During the summer, our church has an incredible opportunity to integrate generations during Sunday morning worship. This is unusual for us, as during the academic year our children and students have concurrent programs in separate areas of our church campus.
1. Acknowledge their presence from the beginning
I try to always begin our worship services by specifically welcoming children and making them feel welcome. A simple “we’re glad you’re here” can be a reminder not just to children but to adults as well that our children are just as much a part of the worshipping body as the adults. Including children and students on the worship team, tech team, greeters, as lay readers, and special testimonies can go a long way to make children feel welcome and included in the service.
2. Provide space for children to move
We began the summer by providing a large basket of children’s percussion instruments (shakers, small tambourines, castanets, and little bells) for some of the younger children to use during our opening worship set. I like to use invitational phrases such as “would you help us as we worship God together?” or “join us as we make music to praise God” when inviting children forward to use these instruments. I also had a wonderful member affix smalls streamers to wooden dowels that can be waved in the air. The younger children really enjoy dancing with streamers in worship, and it makes the room feel so joyful and vibrant, reminding all of us that we are children of God. As a church that values orderly worship, this basket-o’-fun might appear chaotic and distracting to some, but I hope that this healthy distraction reminds us all that worship can be fun, joyful, and enthusiastic.
3. Select age-appropriate texts
Of course, the debate of style will continue with each new decade, but I strongly believe that children must understand what we and they are saying and singing in corporate worship. When teaching a classic hymn, make sure the text can be understood by a seven-year-old, and select non-archaic forms if that is appropriate for your congregation. Insofar as it is possible, teach what harder words mean, which can be enlightening for adults as well as children. In prayers and other spoken service elements, having children in the service always reminds me to avoid “Christian-ese” and encourages me to speak clearly and concisely for all to understand.
4. Don’t change everything
While we do want to accommodate the presence of children in an otherwise adult-only worship service, we need not remove everything and create a “kid’s service.” This communicates that what we do every week during the rest of the year is good, it matters, and is important for our own spiritual growth. We still include a 3-4 minute congregational prayer, and this corporate stillness and quietness is received surprisingly well by children. They see us all pray together as a church, which reinforces the idea that prayer is crucial to the life of our church, and to our individual growth as disciples.
5. Resource parents
We started a Spotify playlist this summer for parents (and everyone) to use. We put the upcoming Sunday songs on the list so parents can play this in the car and children can come to church familiar with the music already. A second playlist contains a larger list of songs that we’ve sung the past few months, giving yet another opportunity to connect with the music and lyrics.
Last Sunday, an elderly member approached me saying “thank you for bringing such joy to our worship. When I arrived this morning I did not feel like singing, but by the end I couldn’t help myself!” I believe the presence of our children had much to do with transforming this particular person’s perspective that morning, and I hope that is true for everyone.