7 Ways to Engage Kids in Worship
Incorporating child-focused worship practices can help build a solid foundation for the faith formation of your youngest congregants.
By Rachel Reiff Ellis
Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs.” (Mk 10:14b NRSV) But when it comes to the children among us, churches can—and should—do more than just get out of the way.
Delia Halverson, internationally known author and Christian educator, has spent over 25 years in ministry crafting curriculum and educating worship leaders. She believes participation in worship at a young age is crucial to a child’s faith journey—and to the congregation’s.
Here are a few simple practices to engage the children of your church in worship.
1. Set the tone
Print a statement in your bulletin or on a pew card that cues everyone in to how your congregation feels about the presence of children in worship. Halverson says it can be as simple as “Welcome to our church! We’re happy to worship with all ages here.” Visible cues like “worship packs” of activities related to that week’s scripture, or bookmarks labeled with the service’s hymn numbers also clue kids in to your message: Join us. We want you to be here.
2. Lift them up
When you’re only three and a half feet tall, it’s harder to scope the scene sitting in a pew. Encourage families with young children to sit down front, so kids can see and hear the action. Halverson also suggests the use of height positioners. “You can provide restaurant-style booster seats for young children so that they can see what’s going on,” she says. “We all pay attention better when we can actually see what’s happening.”
. Provide a guide
Explain as much as you can about the service in simple language. “Laminate a page that outlines the different parts of worship and why we use them,” says Halverson. You can use a template and rotate the sheet as often as works for your congregation. Bonus: Curious visitors (and members) may learn a few things about worship, too.
4. Get them ready
A more involved approach would be to teach a “worship readiness” class as part of your regular Sunday School curriculum, or as a class taught during the worship hour. “It’s helpful for children to attend worship at least once before a worship readiness class so they know what’s being talked about,” says Halverson. “One Sunday they can be in the class, the next they can sit with parents with a sheet that tells them to identify certain parts of the service they discussed in the class,” she suggests. “They can also look for types of congregants: families, older folks, a person looking sad; and pray for them.” Familiarity with faces and facets of the service will help kids feel more at home in the worship space.
5. Let them lead
What better way to teach children they are valued than to welcome them as worship leaders? Halverson says even having a child stand with parents who are leading can serve this purpose. “You may have a toddler just hold a pants leg while his parent makes an announcement, but that can go a long way,” she says. “It gives kids a feeling of ownership in the service.” And when you give a child liturgy to read or a prayer to lead, all the children of the church get to hear the gospel spoken by a voice that sounds like their own.
6. Draw them in
During the sermon, kids’ attention spans will likely wander. One way to pique their interest periodically is to direct a few comments directly to them. “It can be as simple as ‘You children probably have felt this way before, haven’t you?’” she says. (This also works for adults whose attentions may wander at times.)
7. Connect the dots
Pose a question for children to discuss with their parents after worship ends. The question can be spoken in the sermon, or can be included in materials in the pew. Halverson says this helps kids relate service content to the world outside the walls of the church, and helps parents to engage their child’s faith development. “It’s a way to help encourage older children to begin to pay attention to the finer points of the service, like the sermon,” she says. “Are they going to understand everything that’s said? No. Do I always understand everything that’s said? No!” says Halverson. “But where else today can children experience an intergenerational community? Children need to be shown they’re a part of the total family of God. When we worship with children, we help children learn how to worship.”
Rachel Reiff Ellis is a freelance writer in Decatur, Ga. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.