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Kids, Inc.

Stephanie Dyslin Martin

Creative ways for churches to include children in worship.

 

If you've ever dreamed of the children in your ministry becoming more involved in worship and visible to the rest of your congregation, you're not alone. Churches everywhere dream of the same thing -- but many find themselves blocked by logistics, resistance, and a drought of ideas.

Obstacles aside, nothing makes your ministry shine quite like those opportune, creative moments when kids become part of worship.

Children's Ministry Magazine spoke to a variety of churches, and we found that some keep kids in their regular services at all times, some have separate worship experiences for kids, and others use a combination of both approaches. Churches everywhere have created imaginative and life-impacting ways to make children active, vocal participants -- and even leaders -- in their services.

So no matter your church's size or style, you can use these ideas to excite kids-and involve them -- when it comes to worship.

Front and Center

Regardless of the size of your church, your kids can have a super-sized role in worship. Read on to learn how churches have put kids front and center in worship.

Part of the Action -- St. Paul's Lutheran Church, a congregation of 600 in Medford, Wisconsin, incorporates children into church services "in as many ways and as often as possible," pastor Peter Warmanen says.

For example, kids regularly interact with Warmanen. They get to blow out candles for Jesus' birthday at Christmas. On Palm Sunday, kids lead a palm parade, and on Easter they gather up front to help release helium balloons.

Seasonal celebrations aren't the only opportunities for children to get an up-close view. In addition to weekly children's messages, Warmanen often uses stories about kids in his adult sermons. Before baptisms, Warmanen invites all the children up for a front-row seat.

"By being right where all the action is, kids feel as if they're part of the baptism," he says. "Oftentimes I even splash them with a little water."

Serving in Worship -- At First Lutheran Church, another small congregation in Xenia, Ohio, children are involved in many aspects of worship. They light candles for services and special events, assist with the Lord's Supper, and even help clean up after services and events.

"We encourage children to sit up front so they can be closer to what's going on in the worship setting," says education volunteer Catherine Bengson. "Many times when prayer requests are taken, children will mention someone they know who's sick or in need of help."

Kids quickly pick up on the service, and they respond with gusto, Bengson reports. "Repetition is very comforting" for children, she says, and it makes them feel like they're an important part of the worshipping community.

Learning in Seasons -- Children play a key role in the changing seasons at St. Peter's Lutheran Church, a small church in Toms Brook, Virginia, with 57 weekly worshippers. At intergenerational events prior to Easter, Advent, and more, all ages gather to learn the events behind the seasons, traditions and their meanings, and church celebrations.

"That's a lot of fun and helps my congregation understand why we do some of the stuff we do," says licensed lay minister Patti Arthur.

At these special intergenerational events, kids make small banners. Then on Sundays, they walk into church with the banners and hang them in front of the congregation.

Helping and Hands-On -- Numerous hands-on opportunities also exist for children to play supporting roles in worship at Immanuel, a medium-size church in Loveland, Colorado. During a worship tracks program on Wednesday afternoons, kids can choose between dance, artistic activities, and several choirs.

Family togetherness is another important way children are incorporated into worship. Cheryl Wilkie, director of children, youth, and family life ministry, says families sign up together to greet or usher, run the soundboard, and light candles. And when the pastor poses questions to families or small groups during sermons, children are often the spokespeople who share answers with the congregation.

Singing Sensations

Kids love music -- and music loves kids. One of the most powerful ways to incorporate kids into worship is through intergenerational harmony. One church's program allows children to choose between options such as bell choir, vocal choir, performing in a musical, and "just singing" for the sheer joy of it.

• Melody Makers -- Music is an important way kids contribute to worship services at Woodmen Valley Chapel, a large church in Colorado Springs, Colorado. Woodmen Valley has a separate weekend worship program for kids that's packed with music and motions. But kids also lead "big church" at both of the church's campuses about twice a year. Kids sing and perform using a blend of choreography, jumping, dancing, and American Sign Language.

"When kids are up front leading the congregation, adults seem to lose their inhibitions and join in the motions," says communications coordinator Katie Haas.

All ages enjoy the church's largest children's community outreach during a celebration weekend after vacation Bible school, where kids teach adults some of the action-packed songs they just learned in VBS.

• Harmony Helpers -- When the organist is unavailable at the church in Xenia, children perform musical accompaniments. They also frequently play piano or flute solos during offering. And sometimes in the worship service, Bengson says, kids perform rhythm instruments to a hymn. "That lights their faces," she says.

Just for Kids

Other churches have successfully created worship experiences just for kids.

• Wild and Crazy Worship -- Perimeter Church in Atlanta, a megachurch with 4,000 weekly attendees, takes fun children's worship seriously. Each month its KidsQuest ministry offers four special services just for kids: a Blacklight Sunday, a Wild and Wacky Sunday with Nickelodeon-style games, an Ike and Angus Sunday featuring puppet mascots, and an In Concert Sunday.

All these services take place in a huge auditorium built just for children that holds about 600 kids sitting on carpeted tiers. Brent Weber, Perimeter's producer-director of children's worship, says KidsQuest "shows kids that worship is fun and crazy, and that God is a God of love and excitement." Their approach is working because the auditorium is filled to capacity each week.

KidsQuest also teaches young people about leading worship. Fourth- through seventh-graders can make a one-year commitment to be Worship Kids who help develop and teach choreography and run the lights and sound with the help of adult volunteers.

Discipleship is Perimeter's #1 ministry and is the focus of each worship program, says Weber. "We engage children's imagination to give them opportunities for transformation," he adds. Visitors to KidsQuest plug into small groups led by church laypeople.

• Worship Worth Talking About -- You don't have to be part of a megachurch to have an exciting program for kids. Just before the adult sermons at First Lutheran in Xenia, children through fifth grade gather at the front of the church to learn what they'll be discussing that day in TALK: Teaching and Learning Kids. Then they have a separate time of exciting Bible learning that includes stories, arts and crafts, and songs. And after the post-sermon prayer, children return to worship to sit with their families.

Resources that Bengson recommends for this type of program include CDs from various VBS programs, as well as the Pray and Play books (Group) and My Read-and-Do Bible Storybook by Debbie Trafton O'Neal.

Everyone Benefits

When children actively participate in church, they develop positive attitudes about worship and are empowered to serve and praise God. And they're excited to come to church and Sunday school.

• Attracting People -- "Children want to come to worship because they aren't just watching but are being included," says Bengson. "The best thing I ever heard [from a child] was, 'I can't wait to come next week to see what you're going to do.' "

As important as children's participation is to kids themselves, Warmanen says benefits to the congregation as a whole are even more impressive. Four advantages he lists: "We no longer have to pull teeth to get volunteers for Sunday school. Worship is now more warm and friendly. I no longer hear complaints about 'noisy kids.' And the number of kids who come to church is higher than when I came here."

Warmanen's church has grown a great deal in the two years he's been its pastor. "In a small town like Medford, people hear whether or not a church is welcoming to children," he says.

He's also been performing "tons" of baptisms, some of which occur because kids have asked their parents if they're baptized. "Because our kids get a front-row seat for baptisms, they now have a great interest and understanding of its importance," Warmanen says.

• Togetherness -- More families are worshipping together at Immanuel, now that children play a key role in worship. "When the family comes to see their child being involved, they stay and worship together," Wilkie says.

Despite discouraging demographic trends in their area, Bengson's church also has been able to attract more young families because of the church's welcoming atmosphere. And an increasing number of longer-term members now bring their children, she says.

• All-Inclusiveness -- "Connections across generations" is another bonus of keeping kids visible in worship that Bengson values. "The older adults know about children's gifts and talents and are able to communicate and share with them," she says. "Children frequently hug the older ladies all sitting in the back pew. And when we share the peace during worship, all ages hug and mingle and share the blessing."

Having the rest of the congregation familiar with the church's children creates opportunities for mentoring, Bengson adds. Mentors remember birthdays and special holidays and check in periodically to see how things are going. Some pairs go to lunch or to the park together for one-on-one sharing time. "That's beneficial to the quieter children who don't easily speak with adults," she says.

• Worship That Works -- In general, there's "a more open feeling of family" at First Lutheran in Xenia because children are involved, Bengson notes. When children are invited to be full participants in worship, "their eyes take in the attitudes and feeling of all God's people gathered there for love, forgiveness, and reconciliation," she says.

A 5-year-old girl at First Lutheran sums up the benefits of incorporating kids into worship: While returning to her seat from the front of the church, she proclaimed, "That's great-God loves me!" cm

Stephanie Dyslin Martin is a freelance writer and editor in Colorado.

Unique Challenges

Creative worship activities occasionally require creative problem solving. Children's ministry leaders share obstacles they face when children play active roles in worship.

• Numbers Game -- "One challenge we face is not knowing exactly how many kids will show up to participate in leading worship at 'big church,' " says Haas. "We have sign-ups ahead of time, but inevitably kids show up and see us practicing and want to join in."

Because they don't want to turn anyone down, adult leaders have learned to stay flexible. "We always find a place for kids."

The payoff for adapting to this challenge is having powerful kid-led worship. "The congregation loves when the kids are involved in the service," Haas says. "There's rarely a dry eye in the church."

Tips for success:

• Keep track of average attendance. Plan for 10

percent over typical attendance numbers.

• Create a sign-up rotation and cap it at a reasonable number.

• Foster an inclusive atmosphere.

• Control Issues -- While Warmanen strives to help kids feel comfortable in regular worship services, he says they sometimes get almost too comfortable participating. "Occasionally they're almost out of control during the children's sermon, especially if I use too many props," he says.

"I think that's partly because they see me more as a friend or a big kid than as a pastor," Warmanen explains. "Occasionally, I have to get a little more stern to keep them behaving."

But he adds that he'd much rather have kids be too comfortable than uncomfortable.

Tips for success:

• Set a few ground rules with kids and remind them gently of those rules when behavior slips.

• Don't overstimulate kids with an abundance of props, supplies, activities, or information. Keep it simple.

• Redirect kids when misbehavior happens. Assign roles of responsibility to your most challenging kids.

 

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