Kids of the Kingdom: Four services with a focus on children

Reformed covenantal theology and the sacrament of baptism both say that children are an integral part of the church. But our words and actions often communicate quite the opposite. In a variety of ways the church tells its younger members, "Grow up and then you'll count!"

The worship planning team at our church recently decided it was time to take a fresh look at how we might communicate best to the children in our congregation. When we minister to more than two hundred children under the age of thirteen each week, we can't afford fuzzy thinking on the role of children in the church and its worship.

Actually, we've been incuding children in a variety of ways for years. We have a children's bulletin, a choir for children, and a "Children's Moment" in many worship services. The children always join me in front for every baptism, and in many ways they participate in verbal and musical leadership. But we felt the need for something more—something that would involve children in a meaningful way and help them (and their parents!) understand that they are a vital part of our worship community.

The Process

Norma Malefyt, our director of music, and I hold quarterly long-range planning sessions. The idea for a series of child-oriented worship services originated in one of these sessions. We agreed on the need for a greater focus on children in worship and shared the idea with Anita Huizenga, our director of children's ministries. The three of us began to brainstorm. Soon we also drew in Sally Dykstra, the director of King's Kids, our children's choir.

Since our worship committee of nine members is a monthly forum for brainstorming new ideas, presenting the idea there seemed the next logical step. At two succeeding monthly meetings the committee addressed the issue. Members suggested many new ideas, gave us good encouragement, and agreed that a series of services should be scheduled with children as the primary focus.

The basic direction was set: the series, called "Kids of the Covenant," would consist of four services. Although the worship in these services would be intergenerational, it would involve children in many ways as worship leaders.

We were excited, though we knew the concept was still only in seed form and would require many more planning sessions. To help us with that process, we set the following guidelines:

1. The pastor would set the basic direction for each service by his selection of the passage and theme. I knew this information would be needed early if I expected others to do adequate planning.

2. The primary focus of the entire service should be on children, with a secondary focus on adults (just the opposite of our usual worship).

3. The children should serve as worship leaders wherever possible and appropriate. We wanted the services to be worship by children as well as for children.

4. These services, though different, should include certain standard and recognizable features so that there would be continuity with the norma! worship life of the congregation. We didn't want a once-a-year-extrava-ganza that could prove how out-of-the-ordinary we could be.

5. The messages should be written and addressed to the life issues of elementary and middle school children. We decided that, because children have shorter attention spans than adults do, several short messages would be more appropriate than one larger one.

6. Congregational songs should be intergenerational, those that are known and recognized by children but are able to draw all ages together in unity. We wanted these services to pay credence to the unity of the body while highlighting children.

With the guidelines before us, we began more detailed planning. We set aside four evenings in June for the series. I selected passages and gave a digest of each message to the planners. Then together we decided on what special elements we'd like those services to include. Some of our ideas follow:

Visual artwork

We decided to have a special banner created for the sanctuary. We were so pleased with the banner that we also used it as the cover of each of the worship booklets and incorporated it into the design of the thank-you note we sent each participant.

Personal expressions of faith by children and families

We anticipated that these expressions would take the form of either testimonies or interviews. In actual practice they included an interview of a three-generation family at a baptism service; an interview of four children about their faith; and a recitation of the Apostles' Creed by Worship Center children.

Children in roles of musical leadership

Each service would include as many children as possible on recorders and Orff instruments, or as vocalists.

Scripture drama

Since drama communicates well to children, and they were interested in trying it, we planned to have the Scripture passages acted out at a few of the services.

Prayers by and for children

It was obvious that the pastoral prayers should include children's needs, but we also wanted children to be the ones who led in prayer.

Sermon outlines appropriate for children

Sermon outlines are already a regular part of our bulletin. But for these services, they would be written with an eye to children's use.


"Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these" (Mark 10:14).[1]

The Opening of Worship

Organ Prelude

"Jesus, We Love to Meet"m PsH 245
"Variations on 'Kum Ba Yah'"(Behnke)

The Call to Worship

Our Declaration of Trust and God's Greeting[2]

Congregation of Jesus Christ, in whom are you trusting?
Our help is in the name of the Lord, who made heaven and earth.
Grace, mercy, and peace to you in the name of the
Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

The Service of Praise


"This Is the Day"Ps H241, SFL 3
"Oh, How Good Is Christ the Lord" PsH 401 , SFL 177
"Lift Up Your Hearts" PsH 309, SFL 63

Celebrating God's Covenant

The Church's Profession

Our new life in Christ
is celebrated and nourished
in the fellowship of congregations
where God's name is praised,
his Word proclaimed,
his way taught;
where sins are confessed,
prayers and gifts are offered,
and sacraments are celebrated.
God meets us in the sacraments,
holy acts in which his deeds
elicit our response.
God reminds and assures us in baptism,
whether of those newly bom or newly converted,
that his covenant love saves us,
that he washes away our guilt,
gives us the Spirit,
and expects our love in return.
In marriage and family,
we serve God
by reflecting his covenant love
in life-long loyalty,
and by teaching his ways,
so that children may know Jesus as their Lord
and learn to use their gifts in a life of joyful service.
from "Our World Belongs to God" par. 39, 10, 49

Response: "Alleluia" (sung twice)PsH 640

The Presentation of the Rose[3]

Conversation about Baptism[4]

The Baptism

Hymn:"Baptized in Water" stanzas 1-3 PsH 269, PH 492, SFL 60

The Intercessory Prayer

The Offering

The Service of the Word

The Scripture: 1 Samuel 3:1-10

Song: "Samuel" (sung and dramatized)SFL 108[5]

Message: "The Boy Who Heard God Call"[6]


"Lord of Our Life, SFL 81
"Seek Ye First the Kingdom" PsH 209, PH 333, SFL 155
"Lord of Our Life" SFL 81

Message: "Boys and Girls Who Hear God's Call"[6]


The Closing of Worship

Song: "Lord, Be Glorified" SFL 71

The Benediction[2]

Song: "Go Now in Peace" PsH 317 SFL 79[7]

Organ Postlude: "Communion" (Guilmant)


The worship booklet for this service included a description and interpretation of the "Covenant Banner" hanging in front of the sanctuaiy. Twenty-seven persons were involved in leading the service in addition to myself and the director of music.

[1] I began the service with a verbal introduction to the entire series of services. I wanted the congregation to understand our purpose and how we should participate in unity. Each service has a theme sentence printed at the head of the worship sheet to set the tone for worship in the minds of the worshipers.

[2] The Declaration of Trust, God's Greeting, and the Benediction, essential elements of the services, are the same for each of the services.

[3] At each baptism, our pro-life committee presents a red rose to the family to symbolize the value of human life as a gift from God.

[4] In the "Conversation about Baptism" I interviewed three generations of a family. A grandmother, two daughters, a granddaughter, and a grandson sat casually with me on the platform steps for an informal conversation about what their baptism means to them and how it influences their family life. Since we have baptism services on a regular basis, this provided a pleasant change of pace from reading a Form for Baptism. I was careful in the interview to cover nearly all the material included in the Form for Baptism.

[5] The song "Samuel" provided an excellent opportunity for a Scripture drama. While three children sang the parts of narrator, Samuel, and Eli, two others mimed the drama between Samuel and Eli.

[6] The message was divided into two parts. The first was the biblical study of the passage and its action, reflecting on how and why God called Samuel. The second was the application of the passage to the lives of God's children today. I wondered with them how God may be calling them and how they might be answering God's call.

[7] "Go Now in Peace" is the regular closing song for our Worship Centers, so the children were very familiar with it. We closed each of the four services with this song, including instrumentation by children on recorders and Orff instruments before and after the singing. At this service all fourth graders accompanied the singing.


". . . and a little child will lead them" (Is. 11:6).

The Opening of Worship

Organ Prelude

"Faith of Our Fathers" (Kraft, Callahan)
"Praise to the Lord, the Almighty"PsH 253 RL 145, SFL 27, TH 53

The Call to Worship

Our Declaration of Trust and God's Greeting Congregation of Jesus Christ, in whom are you trusting?
Our help is in the name of the Lord, who made heaven and earth.
Grace, mercy, and peace to you in the name of the
Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

The Service of Praise and Profession


"In the Presence of Your People"PsH 160, SFL 25[1]
"I Will Sing of the Mercies of the Lord" PsH 169

Children's Profession: The Apostles' Creed[2]

Song: "Father, I Adore You" PsH 284,SFL 28

The Service of Prayer and Thanks

Intercessory Prayers[3]

for the world
for our community
for our families
for God's special protection

The Offering

Song: "Tell Your Children" PsH 583

The Service of the Word

The Scripture: 2 Kings 4:8-37

Message: "The Boy Who Sneezed"[4]

Children's Song of Trust: "When I Am Afraid" SFL 218[5]

Message: "Why Is This Story in the Bible?"[4]


The Closing of Worship

Song: "You Are Our God; We Are Your People" PsH 272 SFL 203

The Benediction

Song: "Go Now in Peace" (sung twice) PsH 317,SFL 79

Organ Postiude: "All Praise to You, My God, This Night"PsH 441, PH 542, RL 77, SFL 78, TH 401


This service included twelve persons in leadership roles in addition to the worship center children, the pastor, and the organist.

[1] The congregation has learned to love the song "In the Presence of Your People" and we've appreciated the opportunity to add two other stanzas written by BertPolman(SFL25).

[2] The third- and fourth-grade children made their profession of the Apostles' Creed verbally and visually. While reciting the creed together, they signed it with the appropriate hand motions they had learned in their worship center. This was very effective and meaningful for all of the worshipers.

[3] The prayers were offered by three children and myself. I had coached them with ideas for their prayers in preparation for this time. Our discussion and their participation was especially important for this service because during the week preceding it one of the children of the congregation almost drowned in a swimming pool, was rescued, and then responded to treatment in an amazing way. So we concluded with a prayer of thanks for God's special protection for this child, a particularly appropriate act of worship in this children's service!

[4] The message was again divided into two parts. The first dealt with the biblical story and its meaning. A sneeze has no significance unless you have died, and in that case it's proof that you are alive again. The second asked the bigger question about what this story might mean for children today. I pointed out that God is concerned when children get sick too. I wanted them to see God as one who is interested in children and is powerful enough to raise Jesus and others from the dead.

[5] The song of trust "When I Am Afraid" was sung by four children who are brothers and sisters. It made a particularly fitting transition from one part of the message to the next.


In our worship tonight we celebrate the faith of families and the value of children.

We Come to Praise

Organ Prelude

"Trumpet Tune" (Johnson)
"Earth and All Stars" PsH 433, PH 458, SFL 98, RL 33
"All Creatures of Our God and King" PsH 431, PH 455, SFL 86, RL4, TH 115

The Call to Worship


"Rejoice in the Lord Always" PsH 228, SFL 230
"Worthy Is Christ" PsH 629, SFL 170
"Rejoice in the Lord Always" PsH 228, SFL 230

Our Declaration of Trust and God's Greeting

Congregation of Jesus Christ, in whom are you trusting?
Our help is in the name of the Lord, who made heaven and earth.
Grace, mercy, and peace to you in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Song: "Alleluia/Alabare" PsH 234

To Profess Our Faith and Be Baptized

The Presentation of the Rose

Profession of Faith

Hymn: "He Is Lord" PsH 633, SFL 178


Hymn: "Jesus Loves Me" PsH 571, PH 304, RL 457, SFL 61, TH 189

To Affirm Our Faith

Conversations about Faith[1]

The Apostles' Creed[2]


"I Love You, Lord" (sung twice)TWC 124
"Alleluia, Alleluia! Give Thanks" PsH 402, PH 106, SFL 173

The Offering (received during the singing)

To Hear God's Word

The Scripture: 2 Kings 5:1-15

Message: "The Young Girl Who Spoke Up"[3]

King's Kids Ensemble: "A Child's Prayer" (Cox/Ligon)

Message: "This Young Girl Makes Me Think"[3]

Intercessory Prayers[4]

for our outreach and missions
for the children of our community
for the suffering children of the world

To Leave for Service

Song: "Shine, Jesus, Shine" SFL 239

The Benediction

Song: "Go Now In Peace" (sung twice) PsH 317, SFL 79

Organ Postlude: "Postlude in Classic Style" (Young)


The leadership of this service included two major groups—the King's Kids ensemble and the Worship Center children—as well as eleven children in special roles, in addition to several adults.

[1] The "Conversations about Faith" involved four children from the congregation. I prepared an outline for them of what we would be talking about and what questions I would use. I wanted to give them opportunity to express themselves about baptism, about their views of Jesus and what it means to be a Christian. They met me on the steps, and we sat informally for the "interview."

[2] The Worship Center children came forward for the Apostles' Creed and again professed it both by unison recitation and signing.

[3] For this first message I focused on the story of the slave girl who was courageous and loving enough to give advice to a sick master. For the second message I did some wondering and thinking out loud about the lessons she teaches us about the gift of words and the need for love toward those who are needy.

[4] The intercessory prayer was led by three children. Again I had given them suggestions and guidelines for their prayer prior to the service.


We worship the Lord, who often surprises us in what he does.

The Opening of Worship

Organ Prelude

"Rigaudon" (Campra)
"Fill Thou My Life, OLord, My God" PsH 547, RL 147, TH 589

The Call to Worship

Song: "Praise the Lord with the Sound of Trumpet" PsH 569, SFL 32

Our Declaration of Trust and God's Greeting

Congregation of Jesus Christ, in whom are you trusting?
Our help is in the name of the Lord, who made heaven and earth.
Grace, mercy, and peace to you in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.


"Clap Your Hands" PsH 166, AFL 179[1]
"I Will Sing unto the Lord" 152, SFL 105
"Clap Your Hands" PsH 166, SFL 179

The Intercessory Prayer[2]

for children and their needs
for parents and grandparents
for our children's ministry

Song: "Lord, Our Lord, Your Glorious Name" PsH 8, PH 163, RL 83, SFL 15,TH 114

The Offering (received during the song)

The Service of the Word

The Scripture: John 6:1-15 (read and dramatized by children)[3]

Trio: "Discipleship" SFL 233[4]

Message: "The Boy with the Lunch Basket"[5]

Song: "He's Got the Whole World" PsH 457, SFL 198

Message: "The Miracle That Surprised Everybody"[5]


The Closing of Worship

Song: "The King of Glory Comes" PsH 370, SFL 156, TH 240

The Benediction

Song: "Go Now In Peace" (sung with instruments as around, sung twice) PsH 317, SFL 79 6

Organ Postlude: "Postlude for a Joyful Occasion" (Lang)


This service included sixteen children in leadership roles, in addition to five adults.

[1] You will notice that the song "I Will Sing unto the Lord" is sandwiched between a double singing of "Clap Your Hands." We will occasionally cluster a song in this fashion to reinforce its message and to provide a convenient form of response.

[2] The intercessory prayer in this final service of the series was led by three parents. It seemed a very fitting conclusion to the series to have young parents interceding for children, families, and the ministry of the church to children.

[3] For the dramatized Scripture reading we used John 6:1-15 from The Dramatized New Testament (see RW 34, p. 25). Four children read the various parts, while six others simultaneously acted out what was being read. Good preparation and coaching by our director of children's ministries made this presentation very effective. Costuming and props added a helpful visual element.

[4] A trio of fourth- and fifth-grade girls sang this song.

[5] In the first part of the message I reflected on the boy and how he came into contact with Jesus at such a strategic time. In the second part I focused on the miracle that Jesus performed and how he revealed himself through it.

[6] The use of "Go Now in Peace" accompanied by Orff instruments as a closing song was a constant in each service. The use of recorders, signing, and singing as a round were variables from week to week.


At the conclusion of the series of four services we printed an invitation for reactions and feedback. The response from people of all ages was so encouraging that we are implementing the same process in planning another series of worship services—this time for high school youth.

Rev. Howard D. Vanderwell (d. 2018) was the Resource Development Specialist of Pastoral Leadership for the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship, the author and editor of The Church of All Ages and Caring Worship: Helping Worship Leaders Provide Pastoral Care through the Liturgy, and co-author of Designing Worship Together.

Reformed Worship 36 © June 1995, Calvin Institute of Christian Worship. Used by permission.