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Sing a New Song

Bob Singleton

We were in the studio working on our new album when my music assistant and I began to rehearse the kids chorus. It's my favorite time in the studio, working with a group of terrific 8- to 12-year-old studio singers. Our routine is the same -- we look through lyrics for the first time while we listen to the music tracks. I watched as the kids concentrated, their lips moving, their brows furrowed, and their toes and fingers dancing to "Deck the Halls," the song they'd be recording later that day.

Suddenly Erin, one of my 11-year-old singers, straightened up and pointed at her lyrics. "Wait!" she exclaimed, her face filled with surprise and confusion. " 'See the blazing yule before us'?" she demanded. "I always thought the words were, 'See the blazing mule before us!' "

Everything stopped; the music might as well have come to a screeching halt. We all laughed until we wept, our noses ran, and our sides hurt. What a mental image! We made jokes about fire-roasting mules through the rest of production, adding costly minutes of recording studio time to the budget but also making priceless memories.

Everyone in the studio that day still has all the laughter, snickering conversations, feelings of joy and friendship, and the physical sensations of the silliness of that day -- all attached to the eight simple notes from the first line of that song.

Isn't it amazing how God created us to recall more than just words attached to music? God uniquely designed us, especially kids, to be touched -- mind, soul, and body -- by songs. Children tuck away the concepts, feelings, and words of songs in their hearts and minds. I think that's why God tells us in Psalm 47:6-7 to:

Sing praises to God, sing praises.
Sing praises to our King, sing praises!

For God is King over all the earth.
Praise him with a psalm!

God wants your kids to sing to him. And kids are designed and ready to sing. Indeed, we should sing well-written songs -- age-appropriate songs that kids genuinely enjoy -- but God doesn't even care if we sing them well. He just wants us to be enthusiastic.

There are so many ways kids can worship God; he created them to be especially open, loving, enthusiastic, and expressive. So it's only natural that songs and music are among the most wonderful tools to help them worship our Creator. Sadly, though, we often overlook kids' natural ability to worship because we think of it as a "big person" thing to do. But the truth is, your kids are ready -- today -- to make a personal connection to God. Here's how you can use songs and music to inspire kids to worship with all the enthusiasm and heart God gave them.

Foundations for Life

As children's ministers, we introduce kids to Jesus and fill them with information about God. But do we help them encounter God? Or do we put that off until they get into youth programs or "grown-up" church? More people become Christians as children than any other age group; but experience leads me to think that a smaller percentage of children worship than any other age group.

What are those non-worshipping kids missing? They could be missing the planting of foundational concepts that'll enrich their lives into eternity.

"When a person memorizes something that is put to music, it is stored in the subdominant hemisphere of the brain, where emotions and creativity take place. This information is permanently stored and easy to retrieve when sung," says Jan Bedell, a certified master neurodevelopmentalist, plus founder and president of Little Giant Steps, a company that helps people build accelerated learning abilities. "It's been observed that information that is memorized to music lasts the longest and is the last to be forgotten. Even Alzheimer's patients can often retrieve songs from their childhood when other information has been lost."

Wow. That's quite a testament to the power of music in kids' worship. It's a powerful argument to start kids praising and worshipping God when they're young and to keep this ability growing as they mature. Early worship experiences lay a foundation for a lifetime of communing with God.

In kids worship, your first priority is to connect kids to God. If your kids are connected to God, you can teach and disciple them deeply in ways you've never imagined. Worship is rarely the act of singing songs that are designed simply to teach. Teaching is the act of pouring information into kid's minds. Worship is the act of pouring love and adoration into the arms of our loving, listening God.

Kids are more geared for music than grown-ups are. They respond faster, internalize and memorize music faster, and sense the emotion and energy more deeply than adults. And we know that kids are multi-sensory learners; singing is one of the most multi-sensory activities that we can undertake in a classroom. As children grow and become more dominant in their learning styles, some aspect of singing will always reach them; whether it's thinking about the words, enjoying the physical movement, or thriving on the creative aspects of music.

"Brain research supports that children are multi-sensory learners. They learn best and retain more when information is presented through multi- modalities," says Jody Capehart, experienced children's pastor, school administrator, and author of the gold medallion-nominated book Teaching With Heart. "Motor stimulation [which can include activities required for singing] activates the neural connections in the brain to facilitate learning and long-term memory. Many children learn best when they are moving because they build in muscle memory. Music and movement provide an excellent combination for worship and Scripture memory."

Multi-Sensory Songs and Music

God wants our expressions of love for him to involve our entire being. In Mark 12:30, Jesus reminds us: "And you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength."

Singing praise encompasses all of those actions. Worship singing is a multi-sensory experience that affects our bodies, our souls, and our minds.

  • Bodies -- We tap our feet, clap our hands, and increase our heartbeats and breathing when we sing. We see others singing, we hear the sounds, we feel the vibrations of our voices and the floor beneath us and the impact of our hands clapping.
  • Souls -- We experience it in our souls and emotions when we remember all that God has done for us and all his amazing promises.
  • Minds -- God's eternal truth feeds our minds for life. The truths we learn in song return to our conscious minds when we need them most, in every situation, in every season of life.

Worship -- in a Kid's World

We often try to make worship more difficult than it's meant to be. It doesn't require a certain setting or special training. Worship is simply telling God his worthiness; that he's worth anything and everything to us. Contemporary worship leader and songwriter Matt Redman says, "To worship God is to tell him that we believe him for who he says he is." Here are important elements for kid-size worship.

Keep it age-appropriate. Developmentally, kids connect with God as he is revealed in their world. Their ability to grasp God grows as their perception of the world around them grows. Smaller kids, whose world is the size of their family and the current room they're in, will be able to worship God for his actions and presence in those things. As kids develop and their world expands, they're able to worship God for his actions in the world. Use this parameter and go for content that fits the size of your kids' world, but don't be afraid to introduce "bigger picture" concepts that the Spirit will use to help kids grow later. "Jesus Loves Me" contains huge theological implications; but God is able to fit that concept, which is as big as the universe and all time, into the heart of a child. Whatever your church's worship style, expect kids to be kids, and use age-appropriate worship materials.

Consider your culture. Choose music that fits the worship style and theology of your church. Look for music with enough energy to match your kids' energy level. The Bible doesn't describe any particular musical style for worship, but considering Psalm 150, it seems okay to be noisy.

Select proven worship songs and energized hymns that fit the stage of development for kids in the room. Don't be afraid to use many of the same songs you sing in "big church," as long as they fit kids' vocal ranges and temperament. After all, kids shouldn't go into culture shock when they attend the adult service.

Choose wisely. Studies indicate that kids up to sixth grade prefer to sing along with kids' voices over adults -- it's easier to "fit in" when they sing, and they're more likely to be in their vocal range. And while it's best to go with kids over adults in DVDs and CDs, aim for kids slightly older than your age group; kids love to emulate kids older than themselves (also known as the Halo Effect). Songs that work best are usually two or three minutes -- anything longer gets to be too long. Find and use energetic songs, but don't be afraid to let kids "dig in" to worship with range- and content-appropriate, slower songs. Sing slower songs after two or three energized ones. Present teaching or prayer after a slower song, when you've got kids in a quieter, focused place.

Get resourceful. Kids' worship doesn't need to be a big, staged event with billowing smoke and flashing lights. There are more options available than ever from companies such as God's Kids Worship, Uncle Charlie/Upward Bound, Shout Praises Kids, and Group. A $30 DVD player and a donated television can turn any room into a worship center; whether it's a living room, a small room on a missions trip, or an auditorium. DVDs work with big screens and computers too, making them a terrific resource for all your ministry gatherings, any day of the week. With on-screen lyrics and professional recordings, the pressure is off you, and kids can be free to fully worship.

Blessings in Return

Matt Redman writes in the book I Could Sing of Your Love Forever, "Our worship songs are for Jesus -- yet as they work their way out of our hearts and toward heaven, they so often work wonders in us."

Lead your kids into worship. You don't need a lot -- just good recordings that sing of spirit and truth. God doesn't require good voices, just happy hearts.

Praise him with a blast of the ram's horn;
Praise him with the lyre and the harp!
Praise him with the tambourine and dancing;
Praise him with strings and flutes!
Praise him with a clash of cymbals;
Praise him with loud clanging cymbals!
Let everything that breathes sing praises to the Lord!

(Psalm 150:3-6)

Bob Singleton is president of God's Kids Worship; a kids' worship ministry consultant; and a platinum-album, award-winning Grammy- and Dove-nominated producer of music for kids.


focus on kids

Most adults love music, too...But they don't necessarily love the same music kids love. (Bob Dylan, anyone?) So be intentional about choosing songs kids connect with. If you can tell your kids aren't affected by a song, move on -- no matter how much you like it.

get with the program

Clueless about what kinds of music your kids might like? Or just looking for something new? If you need ideas for contemporary songs, go online to ccli.com. After you select your region of the world, scroll to the bottom of the first page and look for the link that says "Top 25 Songs." That will show you the top 25 songs used in churches each year, back to 1997. Those songs have blessed the Church and have passed the broad test of orthodoxy.

"Jesus Loves Me" contains huge theological implications; but God is able to fit that concept, which is as big as the universe and all time, into the heart of a child.

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