When the coronavirus hit our communities and many worship services moved online, people began asking the question, “What about the kids?” Some churches were adept at answering that question, as it was one they already asked themselves regularly; those churches simply needed to adapt existing practices. For other congregations, it was a new question. Parents who had been taught explicitly or implicitly that they couldn’t worship with kids present or that kids needed their own worship experience found themselves trying to figure out how to engage in online worship alongside their children. Some parents simply didn’t believe it was possible and watched a recorded worship time after their children were in bed, or they stopped watching online services altogether. Other parents were greatly helped by churches that got creative. Some churches adjusted the length of their services, intentionally included elements that were child-friendly, or even experimented with including children in leading worship. Other churches created special worship bags that could be picked up or were delivered to homes to encourage worship participation. And some churches changed nothing.
As I watched how congregations responded to this question, I was struck by the disconnect between what we believe and what we do. We believe in the power of the Holy Spirit to change hearts and lives, to speak to our souls in ways that don’t depend on our comprehension. We believe that the same Holy Spirit is present and active in our worship. Yet many of us don’t want our children present in worship until they can understand it—an argument we would never apply to other aspects of our lives, such as taking our children to sports events. We speak about the importance of the covenant and how everyone belongs, yet our actions often suggest that our children don’t really belong until they are more grown up. We refer to congregational worship as “adult worship,” and then wonder why our middle and high school students don’t feel they belong. There is a disconnect between our belief and our practice.
I will not argue that our children should never be offered age-appropriate worship opportunities, and certainly every parent (and child) has a day when everyone would be better off with some time apart. Churches need to anticipate and provide for these situations. But what is your church’s default stance toward children in worship? What are you intentionally or unintentionally communicating to them? How might you better enfold children and youth so that they know they belong not just to the church but to God, that the Holy Spirit is at work in and through them, that they have gifts to bring and gifts to receive?
What about the kids? In this issue of Reformed Worship we want to encourage worship leaders, pastors, parents, and church leaders to engage that question as it relates to worship. The issue contains excellent articles on topics ranging from how to preach with children in mind, to how to help children make meaning of their faith. Along the way, you will find many other practical suggestions and hear what other congregations are doing. In this issue, we have also tried to model the inclusion we’re talking about by including artwork created by children, as well as a thanksgiving prayer written by a young teen. This certainly isn’t the first time we have addressed the question, so I encourage you to spend some time in our digital library or on our website (ReformedWorship.org). We will continue to highlight the inclusion of children in worship in the next several issues of RW, so we invite you to send in your own ideas as well as contributions from children and youth in your church. Let’s keep exploring this important question together.