In this series, I am thinking out loud about how we can help children experience and take part in worship. This week I’m wondering specifically how we can help children in worship hear God’s Word through the scripture passages that are read and the sermons that are preached.
This past Sunday I did the Children’s Moment during worship and asked the kids if they heard any words in the Scripture reading that they didn’t know or understand. Despite the fact that the reading was only one verse long and used the word ‘covet’ a number of times, all I got were blank stares. I suspect most kids in the pews simply tune-out the majority of what is said in worship. [I remember doing that as a kid, playing tic-tac-toe or hangman on my bulletin, waiting for the children’s message or a hymn, biding my time until I could leave.] I don’t think that kids tune-out because they dislike church, but rather because they sense that worship isn’t really meant for them.
As an adult, I often catch myself thinking that children should be in worship more for the slow process of osmosis than for the immediate purpose of worshipping. As a parent, I want my son to become accustomed to the ebb and flow of the service, to feel comfortable sitting in silence for periods of time, to be immersed in the liturgy and hymns. To be honest, my approach to worship is similar to my approach to vegetables: I want to make sure they’re present and available; I’m not inclined to force the issue, but I want both worship and vegetables to be things Caleb is familiar with and has many opportunities to try.
I think this approach is good and appropriate (at least for worship) for a two and a half-year-old, but as children get older, their ability to take part increases. I wonder if we’re subtly alienating our children by not including them in worship and not making sure that at least part of our worship is something they can understanding and participate in. What does it say about the church if worship is something adults do while children need to be educated? Do we not have young people in our church because they don’t feel as though they’ve grown up enough to worship?
But I digress. Here are some of my ideas for how we can help kids hear God’s Word through the scripture readings and the sermon:
7 Ideas To Help Children in Worship Hear God’s Word
- Read the Scripture passage from the Children’s Bible (keep Children’s Bibles in the pews and have kids turn to the right page before you begin).
- Use your Children’s Moment to ask questions about the Scripture passage. Rather than focusing on an abstract concept that is tangentially related to the passage, help kids get into the passage itself. Make sure they know what happened in the passage and ask them questions about it.
- Assuming you have access to the sermon being preached in advance, put questions about the sermon in the bulletin for kids to listen for an answer. Make them fun—little things that encourage kids to listen to the sermon (how many times does the preacher say x? Or what animal does the preacher talk about in the middle of her sermon?). Offer prizes or rewards for kids who can tell you the right answer after worship.
- Address part of your sermon to the kids in the congregation.
- Teach your congregation the practice of lectio divina and do that for your scripture reading one morning (lectio is a practice that kids can easily do). Or have a sheet with instructions for lectio in your bulletin that people can rip out and take home to do during the week (perhaps have them do it with the scripture for the upcoming Sunday so that kids have heard and engaged the passage before they come to worship).
- Ask kids who can read to be lectors—kids are more likely to pay attention when someone their own age is reading.
- Ask kids questions before reading the Scripture in church (e.g. listen for x and tell me about him or her later). Kids are more likely to pay attention if you address them directly and give them a reason to listen.
Your turn: what ideas do you have or what have you seen churches do to help children in worship hear God’s Word?
Part I: An Introduction
Part II: Inviting Children to Be Aware of God’s Presence
Part III: 7 Ideas to Help Kids Hear God’s Word (Through Scripture)
Part IV: 9 Creative Ways for Kids in Worship to Respond to God
Part V: Making Sense of the Charge & Benediction