My Question: What are congregations doing to include children who are part of a traditional worship service.
History: We have children in worship, a fair number of them (maybe 20-30 in a 180-210 people service). About 5 years ago (before we came), our church went from a 1-hour children-go-to-Sunday-School-after-the-time-with-children Sunday morning to a 2 hour education-for-all-first and everybody-in-worship-after format. We offer childcare as needed for the under kindergarten kids, but mostly the kids are in worship. Every once in awhile someone will still make a comment about a noisy child (::sigh::), but mostly people are just really happy to see the kids. We sit along with several other families with young kids in the first two pews. Other families choose the back. We offer activity bags and children’s activity bulletins, and I have always brought our own backpack of activities for Wordgirl and snacks for Shyguy (who does still go to the nursery after the time-with-children). There is a time-wtih-children each week, and our older kids serve as crucifers and occasionally as lectors, usually with one of their parents. There are also special kid-centered events like the Christmas pageant and Youth Sunday.
What Now?: Now that people are used to children in worship, I’ve been asking, “what’s next?” How can we go from simply welcoming them, having their “moment,” and giving them something to do to including them. It’s a conversation I’m having trouble getting started in committee, but having read MaryAnn McKibben Dana’s recent post about letting go of Sunday School, I’m wondering what other churches are doing in this respect. In some ways I like the Upper Room / Kid Space idea, but I also like sitting as a family in worship, so I am torn on that.
(Sidenote: I’ve also followed Teresa Cho’s posts about being intentional about including kids in worship, and I think she’s brilliant and amazing and I want to do what she does, but I have to admit it both inspires me and makes me feel tired. It’s pretty preparation extensive stuff. We don’t have a paid associate pastor, so anything we do falls to The RevDoc, me with a childcare stipend and few official hours, or Volunteers.)
I’m thinking about–and have heard some enthusiasm for–creating children’s Orders of Worship along the lines of what Carolyn describes at this post in her Worshiping with Children blog. We have lectionary-based activity pages, but as Wordgirl begins reading, and our service is pretty participatory/responsive, I’d like her to have the actual order or worship with words in front of her. Is anyone doing this or something similar?
We’ve been doing the Feasting on the Word church school curriculum, and that gives the kids who attend the education hour some tie-in with the service and scripture. I think it’s helpful. The RevDoc has been really great about looking at the document for pastors and at least tying the church school lesson in at the Time with Children if she has chosen a different passage than the curriculum writers did for the main service focus (and often they overlap well).
I’ve also wondered about a weekly email that might give some ideas to help families prepare for the service (ideally without it feeling like homework). Something like the “GPS Guide” McKibben Dana models in what is currently the final comment on the Sunday School post.
My big question right now is about music. We have a traditional service complete with organ and choir (and our organist is an amazing musician, though that brings its own issues, but that’s another conversation). With a very few exceptions (e.g. “Halle, Halle, Halle”), our music is not kid friendly. Since we follow the liturgical calendar and the lectionary and our services tend to follow a theme throughout (all things I think are fabulous), we don’t even repeat songs very often so they become familiar. My kid checks out during the songs. Unless it’s the aforementioned “Halle, Halle, Halle” she doesn’t even try, and I don’t push the issue. Can we introduce more songs like that? “Sing with the World” from John Bell and Alison Adam of the Iona folks has great Global, Kid-friendly music on it. There are other people writing good contemporary worship music. Can we start teaching these songs and adding them to our repertoire? Can we sing at least one of these every week as part of having all-age worship, and have it not be The-Kids’-Song? Can they become a natural part of our music?
(I do think a children’s choir that learns the songs and teaches them to the congregation has potential. We’ve had a children’s choir before, but it has been sporadic and well-intentioned, and perhaps fell into “aren’t they cute” as a congregational response rather than seeing it as an integral part of worship. I think we’ve had a long enough break that we may be able to start from scratch with a different tone. It would also be an opportunity for children to really learn some of the “grown-up” songs we already sing.)
What else? What are your congregations doing to include the children you have invited into a traditional worship service? (I’m acknowledging that in my context, we’re not going to change the basic worship style or add a different kind of service any time in the near future.)