Why do I have to go to church? I hate sitting there—it's so boring!" I remember the first time my daughter said those words. I shuddered, wondering where my husband and I had gone wrong. But after I had thought about her honest remarks for a while, I had a few questions of my own: Why do our church services so often exclude and ignore children? And what does attending "adult" services do to our children's attitude toward God and his church?
As most of us have discovered, children are always learning. They learn from what we say. They learn even more from what we do and how we do it. If we tell them that church is for children as well as adults but then conduct an entire liturgy that leaves them out, the message that takes shape in their minds and stays there is this: Church is only for adults. It's an event to be dreaded, but tolerated.
Perhaps a paraphrase of James 2:14-17 will help us focus on the seriousness of the problem:
What good is it to say to our covenant children that they are a welcome part of our worshiping community and then do nothing to include them in a meaningful way? A verbal commitment to them without action is dead.
The Bank of Worship Ideas below is offered with the hope and prayer that pastors, worship committees, music committees, parents—the entire worshiping community—will put forth concerted efforts to make the vows that we make at the baptism of our children more than just a verbal commitment.
Imagine a choir of "angels" on Christmas. Imagine children carrying in palm fronds during a processional on Palm Sunday.
Imagine a group of children, or a family, presenting a well-rehearsed (not role-played) enactment of a Bible story, costumes and all.
Imagine a Sunday school class or a family working together to design a bulletin cover or banner that coordinates with the theme of worship.
Imagine children and moms and dads_dressed as pilgrims, wisemen, shepherds, angels-greeting worshipers. Imagine these same people picking up the offering.
The possibilities for all God's children to worship together are nearly limitless. May God give us the necessary imagination and will to put forth the effort that it takes.
May we all have the joy of hearing a child say, "I love to go to church. The people in my church really care about me."
May we remember that the true measure of how we welcome Christ is how we welcome children (Matt. 18:5).
Bank of Worship Ideas
- Ask members of the congregation, children as well as adults, to use a "Form for Giving" to pledge their talents and abilities. The form can be placed in the collection plate.
Remember that no offer to help should be ignored or belittled. Children who offer to help the janitor dust the pews or assist the secretary in stamping and addressing envelopes should be thanked on the bulletin. Nothing is more discouraging to a child than unrequited, ignored, or unappreciated willingness.
- Establish a food pantry to collect food for the needy. Once a month children can carry some of the food gifts to the front of the sanctuary.
- Use banks for special offerings. (Various organizations gladly provide them.) Have the children bring the banks to the front of the church during offering time.
If the church or local Christian school has a current building project, families can collect their gifts in brick-shaped banks. On designated Sundays the children can bring the bricks forward during offering time and "build a wall" (under supervision).
- Have the children assist in taking up offerings on special days .
- Once a month have children bring to the front cards and letters for the sick, shut-ins, and missionaries. Collect these written offerings in special baskets and have the elders and pastor distribute them as they make their regular visits. Letters for missionaries can be sent monthly in one large envelope.
See "Making the Most of Music," p. 16.
- Invite the children (responsively or in unison) to read the Scripture lessons of the day.
- Have the children respond to the reading of the Law (perhaps a children's version of the Ten Commandments) with phrases such as "We will obey the voice of God" or "We will serve our Lord."
- Have the children read from one of the confessions.
The congregational prayer gives an excellent opportunity for all willing and able members— including children—to publicly offer carefully prepared prayer. You can encourage families to volunteer by holding periodic classes on how to construct a congregational prayer.
A week prior to a given person's or family's turn, their name and phone number should be printed in the bulletin. Members of the church should phone in their requests and items of praise and thanksgiving by Thursday. The family or individual will also want to be in communication with the pastor for an update on prayer concerns.
Encourage children to pray for items that especially concern them: schools, teachers, pets, relationships, experiences, and so on.
- Appropriate, well-told stories (preferably from Scripture) help draw and hold the attention of children.
- Using an overhead projector to highlight the sermon (with maps, diagrams, timelines, outlines) helps children follow the sequence of the sermon and anticipate what is to come.
- A special children's message (delivered by the pastor or another qualified person) can engage the children imaginatively and "prepare" them for the sermon (see "Beyond Moralism," p. 10, and "Face to Face," p. 14).
HOLIDAYS AND OTHER SPECIAL SERVICES
- Invite children to assist in greeting, ushering, reading parts of the liturgy, and taking up the offering.
- Have the Sunday school give a Christmas program on Christmas morning.
- Have families take turns lighting the candles in the Advent wreath.
- Ask the children to participate in a procession on Palm Sunday, waving palm fronds as they enter the sanctuary.
- Have the children act out the Easter story (or other Bible stories). Use a script, costumes, and plenty of rehearsals to make sure they are prepared and confident.
- Bulletins should include puzzles, word games, and exercises designed to complement the sermon.
- Closely related to children's bulletins are fill-in-the-blank outlines for the sermon—effective for third-graders through adults.
For more information on one approach to preparing children's bulletins see RW 3 or contact
7118 Williamstown Dr.
Hudsonville, Ml 49426
Sunday school classes, youth groups, and interested families can design bulletin covers that complement the sermon theme and/or the time of year.
Families and other interested groups can design banners that correlate with the theme of worship. The banners can be carried forward and presented by children during the prelude.
Credit for the Bank of Worship Ideas goes to the many churches that responded to the survey and to the pastors and children's worship leaders that were ivilling to share their ideas and experiences.