Let’s talk worship wars. No, not the one about drums in church (so “nineties”)-let’s talk about children’s church. There seems to be two schools of thought on the issue. One values the child being physically present the entire worship service so corporate worship may be modeled by the Body of Christ. The other side prefers to offer an alternative, more age appropriate option to ensure that the child is mentally present.
Both views stem from pure places and value the overall spiritual health of the child. It is for this reason that we surveyed our parents, and to no surprise we were serving families from all over the spectrum. The end result was a lovely compromise.
Keep It Short:The CC(Children’s Church) worship experience only lasts the length of the sermon and the prayer. In our church that is around twenty-five minutes. Plus, on communion Sundays (#highchurch), CC is much shorter to assure the kids are back to partake of the sacrament with their fellow church family members.
Keep It Fresh: To best meet the needs of our families and volunteers, we do not offer CC on holiday weekends. Furthermore, this will be the first time in six years that we are offering it during the summer. Much-needed breaks like these, “keeps the lettuce fresh” as my senior pastor says. It allows time for the children to miss CC and for the leaders to take a break so they are geared up to work with the kids.
Keep It Thematic: As a member of the Worship Planning Team, I assure that CC is in line with the day’s sermon and get I ideas from the team. Though we are momentarily worshipping in separate spaces, we are worshipping together. In the worship guide, the parents are guided with “On the Drive Home” questions that can springboard them into a conversation over the morning.
Keep It Different: Children’s church is not Sunday school. Just like we as adults expect something different from the sanctuary than from our small group-the same is true for kids. While we pour biblical content into the minds of our kids at Sunday school, CC is a sacred space to pour their hearts out to God. At worship, as Robert Webber teaches, “We remember, anticipate, and celebrate the work of the Lord in our lives.” CC can be exploratory, yet structured, energetic but solemn. It can be a full and also margin-filled time where kids are equipped to turn up the volume of the Holy Spirit in their lives.
With the help of Marlene Lefever’s work, Learning Styles, our CC template assures that the unique way that each child’s brain is wired is honored. As children first arrive we arrange ourselves in a circle on the floor. Once we are all comfortable, we experience the following.
Welcome & Expectations: The stage is set for a sacred time. The next twenty-five minutes is unlike any other time of their week. A reminder to be respectful as they & their friends strive to hear God’s voice is needed. Our three expectations are to: listen, try with their whole hearts, and to have fun.
“Hook” Question/Activity: Our kids are asked to turn to the partner next to them and discuss a question that immediately engages their imagination with the scripture. Once they share with their partner, two or three kids can share aloud with the whole group. For example, if the scripture was Jesus walking on water in Matthew 14, a hook question could be, ” When was the last time you did something that at first scared you?” This discussion time could be followed by a balancing game to reinforce this concept.
Echo Prayer: The prayer that we created is designed to intentionally build them up with sound theology. It gets its name because a different child is chosen to lead the prayer each time, while the others repeat (echo) each part. There are also a few hand motions splashed in towards the end to help engage their memory of the prayer. After a semester, the majority of kids had it memorized. Our hope is that the prayer would become as easy as breathing. A centering piece, if you will, before we dive into worship.
Kid Volunteer: Good morning God. (echo) Thank you for making us.(echo)
Good morning Jesus. (echo) Thank you for healing us. (echo)
Good morning Holy Spirit. (echo) Thank you for guiding us.(echo)
We are ready to listen (echo) with our hearts to what you say. (echo)
Your voice is much louder (echo) within this special place. (echo)
Quiet down my brain (echo) and slow down my feet. (echo)
I came to worship, to hear you(echo) come now, here’s a seat (echo).
At the end of the prayer, the adult volunteer guides the children to close their eyes and imagine what they would tell Jesus if He were to be sitting right next to them. A quiet moment is left at this time (say, twenty-seconds) so the children can think or whisper their response.
Worship through Song & Dance: The following sing-along DVDs are very helpful: “Deep Blue” by Cokesbury, FaithWeaver “Sing-Along” and “Play & Worship”, and “Celebration Place; Sing & Praise”.
BOOK: This is the portion of the worship experience where the scriptural content is presented. A helpful text in creatively presenting this is The Fabulous Reinvention of Sunday School by Aaron Reynolds. This might include the storyteller being in costume and telling of how Jesus walked on water while he/she actually sits inside a cardboard boat. Perhaps blue butcher paper covers the floor where the children are sitting.
LOOK: If the BOOK portion was presented in a more energetic, large group fashion, than we aim to make the LOOK piece more introspective. This part of the worship goes into how the scriptural content is applied in the twenty-first century. An example of this might be passing out wave-shaped sheets of paper and fun pens and inviting the kids to spread out all over the room and chew on such questions such as, “Why do you think Peter started to sink?, Is it important to the story that the wind and the waves listened to Jesus?, Why is it sometimes difficult to trust in Jesus?”. We play some soft music and place a large three-minute sand-timer upfront to guide their solo work.
TOOK: We bring it all home with a weekly benediction that is based on the possibilities. What would happen if this scripture was applied this week? A way to make this scripture relevant would be to make care-packages for our recent high school graduates as they face a scary, but necessary, time. These packages could be thematically water-based, and have cards that read, “Trust in Jesus-Stay Afloat in College”, or other kid-friendly lines.
The best news about Children’s Church is that the most important work is already done. The Holy Spirit is communicating to these young disciples. The only work we have to do is create a sacred space that enables the kids to tune into the conversation.
As my fifteen-month-old-daughter illustrates in the above picture (after shoving her way to the front of the group just to be closer to the music then dancing her heart out!), if we prayerfully expect the Spirit to move in their little hearts, nothing will stand in the way of their big transformation.