Activate Toddler Worship
By Chungmi Kang
Due to the prolonged pandemic, church ministry has continued to shrink. This is particularly true in toddler departments because there is no COVID-19 vaccine currently available for young children. There is greater difficulty in meeting in person for toddler departments. “Herd immunity” has developed to some extent, and the mandatory wearing of masks has been lifted. However, parents of infants and toddlers remain anxious. It is understandable that parents and families do not want to expose young children to the risk of infection in church.
The shrinking of the toddler ministry affects young people’s church attendance. During the pandemic, young people with infants and toddlers left the church, and many lost their faith. As a pastor seeing these changes in ministry, I want to share some proposals to help find a breakthrough in these difficult times in ministry.
1. Build children’s worship with parents.
It takes time to build children’s worship with parents. Inside the church, there will be voices of opposition and approval. In our church, we tried many methods, including using a machine called “walkie-talkie.” The main argument for the inconvenience of children’s worship with parents is that parents want to have time to worship without their children present. Sometimes toddler ministry is regarded as babysitting. But we need to shift our thinking. Infants and toddlers have a high parental dependence. If children worship away from their parents, they may experience worship as fearful instead of joyful.
To provide toddler worship with parents it is necessary to get the understanding and support from the church. Further, parental education should not be overlooked. The church ministry has a job to help children worship and know the love of God. However, it is the parents themselves who can show and teach the attitude of worship. Parents need to teach children how to pray and praise, and they need to emphasize how worship is centered on their lives.
2. Organize various worship forms.
For worship for parents and children together, try to construct worship forms by delivering a specialized message for parents and children. Use various media for sharing God’s Word. Encourage parents and children to participate in worship. The preacher should deliver a simple and clear message that children can understand and that meets the needs of the parents. Parents should attempt to make the words they hear in Sunday worship the basis of their faith education for children.
For example, if speaking about Jesus calling the disciples, the children’s message should concisely and clearly convey that Jesus, who called the disciples, also calls us to be disciples. That same message should offer a spiritual point for parents by explaining why Jesus called us as his disciples. The message should be short, but clear: Jesus called us as his disciples. We are God’s beloved people, and God delights when we do as Jesus did.
It’s important to use various media to deliver biblical messages. You can help children and parents experience some lively biblical drama by using such objects as a big boat set, a net, grave, garden, sea, and so on. To construct this kind of word experience well, it is important to involve the teachers in toddler ministry. Those teachers will have to invest their time and prepare in advance for the worship service. It is vital to make the Bible come to life and allow parents and children to laugh together and move around instead of sitting still and listening to the Word.
Finally, it is necessary to increase parental participation in developing such worship. Remind parents that they are not just observers in worship, but participants and fellow workers. Assign parents some characters in a Bible drama. Encourage them to lead children to experience the Bible activities. Ask parents to offer prayer in worship. Ask for their help in preparing for worship and in cleaning up the worship room before and after worship.
3. Provide sensory activities.
Infants and toddlers learn through their five senses. It is good to prepare worship activities that enable infants and toddlers to use those senses. Stimulate children’s vision, hearing, smell, taste, and touch. You don’t have to give all the stimuli at once. From the beginning of the worship service, offer children sensory activities.
For instance, let’s consider the story of Jesus calling Peter as a disciple: the children and parents enter the worship room and see colorful paper fish spread out everywhere. The children can move freely around the worship room and catch paper fish with magnetic fishing rods. When children touch the fish and put them in containers, their senses are being engaged.
In the middle of worship, children and their parents can experience the Word by raising nets together and touching paper fish as Jesus and Peter, the main characters in the Bible drama, did. Finally, in the Bible activity after worship, children can put their hands in water to touch toy fish. Sensory activities help children remember the Word. According to the feedback of parents I met in the toddler ministry, such worship experiences are enjoyed by parents and toddlers alike.
4. Open worship to people in need.
A lot of online worship video content has been posted on YouTube. This is one way that worship becomes open to more people. Families that want to offer a toddler worship service at home need access to all three worship platforms: in-person, online, and Zoom. Online worship and Zoom worship should be organized in a way that emphasizes interaction.
Online worship is vital for families who cannot attend in-person worship on Sunday. Online worship should include a short and easy-to-follow form of worship (prayer-praise-words). Create videos of praise and words that include teachers’ familiar voices and objects that can be easily accessed every day.
The online worship platform is good, even if children and parents worship independently. Families that are unable to attend church due to the pandemic can be helped by online worship. My own ministry was developed in New Jersey, but the online worship expanded to Philadelphia, Virginia, Georgia, Australia, and Korea. I sent Bible activity packages to people’s homes so that they could participate in the online worship. Parents shared photos and videos of children via this worship platform.
A Zoom worship service should include interactive worship. Young children have short attention spans. Some ideas for getting children involved in the Zoom worship service include having children find objects in their homes with the concept of a curious box (similar to a scavenger hunt). Children at home can search for objects mentioned in the sermon. You can organize some activities with the objects they found. By using the spotlight function of Zoom, the appearance of each family is concentrated and allows them to feel and react on their own. The Zoom platform is not limited to ministry in individual churches. It can be used to involve people in areas where there is no Sunday school or no ministers.
5. Build a prayer community for worship.
We need to pray in order to build up worship. Our hands and God’s hands are working together in ministry. During the more than two years of the pandemic, I kept praying with my teachers in toddler ministry every Friday evening. It was not always easy to keep the time and place open to pray. We devoted ourselves to ministry and hoped to build up worship. Our prayer is that all children who join in worship will know and love God. We prayed that parents would worship together with their children. We hoped that people would rebuild their faith through online and Zoom worship.
God has been faithful. He helped us see children waiting for worship, praising and loving God’s words. While listening to the children’s worship and message, their parents themselves changed in their faith. Parents are now saying about worship, “Surely God is here, let’s go back to him!” We have seen families who began to worship again through their children’s worship, families who have returned to church, and families that have settled well in the church.
I believe that our ministry is not only our work, but also God’s work. It is the ministry of God who works through us. Our hearts and minds must be fixed on God so that the Holy Spirit can work on our efforts. Prayer is an important discipline to center our minds and hearts on God. I sincerely hope that you will establish your prayer community for worship.