Worshiping God Through Children’s Chapel
By Kevin Johnson
“Where do the children go during worship?” How many times have children’s leaders been asked that question? Many times, first-time visitors are the ones who ask. Let me raise another question: “What is the goal of faith formation in children?” Regardless of age and ability where children begin their faith journey, their growing requires familiarity in the life of the faith community. Therefore, the church should contain several intentional elements. John Roberto, author of Reimagining Faith Formation for the 21st Century: Engaging All Ages and Generations, and founder of the Vibrant Faith Institute, 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 leaders have 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 approach to worshiping God. Allow me to offer one model that has proven to be effective: the children’s chapel.
All elements of adult worship have been incorporated in the children’s chapel model, but they are done so in a child-friendly way. Music, songs, prayers, and message are all presented in an age-appropriate way. This format allows children, ages 5-12, to lead the worship services in a chapel format that is separate from the adult worship space. A “bulletin” is projected on a video screen, so the children know the order of worship for that day when they arrive (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 with the worship space. This approach allows all those in attendance to have opportunities to participate fully. Certain “jobs” require reading, while others do not. To pique the interest 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 the greeter is to read announcements into the microphone and welcome the children to “their” service (see below). This greeting gives an opportunity to reinforce expectations, introduce adult volunteers, and establish a positive worship environment.
Welcome to Children’s Chapel
Please turn to someone near you, shake that person’s hand, and welcome that person to children’s chapel this morning.
This morning’s announcements are . . .
Please worship in the chapel the right way. Be respectful of one another and to the person who is speaking.
Listen for the worship word of the day.
Remember to bring your Bible to children’s chapel each week. Hold up your Bible to show us that you brought it this morning!
Join us for our midweek activities. We will meet on 1, 2, 3…HUMPDAY! (This receives a huge response from the children who shout out HUMPDAY, and it reinforces Wednesday night activities. This line will change as events change each week.)
We are 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 the offering, and at the close of the service. This doesn’t require reading, and it allows freedom of expression of prayers. Some may offer the Lord’s Prayer. Others might pray in a different language; some may even ask for prayer concerns. This provides a teachable moment to discuss, “What it sounds like when we pray.” Prayer is a conversation in our own voice with our own words, but it also requires listening. This can be a powerful moment in the service.
The role of the praise leader is to select and lead songs of praise that can be played on a DVD player or by showing YouTube videos with words and motions on a 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. To use those “silly songs,” the adults need to have a discussion after the song about the song’s significance to God and church. This gives the children the opportunity to get creative with making the connection between the silly song and the real experience of worshiping God. Another recommendation for music are the materials Randall Goodgame has produced in his “Slugs and Bugs” project.
The worship word of the day is written on signs beforehand with a Webster’s Word Central definition. The leader holds the sign and reads the definition attached to the back 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 the faith community and encourages children to bring offering money each week as they learn the act of giving. The ushers collect offering money with the passing of the collection baskets; then they return to the front and offer the collection to God. Next, the prayer leader offers the offertory prayer.
The role of the Bible reader is simply to read the Bible. 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 for 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, play Charlie Brown’s Christmas and have Linus be the Bible reader from the video screen, while the children follow along. (Make sure your church has the appropriate licenses in place to screen this video.) Discuss differences in translations and understanding scripture. Incorporating the same scripture text in the children’s chapel and the adult worship service will allow family conversations to continue throughout the week.
The weekly message is the only part of the worship experience that is not led by a child. This segment of the worship service allows the adult leader to connect a child-friendly message in a variety of ways. It could be a short skit or adult homily or testimony There are books published that provide contemporary video clips and attach a Christian message that uses technology. Take advantage of technology. One method is to create a video using the children 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 would 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 leaders to reinforce the scripture text multiple times to help the children understand better. 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 was 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; 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 do we use 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 challenged and invited to be the living presence of God in their world, to know they are blessed, and to “be” themselves. Adults are recruited to serve in children’s chapel 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 their child and 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 the children worship each Sunday. This format makes it easy for children to transition to adult worship when they “age out” of children’s chapel. 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 with them.. 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 in depth of 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.