When we talk about including all ages in corporate worship times or discipleship spaces, we need to take into consideration the substance and structure of the church service or class. Frankly, a traditional church service format is often difficult for kids to engage with. Kids and youth are relational; church services tend to be focused on the individual. Kids like to talk; church services tend to encourage silent reflection. Young children like to move; church services tend to lean towards sitting still..for a long time…
Before we launch into ways that we can work towards making church more welcoming to all generations, we must first acknowledge this simple fact: Being present in a space and being welcome in a space are not the same thing. There are many places where we might be physically present and at the same time feel like an outsider, like we don’t belong. Being welcomed into a space creates a sense of invited presence, the feeling that we are not only able to be present but that our presence is desired and anticipated.
Here are some practical tips for making your church service a welcoming place to kids as well as adults while keeping the focus on Christ.
1. Welcome the kids, every week, by name – This may sound redundant, but there is much to be said for a personal greeting from a friendly face and welcome to the service.
2. Have a kids bulletin or pew card – Many churches use a bulletin for the service. A fun way to invite kids into the service is to have a bulletin just for them. A pew card (see example) in the back of the pew where the hymnals or prayer books are kept can help everyone welcome children and their parents to the space and provide kids a place to color or draw during the service.
3. Create Kid’s Activity packets – Make life a little easier for mom and dad and have kids activity packets with coloring sheets, crayons and quiet activities for the kids to use during the quieter service times.
4. Provide space for parents with little ones – In the back of the sanctuary, consider putting some rocking chairs or space for parents to walk or bounce their littlest ones to sleep. Some churches also use a cry room where parents can be with their child and still see or hear the service.
5. Engage the kids in worship – Kids love to be a part of something. Give them the opportunity to help lead worship, hand out bulletins, take up the offering, participate in communion, help with the sound/lights, read Scripture, share a testimony – anything that lets them know they are a vital part of the congregation. Create some jobs if need be; think creatively about finding ways to promote active engagement rather than passive observation.
6. Reaffirm your covenant – When children are baptized or dedicated in churches, often the church will recite or affirm a covenant with them to walk with them as a community of faith. Every now and then, let the kids hear you re-affirm that out loud and with your actions.
7. Consider your traditional service line-up – Kids are used to things being pretty dynamic and fluid in their world. The structure of service may be familiar to you, but maybe it’d be nice to change things up a bit. Do the sermon earlier in the service or break it into chunks. Do songs that have motions every now and then. Collect the offering at the end instead of in the middle.
8. Give parents easy wins – The time in church is just the start of the conversation. Help parents continue it at home by creating a “Faith Talk” insert for the bulletin with questions from the sermon. Older kids can fill it out during church and parents/caregivers can use it to continue the conversation at home. A sermon note sheet for kids can work much the same way; have the kids or youth fill it out during church and then give it to parents to continue the conversation.
9. Engage the congregation – If having kids in service is new to your church, give the congregation fair warning. Provide a time for them to meet the kids (put faces with names and parents with kids) and encourage a time of fellowship for all before adding the kids to the service. Some churches start with including all ages in the service once and month and grow from there.
10. Give kids a voice – You’d be surprised how much we can learn from children but often we still follow the “Kids should be seen and not heard” rule. Give kids an avenue to share what God is speaking to them by affirming to them that they can and do hear from God and giving them a space to share that. A bulletin board where they can hang a picture they drew in service or a note they wrote about what they learned can create a space where the whole church can hear and affirm their hearts for God.
If you are curious about more practical ways to create holistic intergenerational worship environments, check out this article! And if you have ideas that have worked well for you, please share in the comments below. We are in this together, in every sense of the word.
A version of this blog was originally posted on this blog here.
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About the Author
Christina Embree is the founder and director of ReFocus Ministry. She holds a masters in ministry focused on Children, Youth, and Family Ministry and a doctorate in spiritual formation with a focus on age segregation and intergenerational ministry. In addition to coaching churches of multiple denominations and traditions all around the globe, Christina serves as the Minister of Generational Discipleship for the Great Lakes Conference of the Brethren in Christ and as a pastor at Plowshares Brethren in Christ in Lexington, Kentucky. She is widely recognized as a speaker and author in the areas of generational discipleship, intergenerational ministry, and family ministry. As the mother of three children, she is familiar with the challenges of faith at home and pastoral ministry. She along with her husband Luke share a love for the church, their community, and the global work of peace and restoration through Jesus.