When we talk about opening our corporate worship times to all ages, we need to take into consideration the substance and structure of our service. Frankly, a traditional church service format is often difficult for kids to engage with. Kids are relational; services tend to be focused on the individual. Kids like to talk; services tend to encourage silent reflection. Kids like to move; services tend to lend towards sitting still..for a long time…
Before we launch into ways that we can work towards making church more welcoming to kids, we must first acknowledge this simple fact: If kids aren’t truly welcome, no strategy in the world will make them feel welcome. If they are just seen as a distraction that the parents and congregation has to put up with, then they will probably be just that, no matter how many cool things there are to do.
But if a congregation truly has at their heart a desire to welcome kids as an integral and participatory part of their worship, that heart will shine through in each tip that is employed. It really does have to start with the heart and go from there. (For more on this, check out this article – Do Not Hinder: Welcoming Kids into Worship)
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 – 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.
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 mothers with little ones – In the back of the sanctuary, consider putting some rocking chairs or space for moms to walk or bounce their littlest ones to sleep.
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 let’s them know they are a vital part of the congregation.
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.
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 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.
What are some things your church has done to welcome children?
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.