Worshiping God: 'Where do the Children go during Worship?'
By Kevin Johnson
How many times have children’s leaders been asked that question? Many times, this question is posed by first-time visitors. Let me answer this question with another one: what is the goal of faith formation in children? Regardless of age and ability at which children begin their faith journey, their growth requires a familiarity in the life of the faith community. Therefore, the church should contain several intentional elements. Reimagining Faith Formation for the 21st Century: Engaging All Areas and Generations author John Roberto, founder of the Vibrant Faith Community, writes about eight of these faith-forming areas that support a person’s (children included) growth in faith. One such area is worshiping God, which is defined as worshiping in community, celebrating the sacraments, being the living presence of God in the world, and modeling Christ’s likeness to others.
There has been a friendly debate for decades about “what to do with the children” during a faith community’s corporate worship service. For years, children’s leadership has discussed what to offer children during morning worship. Many responses have been received, from providing a children’s message in the congregational worship time to releasing children for a directed activity. If we take the areas of engagement into account as we answer the question, then we must find a way to offer a worship opportunity that provides all the aspects in an intentional worshiping God approach. Allow me to offer one such model that has proven to be very effective.
All elements of adult worship have been incorporated, but they are done in a child-friendly way. Music, songs, prayers, and message are all presented in an age-appropriate manner. This format allows the children (ages 5-12) to lead the worship services. A “bulletin” is projected on video screen, so upon arrival the children know the order of worship for that day (see below).
CALL TO WORSHIP: GREETER
MORNING PRAYER: PRAYER LEADER
WORSHIP IN SONG: PRAISE LEADER
WORSHIP “WORD OF THE DAY”
GIVING OF THE OFFERING: USHERS
BIBLE READER: Matthew 20:1-16
TODAY’S MESSAGE: “A Para-ball”
CLOSING PRAYER: PRAYER LEADER
*REMEMBER TO BRING YOUR BIBLE WITH YOU EACH SUNDAY
Children are selected each Sunday by the adult leaders in the group to lead the service. This happens upon entry to the area and is a good way to familiarize the children to the worship space. This approach allows all those in attendances to have opportunities to participate fully. Certain “jobs” require reading, while others do not. To pique the interest of participation of the children they are given the opportunity to talk into a microphone. This encourages them to speak in front of their peers.
The role of Greeter is to read announcements into the microphone and welcome the children to “their” service (see below). This greeting gives opportunity to reinforce expectations, introduce adult volunteers, and establish a positive worship environment.
WELCOME TO CHILDREN’S CHAPEL.
PLEASE TURN TO SOMEONE AROUND YOU, SHAKE THEIR HAND, AND WELCOME THEM TO CHILDREN’S CHAPEL THIS MORNING.
THIS MORNING’S ANNOUNCEMENTS ARE . . .
PLEASE WORSHIP IN CHAPEL THE RIGHT WAY, BE RESPECTFUL TO EACH OTHER AND TO WHO IS SPEAKING.
LISTEN FOR THE WORSHIP WORD OF THE DAY.
REMEMBER TO TRY AND BRING YOUR OWN BIBLE EACH WEEK TO CHAPEL. Hold up your Bible and show us that you brought it this morning!
Join us for our mid-week activities. We will meet on 1, 2, 3 . . . HUMP DAY! (this receives a huge response from the children who shout out HUMP DAY and reinforces Wednesday night activities. This line will change as events change each week).
GLAD YOU ARE HERE THIS MORNING TO WORSHIP GOD!
SO NOW LET CHILDREN’S CHAPEL BEGIN!
The Prayer Leader is responsible for three prayers during the service: at the beginning, during offering, and one at the close of the service. This doesn’t require reading and allows freedom of expression of prayers. Some may offer the Lord’s Prayer. Others might pray in a different language and some may even ask for prayer concerns. This provides a teachable moment to discuss “what it sounds like when we pray.” Prayer is conversations in our own voices with our own words, but also requires listening. This can be a very powerful moment in the life of the service.
The role of the Praise Leader is to select and lead songs of praise which can be played via DVD or YouTube videos with words and motions shown on the screen. The Praise Leader selects two songs and demonstrates the motions to the children. This is a good time to use previous Vacation Bible School songs or those from leftover curricula. Children love Veggie Tales songs and will often select those songs first. But in order to use those “silly songs” the adult can have a discussion after the song about its significance to God and Church. This gives the children the opportunity to get creative with making the connection between the silly song and the very real experience of worshiping God. Another recommendation for music is the materials that Randall Goodgame has produced in his Slugs and Bugs projects.
The “worship word of the day” is written on signage beforehand with a Webster’s Kid Central definition. This leader holds the sign and reads the definition attached to the back side of the construction paper (see below).
Today’s Worship word of the day is: Parable.
Parable – a short simple story illustrating a moral or spiritual truth.
Music is played while Ushers collect the offering. This reinforces the understanding of giving back into our Faith Community and encourages children to bring in offering money each week as they learn the act of giving. The Ushers collect offering money with the passing of the collection baskets and return to the front and offer to God. Then the Prayer Leader offers the offertory prayer.
The role of Bible Reader is simply to read. The New International Reader’s Version (NIrV) written for children ages 6-9 is a good translation to use for the service. Some editions of this translation have key stories scattered throughout which helps with the message portion of the service as well. Encourage children to bring their own Bibles with them each week and help them learn how to navigate through the Scriptures. Don’t allow them to use Table of Contents or ask the page number. Is this passage in the Old or New Testament? Is it one of the Gospels? Where are the Gospels in the Bible? Near the front or back? After every child has found the passage the Bible Reader reads aloud while everyone follows along. During the Christmas season, cue up “A Charlie Brown Christmas” and have Linus be the Bible Reader from the video screen while the kids follow along. Discuss differences in translations and understanding Scripture. By incorporating the same Scripture text as the adult worship will allow a family conversation to continue throughout the week.
The weekly message is the only piece that is not led by a child. This segment of the worship allows the adult leader to connect a child-friendly message in a variety of ways. This could be a short skit or adult homily or testimony. There are books published that provide contemporary video clips and attach a Christian message, which utilizes technology. Take advantage of technology. One of more elaborate methods is to create a video using the kids in the church to act out a contemporized depiction of the Scripture. This creates multiple opportunities for children to become involved and to claim ownership of the service. Children come earlier in the week or month to shoot video, then return to see themselves in a movie. The excitement of telling both their parents and friends that they are in a movie at their church provides tremendous outreach. This also allows leadership to reinforce the Scripture text multiple times for better comprehension. Intentionally use a multiple-intelligence approach to this segment of the worship service.
One church created a video using the parable of the vineyard workers. It was contemporized into a “para-ball” and the depiction of a basketball team with one player who practiced the least but received the most playing time. Children read the Scripture, the video was shot, and narration was synchronized. The video was then shown as the message as the children excitedly told their parents to get them to church on time so they could see themselves in a movie.
The inclusion of Holy events found in worship services should also be included in Children’s Chapel. The sacrament of Holy Communion is another teachable moment to instill an understanding of God’s Grace and to answer questions such as “why grape juice?” It also allows conversation about why we return the “leftover” bread and juice to God by giving it back to nature.
The Prayer Leader then offers the benediction. Parents arrive and children are released to them at the conclusion of the service. As they leave the children are both challenged and invited to be the living presence of God in their world, know they are blessed, and to “be” themselves. Adults are recruited to serve on a rotating basis. The adult volunteer role is simply to worship with the children. Many times, parents leave the service profoundly impacted with a new awareness of Faith Formation in not only their child, but their family.
Periodically this version of children’s chapel can be taken to the sanctuary worship so that the entire congregation can get a glimpse of how their children worship each Sunday. This format makes it easy to transition to adult worship when they “age out” of children’s worship. It also has a powerful connection with adults as they see the confidence of a child praying or reading Scripture in front of a community of all ages. The children develop leadership skills and an understanding of how to worship that will remain in them for years to come. They understand that Faith Formation is authentic, organic, and consistent and they “own” it. This model will grow an entire congregation not only in size but more importantly depth (discipleship). Isn’t that what worship is designed to do?
Rev. Kevin Johnson is the Director, Children’s Ministries for Congregational Vitality & Intentional Discipleship at Discipleship Ministries. Kevin’s hero Fred Rogers suggests that we, “listen to the children, learn about them, learn from them. Think of the children first.” This quote defines Rev. Kev’s approach to ministry. Kevin, an ordained elder of the Kentucky Annual Conference, has over fifteen years of ministry experience in which he has thought of the children first. Prior to ministry, Kevin worked with children in the hospital setting and in group homes for emotionally and physically abused children.