A friend of mine recently wrote a blog entitled “7 Tips for Increasing Congregational Participation” where he addressed the fact that worship leaders often lament that the congregation seems disengaged from worship. It was a great read (and it’s linked above so you should go read it, after you finish here, of course) and I told him so in a quick note. But true to form, I also shared with him just one more tip from a family ministry perspective regarding participation in worship. I stole it right from Scripture where it says, “From the lips of children and infants, you have ordained praise.” (Ps. 8:2).
Simply put, this is the idea of our worship times being open not just to those who have graduated from high school (or middle school or elementary school depending on where you attend), but being times where the entire congregation, the corporate body of Christ, the full contingent of worshipers gather as one to praise the One.
As we prepare to gather in worship, we need to consider the following regarding congregational participation.
1. The congregation doesn’t start at age 18 (or 14 or 12)
The body of Christ is made of up people of every age, from the very old to the very young. He calls forth worship, not just from adults, but from young and old alike. In Psalm 148, the psalmist is declaring to all creation to “praise the Lord” and where does he end his plea? With the command of praise from “young men and women, old men and children.” But somewhere along the way, we’ve dropped that last one off and sent our kids to “praise the Lord” elsewhere so we won’t be disturbed.
2. The congregation can’t participate if they’re not there
Don’t get me wrong. I have no problem with Sunday School and Kids Church and I am an advocate for these things within a church setting. However, I am not an advocate of these if it means there is never a time for the children to engage in worship with the adults, especially their parents and their church leaders. Learning how to worship, engage with liturgy, and participate in community is part of being the church and our kids need to see and experience worship in the fullest sense.
What happens when they don’t have that chance? A recent blog post on why millennials don’t attend church by Pastor Tom Fuerst sums it up nicely.
Millennials aren’t attending your church because they’ve never had to attend your church.
Think about it. From the time my generation was born, we were thrown in the nursery with other babies. Then we went to children’s ministries with other children to be entertained while our parents when to “big church.” Then we had middle school ministry. Then we had youth group. Then we went away to college and we found a church with a stellar college ministry.
It wasn’t until we graduated college that we were actually expected to be a part of the intergenerational community called “church.” We’d been segregated by age for the first 22 years. And you not only allowed this, you encouraged it.
So there you have it. The congregation can’t participate if they are not there, and sadly, many of this generation are not there at all.
3. The congregation doesn’t gather for a show; it gathers for worship.
My friend Kevin does such a great job of developing this point so seriously, go read his blog when you are done here. But, having worked in Children’s ministry for a while, I’ve noticed that whenever I bring up kids participating in worship, what is often heard is, “The kids are going to get up front and sing a song for us today.” In other words, the kids are going to put on a show.
But that’s not worship. That’s performance. It is imperative that we instill in our children a heart of worship that seeks to come together with the community of believers and put the focus on God. Otherwise, they will learn that worship is just a show. Let the children read the Scriptures, participate in communion, and lead the community in worship but don’t put them on stage to perform and say that you’ve let them participate, because you have not.
Look, I know it is a challenge to have kids in worship. I know that they smell funny, make weird noises, talk out of turn, wiggle a lot and can generally be a distraction at times. I understand that it is not always appropriate to have them there. But I promise you this, the issues you experience in those corporate worship times are nothing compared to the issues you will face when a generation walks away from church because they don’t know how to worship or where they belong.
We are called by God to “make disciples of ALL men.” That includes the little ones. Consider what Jesus says in Mark.
Taking a child, He set him before them, and taking him in His arms, He said to them, “Whoever receives one child like this in My name receives Me; and whoever receives Me does not receive Me, but Him who sent Me.
Are you receiving Christ and the Father into your worship? Are the children welcome in your midst? My “8th” tip for congregation participation in worship is to invite the whole congregation to worship. Find time somewhere to welcome the children and in doing so you will welcome Christ.
About the author
Christina Embree is wife to Pastor Luke, mom to three wonderful kids, and family minister at Nicholasville UMC. She is passionate about seeing churches partnering with families to encourage faith formation at home and equipping parents to disciple their kids in the faith. Currently studying Family, Youth and Children’s Ministry at Wesley Seminary, she also blogs at www.refocusministry.org and is a contributing blogger at ChildrensMinistryBlog.com.