By Janice Haywood
very parent who has ever struggled with a child during a worship service or battled with one who doesn't want to go to church has asked: “Why am I doing this? Wouldn't it be easier to stay at home until she is old enough to sit quietly without disturbing others and me? Why doesn't my church provide a separate worship service for children?” The answers to the questions will vary with every parent and every church, but have you considered...? Children really can worship God. Boys and girls can encounter God and respond to Him, but parents, worship leaders and other adults must provide the environment for worship to occur. Entertainment is no more appropriate for children’s worship than it is for adults.Worship elements through which a child may experience the presence of God are through their five senses. There is an “opportunity window” for ages 7-11 during which parents can show children the importance of worship.While children may pronounce church “boring” (and sometimes it is), children are observing and experiencing the value their parents, teachers, and others place upon the corporate worship of God. Children of this age are “adopting” the belief systems of the i m p o rtant persons in their lives. If we miss this developmental opportunity, it will be more difficult to engage them at an older age when adopted beliefs become owned beliefs. Every church needs to decide how they can best meet the worship needs of their children. Unfortunately, many churches do not carefully weigh all of the options or choose the format that produces the results they desire for
their children. Sometimes they choose to respond to adult needs or perceived children's needs without considering which of the following worship experiences would help children truly worship: • Including children as participants as well as leaders in the worshipping family; • Providing a separate children's worship service; and • Including children in congregational worship for part of the service and then providing a separate experience for the sermon time. The strongest invitation for children to worship God is to see their parents, teachers and significant people encountering and responding to God. This modeling is a powerful encouragement for children who begin to see worship as faith expressed. As parents or caregivers assist children in understanding the elements and form of the worship e x p e r i e n c e, boys and girls make emotional as well as mental connections with the worshipping community. If they are never in the congregational worship service and do not experience that modeling, they often miss the opportunity to feel that they belong, and that the worship service has anything to do with them. A child also is invited to worship when worship leaders plan services that have meaning for them. Children use their senses to experience almost everything. Sounds, sights, movement and even smells and tastes, from time to time, engage children and other worshippers. Children need consistency, even in worship. Some churches decide that a separate children’s worship service may
be the best experience they can provide for their children.This may be especially true in churches where the children’s parents are not present and for churches that have “seeker” parents. To provide meaningful worship rather than a “childcare” or entertainment experience, leadership becomes a crucial issue. Rotating leaders may be appealing to busy adults, but it is detrimental to the c h i l d ren. Just as adults do not like a rotating preacher in the pulpit each Sunday, children have even a greater need to know their leaders and his or her expectations. The content of a children’s worship service needs to engage the children in worship, not just occupy their time with entertainment or childcare. If children are younger than five years old, the format should be spontaneous and active, rather than structured and quiet.The preschool leaders should be prepared to guide the children in worship experiences as they engage in activities. Worship opportunities will happen spontaneously as the child encounters the materials provided by the leaders who look for opportunities to say a Bible thought, tell a Bible story, or sing a worship song. After entering school, most children can handle a more structured worship experience.Viewing cartoon videos, watching puppet shows, or playing games should never be called “worship” much less replace authentic worship experiences. Neither should a children's worship service be a miniature version of “big church” or be replaced by TeamKid or other good ministries that are not worship-based. Good worship leadership takes commitment and devotion to children and to worship.
Even if your church decides to have a children's worship service, plan opportunities for the children to participate in the congregational worship service. Consider including them in the first half of the service and conclude their time with a separate worship experience. Another model is to have a multigenerational worship service one Sunday a month. “Assemble the people – men, women, and children – so they can listen and learn to fear the Lord your God and follow carefully all the words of this law.” (Deut. 31:12)
Produced by the Preschool & Children Ministry Team, Congregational Services Group,The Baptist State Convention of North Carolina, 205 Convention Drive, Cary, NC 27511, (919)467-5100, (800)395-5102, www.northcarolinabaptists.org