Since last summer, our staff team has been on the mission of improving the worship experience for our medium-sized church in the Atlanta suburbs. We’ve attended seminars, trainings, workshops, and even a week-long retreat with The Worship Design Studio team. We have been intentional to institute many details making the experience more personal, more inviting, relative to all learning and worship styles, and giving multiple opportunities for congregational involvement throughout.
What has this got to do with little people? Everything.
It has always been our desire to connect as a family of faith…a family where our kids and their parents and grands pray, sing, praise, give, share and greet together. Before this month, we dismissed the kids to a separate Children’s Church time immediately following the children’s moment and before the pastor’s “big sermon” which took place towards the end of the order of worship. On Communion Sunday, we ushered the children back to their parents so to participate as a family.
When we changed the placement of the “big sermon” to be early mid-service, the giving, greeting, and praying were now at the end of the service in response to the Word proclaimed. Our kids were going to miss some powerful times as a family of faith if we continued Children’s Church. Oh I could do those things in Children’s Church, but not like it’s done with our whole family of faith.
I spoke with our pastor, a couple of ‘big names’ in KidMin, and some of our Children’s Church families sharing what we were doing and they were game for us to stay and continue to worship together. Families sitting side by side, arms around shoulders, standing in unison in call and response, enjoying time and space together.
We had already offered some interactive pew tools for our kids and now I could kick it up a notch, such as…
Sermon Bingo…our pastor puts out the sermon schedule, scripture, and title for the entire year in advance. This helps me when I prepare the weekly Children’s Moment, so I set up a bingo card with words and phrases that are likely to be sung, spoken, or shared for the several week-long worship series. The kids then mark or color the spaces when they hear the vocabulary. These are placed on clipboards in the narthex. The kids are invited to place their completed cards in my mailbox outside the worship space.
Etch-a-Sketches…for our littlest disciples.
Clipboards with blank paper…I invite the kids to take notes, draw pictures, write a note or draw a picture of encouragement to give to someone who sits in their row or one of the pastors.
A Challenge…when the sermon was titled “Salt and Light,” I challenged the kids in Sunday School to pick up a clipboard outside my office and tally the times they heard the words “salt” and “light” and tell me after the service which word was said most often. I have a few tally sheets on the bulletin board behind my desk…”light” won out.
Cloth 3 ring binder zipper pouches from Dollar Tree (they are quiet)…with crayons, or colored pencils, or a handful of legos (for the pre readers).
And yes, all of them are out each week in a nice, shallow rubbermaid container set just outside our worship space. Colored ribbons make for a colorful display. I look forward to seeing what else we can come up with.
Attending the bi-annual CEF Conference (Christian’s Engaged in Faith Formation formerly known as Christian Educator’s Fellowship) last month in Nashville, ‘kids in worship’ was the topic of almost every conversation. Facebook has had multiple conversations and some very heated. We have a Children’s Ministry networking luncheon coming up this week and it’ll be the topic, as well. I’ll blog afterwards with what we came up with.
We are no longer offering Children’s Church. We want to live and worship as a family of faith. Our staff supports it, our parents support it, and our kids are thriving making connections with folks of all ages and stages. Like family, some things are taught and some things are caught. We want opportunities for both.
We offer a nursery for ages 0-4 years old. This gives our parents a choice for our smallest disciples of staying in the service or be loved on in the nursery. Our Mamas seem to like having the option.
There appears to be a great deal of research out there now that kids who worship with their families and connect inter-generationally in a family of faith are more likely to remain active in the local church as they get older.
This is the research we have lived: We worshipped together in the early traditional service and served together and separately throughout Baby Girl’s and #1 Son’s preschool, elementary, middle school, and high school years at our home churches…in Baton Rouge, in New England, and in Woodstock. They were invited to serve and lead on Sunday mornings as they grew in their faith and faithfulness. They enjoyed a regular diet of adult investment into their lives. When #1 Son didn’t want to go, the conversation went something like this, “Church and worship is what we do as Reillys. It’s who we are. God gets an ‘awards’ day once a week for all He has done for us and we go. This is not a choice you get to make. It’s right up there with you don’t get a choice to not brush your teeth or not take algebra. It’s what we do. When you get old enough to earn a degree, move out, and pay all of your own bills, then you can make a decision about church. Until then, we leave in 10 minutes.” If we were too busy or too tired for church life, we were too busy and something had to go. It was never church. The priority of worshipping together and serving in the local church was guarded and made for lots of conversations of who we were as christians as they grew up. A life lesson of filtering what is good for what is best. Oh, and did I mention that I was not on church staff until they were in late high school?
This is what I know: Baby Girl and #1 Son remain active in their spiritual disciplines and in their local churches now as young adults.
“What’s good for kids in church is good for everybody.” Mark Burrows, Children’s Pastor at First United Methodist Church of Ft. Worth