Reynolds, 24, parent of one
“Having seen this from two points of view, I know sometimes kids need to learn in their own way. But I like that we get to do both [intergenerational worship and separate environments]—coming to worship before the Lord together, receive the Word together, and talk about it together. The kids are very mature about how they approach worship now. Their discernment about what true worship is—not just singing, but with their hearts—has grown.”—Fiona Richardson, 42, parent of two
“I love being able to see and hear others’ perspectives and showing the younger generation that you don’t have to be perfect. There was a time where kids never interacted with the older generations, and it broke my heart. Now kids are going up to people older than them and knowing they’re loved by the whole church, not just their own family.”—Barbara Robertson, 79, grandmother of many
Having Children Join in Worship
If you plan to have children join the worship service, keep these things in mind.
Communicate well with your pastor in advance.
You must be aware of the sermon topic and other elements of the service when children will be present. If the topic is inappropriate for young ears, agree on a different date for kids to join the service. For instance, if your pastor is preaching on a topic related to sex, it’s the wrong week to have kids listening in.
Listen for resistance.
You may have parents and congregation members who disagree with having kids in the worship service. Some of their reasons may seem silly (“kids are too noisy”) while others may have merit (“kids need to learn about God in an age-appropriate way”). Listen to what people have to say, and if you hear repeated concerns, talk through solutions with your leaders or pastor. The point is, hear out people’s concerns and work through ways to make the experience positive for everyone.
Adjust and correct when things go wrong.
If your first attempts are a disaster, don’t despair. Step back, assess what went wrong, and determine how you’ll change things in the future. If you’re stumped on how to make a situation positive, ask for input from your volunteers and other ministry leaders. And if something really isn’t working, be okay with scrapping it.
Part of your role when implementing new intergenerational worship strategies will be to do some internal PR.Talk with families, ministry leaders, singles, seniors, and others within your church. Outline your goals and the benefits of bringing the generations together for worship. Give some specifics about what you’ll do and why it matters. If possible, get your pastor on board for a little PR from the pulpit.
Transitioning Children Join in Worship
If you’re looking to transition to times where children can join adults in worship, consider these ideas.
Children have different developmental needs than adults, so age-appropriate ministry in a church setting is key. Adding windows rather than entire services of intergenerational worship can help children connect to the larger congregation in smaller increments while still allowing them to get the age-appropriate learning that’s so important.
Grow the ends.
Are there times where children are already in the service such as during commu- nion or for a children’s sermon? Consider bringing them in a few minutes earlier or allowing them to stay later so they get used to being in the service.
Ease in to new worship opportunities.
Start slowly, perhaps with one Sunday a quarter, where you invite children to join their parents in worship. On those Sundays, provide a special insert in the bulletin with a guide for kids regarding the order of service and bullet points of the sermon.
Begin building support.
Share with your congregation the reasons your church is looking to include children more in corporate worship times, and encourage them to pray for and welcome children when they’re together. If your intergenerational worship involves opportunities outside of regular worship times, share that information and the benefits to everyone of spending time together. Specifically invite those who do not have children or are empty nesters with no immediate family in the church.
Give children a chance to participate in an active way, such as helping with offering, reading Scripture, or serving as greeters. Being a passive observer is never as much fun as being an active participant, especially for children. While your goal is to help them learn about worship, you also want the experience to be enjoyable for them. Getting them involved, even in small ways, will make a positive impact.
Christina Embree is a family minister in Kentucky and blogs at refocusministry.org.
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