I don't know about you, but I thought we'd be quarantined for a couple weeks, a month at most and then life would return to normal. But now it's looking like COVID-19 is here for the foreseeable future. Initially, our strategy was just to do as much as possible online. But digital fatigue is a real thing, and we have lost engagement and effectiveness. So my team has decided to take this opportunity revisit every aspect of our church and recalibrate.
One of the pillars of our church is family ministry so I am spending significant time looking at how we minister to the smallest members of our church family as they begin to return to our church building.
Many churches have returned to in-person services. For some, that includes a return to children's programming. But for some, that means kids are joining their parents in the main service. Many pastors used to be opposed to this idea.
But if there's one thing COVID has accomplished, it's made us much more appreciative of seeing faces, even if it means the "Littles" are in our services.
If this is new for your church, you may be wondering how to craft a service that can engage even the littlest of kids in your space.
When we started our church 5 years ago, we made the decision that Family Services were going to be a part of the culture of our church. We wanted our kids to know they are an important member of our church family. We wanted to use the opportunity to help parents mentor their children in worship. And we wanted to allow our senior saints to get to know all of our kids from birth through student ministries. We designated fifth Sundays to this practice and have never looked back.
In this service our school-age children stay in the service for the entire morning.
Doing this has taught us a few things along the way.
1. Embrace the silly.
Children do not have long attention spans. They “whisper” loudly. They don't sit still. They munch crackers noisily and leave crumbs. All realities that unnerve many Lead Pastors.
Have grace for the silly things. Make a little more space in the seats and learn to laugh.
Remember: Jesus made space for little children and chastised those who did not think He should be bothered with them. So, turn around and give the noisy kid and their parent a smile.
Are you taking communion? Ask your pastor to include in his or her script what communion is and why we take it.
Ask your Lead Pastor to make it a point to discuss why some people raise hands while singing.
Ask your Lead Pastor to specifically encourage parents to quietly explain everything that is taking place in the service to their kids. AND remind everyone else that this means some noise but that is OK WITH US. These parents are discipling their kids. And that's what we want.
Remember: the same Jesus who asked us to remember Him in communion, is the Jesus who dearly valued children. He will understand if parents are explaining as they go. The act of discipling our children is a solemn and holy act of worship.
3. Don’t distract them – engage them.
We teach children right from the moment they are born by what we do and what we allow them to do.
YES! Children are going to be silly and wiggly during the sermon and should not be expected to sit and be perfectly quiet all the time.
YES! Children are going to be fidgety and that is ok.
YES! Children will speak out loud, because they haven't learned social expectations.
YES! Children have shorter attention spans and might get distracted.
Anticipate the fidgets. This is the time to teach about and model participation in corporate worship and listening to the Word. And you can manage all these realities without handing them a phone to stay distracted. Teach children that they are meant to worship and participate.
Our goal in having kids in the service is to be intentional about mentoring them. We need to teach them how to engage with the service, rather than having them distracted and “quieted down” with an electronic device or unrelated activity. Provide kid specific sermon note pages that asks questions for them to answer. Give them manipulatives like play dough, wikki sticks, or pipe cleaners and tell them to create a shape related to the message while the pastor is speaking. Provide coloring pages related to the bible story to color while the pastor is speaking, then have them stand up and do show and tell at some point during the message. Challenge them to count how many times the Lead Pastor says a certain word. Any tools you provide should be interactive and cause the child to have to pay attention.
Remember: Doing this will teach them that they are a part of the church body and that God has something to say to them as well and in their language.
4. Include them.
Invite children and students to participate.
At my church, we incorporate children and students in our Family service. We simply invite children and students to take their rightful place. They join the worship team, they step to the mic to read scripture, they assist the ushers, and they lead in prayer.
When given the space to serve, children take these acts of service very seriously and see it as their own worship to God. We want them to learn that they have a place in service and in leadership.
Remember: Children have it in them to want to serve God and to lead in their own way. It is up to the adults in their lives have to make room for them to express their service to God and to allow them to be unrefined and learning as they do.
5. Empower parents.
My husband and I have a tendency to refer to our marriage in two seasons: BC standing for "before children" and AC for "after children." Before my husband and I had children, we stayed out late. We slept in late. We chose our restaurant based upon what we wanted, and ate in peace. Neither of us stood on our chairs, shot things out of straws, yelled when we thought the other wasn't paying enough attention to us, or threw food on the floor. It was peaceful.
Our kids are all teens and young adults now, but when they were little, we had to be strategic about where we took our kids. Was this kid-friendly? Could they handle the mess and noise that come with kids? Would they give us the evil eye?
Church is no different. Parents will choose a church based on how the church handles the noise and mess that comes with kids. They can see immediately whether we have the heart of Jesus by how we welcome their child.
Make it a point to tell parents that their child is welcome in the main service, that you have ways to engage them, and that they are free to speak to their child to redirect them and teach them without judgement.
Remember: When Jesus rebuked the disciples for holding children back from Him, He admonished them that “the kingdom of Heaven belongs to such as these.” Jesus did not view children as an inconvenience, but held them up as an example of how we as believers ought to approach Him.
We need to see children through the eyes of Christ and embrace the things that Jesus valued in them.
See a child in your services as a sign of life and growth.
See them as a follower of Christ now, not a future prospect.
See them as valuable and necessary in the Body of Christ.
Let's create an environment in our churches where children feel valued.
Jesus said in Matthew 18:5 that whenever we welcome a little child in His name, we welcome Him. Let that be your guiding principle when it comes to bringing children into your services.
When you welcome children, you roll out the red carpet for the presence of Jesus.