Including Children & Young People in Worship

This is the start of a series of posts around the issue of inclusion of children and young people in worship.

As I review the current practice at my church and seek to find appropriate developments, I will be blogging my thoughts, comments, concerns and questions in the hope that it will aid my reflection, help to document my progress and allow others to join the conversation and share their wisdom.

Proposed instalments:

Please feel free to share your thoughts and experiences, to disagree with me, and to join the conversation along the way…

9 Comments

  1. Hi Ricky,

    this is a topic close to my heart, which I've been exploring for years. Recently some books came my way that helped sort out my thoughts:

    Ivy Beckwith's "Postmodern Children's Ministry" and "Formational Children's Ministry"

    And in the area of Children's Sermons : Sara Covin Juengst's "Sharing Faith with Children"

    There are some interesting sites of churches that have put these things into practice:
    http://blog.digitalorthodoxy.com/2009/07/reverse-http://www.childrenatworship.org/questions.html

    I'm currently trying to begin the discussion with my own church which has the children's ministry (Sunday school)during the whole of the morning service time in another building, so the children never enter the church.

    Excuses for separating kids from grown-ups vary but they usually have to do with comfort (ours and theirs), and apppropriateness of the service. Both speak of intolerance and laziness. Developing worship for every member of our faith community requires celebrating diversity without dumbing down the service.

    Unfortunately most communities put it in the too hard basket.

    In my experience of Spurgeon's, you are further than we are. The children remain part of the church formally during the service and informally before and after the service as well as at other times. As a result they feel connected to their faith community, and that community recognises the children are an integral part.

    Please explain what you mean when you call the all-age service 'the Holy grail'?

    Hetty

    • Hi Hetty,

      Thanks for the resources you shared – they look really helpful. Thanks also for the rest of the nuggets of wisdom in your comment too; in particular: ‘Developing worship for every member of our faith community requires celebrating diversity without dumbing down the service’. I intent to explore many of your points in a bit more detail as the series develops.

      As you’ve provided a bit of information about children’s ministry in your context I understand why you would say that Spurgeons is further on than you are. But there’s doing it, and doing it well ;o) We still have a long way to go.

      Re: ‘all-age worship’ as the Holy Grail

      I was referring to the widely held view that it’s impossible to create truly all-age worship. That by fully involving children and young people you exclude/push away the older worshippers (in part because of the danger of dumbing down that you mentioned). Finding the right balance between the two extremes *and* keeping the congregation on-side and fully engaged too – that’s the Holy Grail.

      • Hi Ricky,

        It may be that for too long we have perceived the Sunday morning service as an adult event and not an all-age event.

        We think nothing of excluding the children, yet we worry over the possibility of the grown-ups being disengaged for even a short time.

        How often do our actions say to the children "this bit's not for you"?

        Perhaps it requires a mindshift on the part of the adults/older worshippers?

        One of the things I loved about the Ivy Beckwith books was where she spoke about what the children bring to the faith community. We often focus on what we do for children yet there is so much they give to us just by being there.

        "Their spontaneity and lack of inhibitions, coupled with an inherent spiritual inclination not yet hampered by social restraints, bring a dimension to corporate worship that is sadly lacking when children are excluded. They see and feel things spiritual in fresh ways, and should be encouraged to contribute in ways appropriate to their age and ability." p142 Postmodern Children's Ministry

        This morning at Spurgeons a child sits among the other worshippers. He knows he belongs. The pastor has smiled at him, as have several other adults; he has seen other children he knows, some are doing an important job of taking up the offering. He too has something to put in the plate. He hears of the happy events, and the sad ones, that the elder is praying about. His mother helps him follow the Bible reading in his own Bible. The lady in the pew behind looks over his shoulder as he moves his finger under the words, and remembers what is was like to read those now familiar phrases for the first time. Everyone stands and sings, and he joins in a few lines in the chorus that he knows. This church is his church.

        As you say, there is a difference between doing it and doing it well. I would rather say there's doing it and then there's doing it better. What you have now is a good foundation.

        Hetty

        • I think you've hit the nail on the head with the start of this comment. It's a huge hurdle to get over – but worth striving for.

          There's a great deal in there to think about an unpack. I hope to do that in a future post. Thanks Hetty…

          :: What you have now is a good foundation

          I agree – but a good foundation is pretty useless unless you build on it ;o) That's what I hope we'll choose to do!

  2. Hi Hetty,

    Thanks for the resources you shared – they look really helpful. Thanks also for the rest of the nuggets of wisdom in your comment too; in particular: 'Developing worship for every member of our faith community requires celebrating diversity without dumbing down the service'. I intent to explore many of your points in a bit more detail as the series develops.

    As you've provided a bit of information about children's ministry in your context I understand why you would say that Spurgeons is further on than you are. But there's doing it, and doing it well ;o) We still have a long way to go.

    Re: 'all-age worship' as the Holy Grail

    I was referring to the widely held view that it's impossible to create truly all-age worship. That by fully involving children and young people you exclude/push away the older worshippers (in part because of the danger of dumbing down that you mentioned). Finding the right balance between the two extremes *and* keeping the congregation on-side and fully engaged too – that's the Holy Grail.

  3. Hi Ricky,

    I have to meet with our church leadership in a few weeks to discuss why I think kids should spend time with the grownups in 'big church'. And no doubt they'll be telling me why they should stay in the sunday school building.
    My homework has been to research ways to include the kids without alienating the older attendees. The other problem I've encountered is that often adults see what the kids do in church as entertainment, so we laugh at what they say, and we clap at their antics. (What if we did this to the pastor?!)
    I'd love to see kids leading the whole congregation in meaningful worship, and the congregation responding in appropriate ways.

    Hetty

  4. Some possibilities for this are within music, art and drama. Children can make murals or other art projects as a response to a story heard in junior church. (Recently we painted Joseph's coats as we discussed the story of Joseph's early life. We had meaningful discussions with the 5-7 year olds as they painted. Some wrote 'Daddy loves Joe' across their coat, and then wondered how Joseph's brothers felt/whether Jacob was a good father/ if God was happy about this etc. Afterwards we displayed the coats and the wondering questions in the foyer of the church.
    I had also planned an Easter drama which was quite serious in its message, and by using the younger children to present it, it would have brought home the innocence of Christ. Unfortunately they couldn't fit it into the service.)

    When we attended your church I was encouraged to see young children in the choir, and believe that these ways of including children are the best – they're not the comic relief, they're just ordinary members of the church giving what they are good at.

    Hetty

  5. Other points from my research –
    Use of the visual, musical, and physical in the services.
    Families encouraged to sit up the front.
    A space for children and parents to chill, and move more freely when the confines of the pew are too much. Seen as temporary! Equip this area with paper and crayons/pencils but not puzzle sheets. This allows kids to still be able to tune into what's being said – puzzles, handheld games, toys etc absorb the whole mind.
    Inviting children to the front for baptisms.
    Help for parents to explain church rituals (offering, communion, baptism) to their kids.
    Encouraging physical activity – jumping, clapping, shouting, dancing, laughing etc.
    Start the services with songs the kids know from sunday school.
    Telling a story from the Bible, or of a church history character, rather than an abstract concept.
    Regularly celebrating your faith community's history and remembrances together. eg anniversary picnics or services.

    Most of these I've gleaned from Ivy Beckwith's latest book "Formational Children's Ministry".

    Say Hi to Tracey for me, and cuddle Isaac…

    Hetty (the computer told me to split the message up. Sorry)

    • Thanks for the long comment (not sure why it had to be split into three). I'll be touching on these more practical issues in the next couple of posts.

      Tracy says Hi – and Isaac says thanks for the cuddle ;o)

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