Children in Worship: Worship for Children (Part I)

Painted Colorful HandsSunday School has let out for the summer at the church my husband Adam serves. An off-hand comment a mom made has me thinking about children and worship. In passing, this mom shared that she has trouble getting her kids to worship when there’s no Sunday school because they get bored. Our church, like many, has commercial Children’s Bulletins, but either they are not the right age-range for these kids, or they are insufficient for an entire service.

There are larger conversations to be had about children and worship, but on a practical level how can churches engage kids in worship during the summer months?

Being a “spirituality person,” my first thought was to try and adapt spiritual disciplines for children to do in the pews (or the back of the sanctuary) during worship. From there I began brainstorming other activities kids could do while remaining in the sanctuary. But this morning in worship, I started thinking about what worship is, what we’re doing in worship, and what we hope people will get out of worship. I realized that rather than simply coming up with creative activities to keep kids entertained, what I want to do is find ways that allow kids to worship.

Way back in 9th grade, confirmation class taught me that bulletin headings often convey a service’s structure (e.g. preparing to hear God’s Word, hearing God’s Word, responding to God’s Word). Thinking along those lines, here’s what I came up with for what we do in worship, why we go, and what we hope people will take away and/or experience while they’re there:

1. When we worship, we intentionally place ourselves in God’s presence
2. We hear God’s word
3. We respond to God’s word (and God) through prayer, song, and gifts
4. We pray for the world, our communities, our families, ourselves
5. We receive the charge to go out into the world to serve God

You can disagree with me on the particulars, but my question is how we translate these purposes for children who are sitting in the pews. I don’t have any definitive answers, but I think the first step might be turning the above list into questions we can answer:

1. How can we invite children to be aware of God’s presence during worship?
2. How can we help children hear God’s Word (through Scripture)?
3. How can we invite children to respond to God through prayer, song, and gifts?
4. How can we encourage children to pray for the world, their communities, their families, and themselves?
5. How can we inspire and charge children to go out into the world to do God’s work?

I’m sure the answers to those questions depend on the context of individual churches and their styles of worship, but I also suspect we could all use some help brainstorming answers. From finding ways to adjust our current services, to including children in worship leadership, to providing materials for children to engage in when traditional sermons cannot hold their attention, there are endless possibilities for each of the questions above. Over the next few posts I’d like to think together about how we could answer these questions and I’d love your help. I’ll propose some ideas for each question, but I’m hoping you’ll contribute in the comments section of each post.

Before we start, does your church do something for children that helps them worship with the adults on Sunday mornings? Or do you think I’ve missed a key element of worship in the lists above?

This post first appeared on Sarah Walker Cleaveland’s blog.

Blog-HeadShot-300x300Sarah Walker Cleaveland is a spiritual director, preacher, teacher, retreat leader, and writer. After graduating from Hobart & William Smith Colleges with a degree in religious studies, she spent two years working in Christian Education at a Presbyterian Church and a Presbyterian Retreat Center. She earned her M.Div. at Columbia Theological Seminary in Decatur, GA, married her husband Adam, then earned a Masters of Theology from Princeton Seminary. Adam serves as Associate Pastor at Winnetka Presbyterian Church in a suburb north of Chicago. Sarah is currently chasing their two and a half year old son Caleb and developing her spiritual direction practice.

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