By Kris Buckman
As churches begin to regather (hallelujah!), many have decided to not bring their children’s ministries back… yet. Churches are making this decision for the obvious reason of being unable to manage social distancing guidelines with small children. Also, some families may prefer to keep their children close for a while. All of that being said, you may have lots of wiggle worms in your worship service! But don’t panic, inter-generational worship (the big, fancy term for family worship) has been around for years. And many find the experience to be extremely beneficial to building a child’s faith. So, take heart; we’re in this together. You might just come to enjoy having those wee ones in your service. Here are a few things that can make this transition a wonderful experience for everyone involved.
How can pastors create a “family-friendly” atmosphere?
First, let’s remind ourselves that the goal is not to “occupy” children or simply keep them “busy.” We want families to have a meaningful experience worshiping together. This is a great opportunity for families to demonstrate worship to their children. You’ve heard the phrase “more is caught than taught”? Children pick up much more than we think they do. Speaking from the pulpit, pastors have the power to set the tone for the service. Take a moment to welcome families and call children out by name. Reassure families with children that they’re welcome and that you’re glad to have them, all of them. Acknowledge the fact that there will be distractions and encourage everyone to demonstrate grace to your families.
Consider your sermon length, language, and content
Shaving a few minutes off your sermon time may be the difference-maker between a wonderful or a miserable experience for families. When the kids have had enough, they let their parents know. You also may consider modifying your sermon language. Look for “Christianese”: words that one would only know if they’ve been involved in the church at length. Once your sermon is prepared, have a trusted parent read through it to pick out words that might be foreign to kids. Don’t omit them, but try to rephrase them and/or explain the term briefly.
Also, as long as we have littles in the service, consider your content. This may not be the best time to preach on the torments of hell. Use stories as often as possible as kids love them. Whether they about you as a child or children in general, stories are captivating to children. Think about giving a brief description of why we do some of the things that we do in the worship service. Why do we stand when we sing? Why do we ask for an offering? Why do we partake of the Lord’s Supper? You never know: you may just answer some questions for an adult as well!
Challenge the kids in your service. Give them something to do or ask a question for them to think about. For instance, if you’re preaching on the formation of the church in Acts, ask kids to draw a picture of their church. If you’re preaching out of the book of Daniel, ask them to draw what the lions may have looked like or what the flames in the fiery furnace could have looked like. Find a place in the foyer to post the artwork for everyone to admire or take photos of the pictures and show them on the screen during the pre-service. This helps to keep kids engaged and in-tune with the message, makes them feel like a part of the service, and creates a memorable worship experience for everyone. When it’s appropriate, interact with the congregation. Ask for a show of hands. Ask a question and take a response. Share a joke that’s understandable to kids. We could all use some lighthearted laughter right now!
Encourage families to disciple from the pew
Churches will often assemble “Worship Bags” for kids while they attend adult service (let’s not call them “Busy Bags”). They can fill these bags with small pieces of candy, pipe cleaners, crayons, paper, coloring sheets, whiteboards, and more. In the time we’re facing today, it may not be recommendable for churches to provide these bags due to sanitary reasons. Again, God opens the door for us to equip parents to disciple their children.
Suggest that families put together their own worship bags for their children. This is activity parents and children can do together while having a conversation about what church will look like when they get there and what they will see and experience in the adult worship service. Remind them to not forget their kids’ Bible. Encourage families to let kids choose their seats for the service (if this is an option, depending on how you’re seating families as you reopen). This decision gives them some ownership and can help them feel more at home. Sitting closer to the front peaks kids’ curiosity and it allows them to see everything that’s taking place. Parents can demonstrate worship as they stand for music and make sure their kids stand as well. They can help their kids find Scripture in their Bible as the Pastor preaches. Discourage families from using screens (phones, tablets, handheld video games, and the like). Church participation at a young age sets kids up for success in their teen and adult years.
Be sure to give families lots of grace. Don’t expect children to “pay attention” the entire time, but know they are absorbing much more than they let on. And know that family worship can be full of surprises and the occasional distractions are inevitable. Children will have to go to the bathroom.
What an opportunity God has given for us and our families to experience intergenerational worship services! Don’t let these ideas create anxiety, as others may challenge the way you do worship for the time being. Some ideas may not be right for your church. These are minor adjustments that can be very subtle, yet impactful. For so long, corporate worship has been all about adults, a space designed for them, a space designed by them, and a message tailored to them. This may sound like too much of a change and an overwhelming task, but that isn’t the idea. “Family Worship” is about creating an environment that encourages and inspires God’s people of all ages. Carry the torch for this vision and lead with confidence.
The choices and changes we make now can make a difference for generations to come!
Photo by Ben White on Unsplash
Kris Buckman is the Baptist Convention of Maryland/Delaware’s children’s ministry and VBS consultant.