by Shannon Rains
SURVEYING THE LANDSCAPE
As churches consider returning to their church buildings for Sunday morning worship, many church leaders wrestle with a difficult reality. Because of social distancing guidelines, children’s worship and children’s Bible classes may not reopen yet.
Corporate worship, otherwise known as “big worship” by children everywhere, will be the only in-person opportunity for children.
For some churches, this is not new. In many congregations, children attend “big church” with their parents, at least for part of the service if not all of it.
For other churches, children’s worship is offered in place of children attending corporate worship with their families. For these churches, “family worship” will be a big change, and in truth, family worship might not be anything more than kids sitting with parents, disinterested, trying to be on their best behavior, and wanting to go home.
We can do better. Much, much better!
SOCIALLY DISTANCED CHURCH THROUGH A CHILD’S EYES.
It is Sunday morning. Families are pouring into the auditorium of your church. Children are seeing their friends for the first time in months. Suddenly, the joy of returning to church drains from the children’s faces as they realize that everything is different. There are even more rules, and the friends that they missed so desperately are mostly off-limits.
I asked my eleven-year-old son what he thought about returning to church during social distancing. His face perked up and he exclaimed how excited he was to finally see his friends. I explained the social distancing rules to him. He listened, thought, and then said, “Don’t make me go back until I can be with my friends, too.” I asked him why this was important to him. He said that he missed his friends. And then he said, “If I go, it’ll be all rules, and you will probably end up mad at me for breaking them.”
He’d rather do virtual worship at home with his parents than to sit in an auditorium feeling distanced from everyone and scared of breaking rules.
At home, the family participates in worship together, and at home, he, as a kid is as important as anyone else in the room. When he doesn’t understand something, we can pause the live feed and explain it to him. And when it is time for communion, he and his sister get up, grab it from the kitchen, and serve it.
As an elementary kid, in our living room, he has learned that he has a place to belong.
CHURCH LEADERS MUST TAKE RESPONSIBILITY FOR LEADING THE WHOLE FAMILY IN WORSHIP.
No doubt, worship leaders and pulpit ministers around the globe are preparing their “returning home” worship orders. They are anticipating what the audience needs to process these events. Do the worshippers need a joyful return signaling God’s provisions? Or, do they need a lament service that invites them to name the difficult experiences many have faced? As you plan, just remember:
- Children are emerging from a period of social isolation, just like adults.
- Children miss their friends at church, just like adults.
- Children have many emotions about the trauma of the last couple of months, just like adults.
- Children can worship in community and need to worship in community with their church family, just like adults.
- Church leaders, when you prepare the worship order for your return to a physical worship space, imagine your entire audience, including children, as you plan.
More than ever, church leaders need to reassure children that God loves them and that their church loves them. Children need to know that God welcomes and desires their worship too. This is not the time to treat children as passive onlookers sitting next to their parents. And, it is not the time to convey the message to parents that they are the only people in the room responsible for leading their children into worship. Worship leaders, preachers, and other participants, you are just as responsible for leading children into worship as are their parents.
One more thing, you were always responsible for leading the entire church, including children, in worship, but now the stakes are higher!
KEEPING KIDS INTERESTED IN “BIG WORSHIP” IS COMPLETELY POSSIBLE.
I acknowledge that every minister has completely full plates. I know the burden children’s ministers and youth ministers carry, I see you and I am amazed by you. I know everyone is working very hard to bring ministry to church families in a quickly shifting context. But it can be done, and it can be done in ways that impact your church family for the better.
This last section is meant to give you quick and easy ideas for engaging children in family worship.
Keep in mind that these are stopgap measures. While I have rather high hopes for the inclusion of all people in corporate worship, we have to start somewhere.
FIND WAYS TO HEAR THE VOICE OF A CHILD OR TEEN IN EVERY SERVICE.
Just ask yourself as you design each service, where could you imagine a child or teen leading something. Perhaps, they may make pre-recorded videos. My son, along with some of his friends, was asked to record one of our church’s welcome videos. He was pretty nervous about recording this video, but when it was played on the big screens, he was so excited. He still talks about this little opportunity to do something special for his church. There are other options, such as reading Scripture, saying a prayer, or doing the communion meditation with parents.
REMEMBER THAT CHILDREN HAVE PROBLEMS, TOO.
I’ll keep this one simple. Children need a prophetic word spoken into their life situations as much as adults do. This is easier than you think because children and adults deal with different versions of the same types of issues.
USE COLORFUL VISUALS WHENEVER POSSIBLE.
Curious about how children engage in worship, I watch the children sitting near me on a Sunday morning fairly closely. I’ve noticed that when colorful visual aids are used, kids perk up and watch intently. For example, our preacher will use video clips from time-to-time. As soon as the video clip comes on, all eyes are on the screen. Children watch intently. Colorful pictures and videos capture their attention and it helps children bridge the gap between the concepts they already know and those they don’t. In fact, it does the same thing for adults. We don’t all arrive at church with the same background in the Christian faith.
TELL STORIES ABOUT YOURSELF, ESPECIALLY YOUR CHILDHOOD.
Children idolize the worship minister and the pulpit minister. I don’t know a kid alive that doesn’t want to hear a story about their idol’s childhood—the funnier the better. This is so simple, too. Worship leaders, when you choose a song, if it is appropriate, mention how that song impacted you when you were a kid. Pulpit ministers, tell some funny story of your childhood, when possible. And don’t be afraid to highlight your failures. Children and teens need to know that you became a worship leader or a pulpit minister after many trials and errors. That gives them the vision for what they can be when they grow up and not a measuring stick of comparison. I know some adults that need that message as well.
CREATE OPPORTUNITIES FOR CONVERSATION WITH YOUR CHURCH.
I sigh as I write this one because I know this suggestion is a disruptive suggestion, but it carries a big impact for all ages. Create the opportunity for your church to converse. First, carry-on a bit of one-way conversation with church members from the stage, with their permission and a heads-up, of course. Say things like, “Little Tommy and I were talking about how much Jesus loves him the other day, and Tommy said that Jesus loves him more than anything else in the whole wide world, isn’t that right, Tommy? Give me two thumbs up if I got it right.” (Side note: be prepared for that Tommy that gives you two thumbs down. They are out there. My guess is that some of the leaders reading this article was that little Tommy when they were a kid.) Yes, every experienced preacher I know probably just cringed, I get it. I cringe with you. And then I imagine make-believe Tommy’s face as he gives the two thumbs up, and all of his friends looking at him in awe, because the preacher knows Tommy’s name, and every cringe-worthy moment of that scenario dissipates.
Or let me throw out an even more disruptive yet impactful opportunity to engage the younger crowd. At some point in your sermon, stop, put a question on the screen, and give the congregation a minute to discuss. Yes, they are socially distanced, but, families are sitting together and many other church members will be within a reasonable talking distance. This is a much more effective use of your time than the old school meet and greet.
If you are really feeling brave, find a way to collect answers. Walking around with a mic might be out of the question. But a twitter feed? Text messages?
I know, I know, reading this probably turned your world upside down.
ASK CHILDREN FOR THEIR OPINION OF WORSHIP SERVICE.
When you ask a child their opinion, expect a big of hesitation and redirection before they answer. It’s hard to tell grown-ups what they like and don’t like about anything, but once they know that you will listen, you will probably quickly hear a few suggestions that engage children, teens, and adults in worship. And, once these are implemented, children will be excited that their suggestions were heard!
ASK YOUR CHILDREN’S MINISTER AND YOUTH MINISTER FOR IDEAS AND ASK THEM TO PARTICIPATE.
Children’s and youth ministers everywhere have ideas for engaging children and teens in all settings, including corporate worship. Ask them for their ideas and use them.
Around the globe, children’s ministers and youth ministers have spent countless hours calling, zooming, doorbell ditching, and creating videos for children and teens in an effort to stay connected to kids and to nurture their spiritual formation.
Now, it is time to help them bridge the gap and make certain that children know their value to the entire church as fellow worshippers of the Lord.
Click here for a webinar discussing social distancing and inter-generational worship led by Dr. Shannon Rains, Dr. David Hurley, and Darla Johnson.
Click here to read more Children’s Ministry blog articles by Shannon Rains (https://theconfidentkidmin.com)