Simply creative: Ways to involve children in your worship services
It is children’s Sabbath in an average church. But it hasn’t been an average kind of service. The children illustrated the words of the scripture reading with sign language. Every child had written praises to God, prayer requests, and Thank-You messages that were woven into the congregational prayer. The “sermon” was interactive—the children were involved in different responses and activities every few minutes. They helped the speaker look for a lost sheep in their church, and they responded to certain words with appropriate sounds or performed other actions. At the end of the “sermon,” one of the members brought a hand-raised lamb into the church for the children to pet. A two-year-old sat on the front row and watched every moment, wondering what would happen next. And none of the adults managed to drift into their midmorning pew nap.
After the service, juice and cookies were served in the hall and the children were given sheets of paper and colored markers. A large thought bubble was printed on each piece of paper and the words “My dream for my church is . . .” invited the children to imagine, to reflect, and to share their deepest desires for their church community. Their messages were posted on a bulletin board where the grown-ups could read them, and, perhaps for the first time, the children in the church were being listened to and valued, and what the adults read, listed below, changed their church forever.
My dream for my church is:
• that I’m involved in the church service, like I was today, every week!
• that it’s not boring.
• that I can move around in the church, doing something interesting and not being frowned at.
• that the seats are more comfortable and don’t make my legs ache.
• that we do things, not just hear things we don’t understand.
• that I feel more loved and wanted here.
• that I can play my violin here and that it’s OK if I make a mistake.
• that we sing songs with easy words.
• that it’s fun for us kids and not just the grown-ups.
Over and over, in their different ways, the children were saying that they wanted to be more involved in church. They also needed a place where they felt welcomed, valued, and comfortable.
Why involve children?
Why should adults listen to the dreams of the children? Why should our churches think about actively involving children in the services? And why might our churches need to change in order to fulfill the dreams of the children and let them know that children matter?
Think about these points:
• Jesus urged His disciples to enter the kingdom of heaven like a child, to learn from the example of children’s simple faith and sense of wonder (Matthew 18:1–4), to welcome children and help them to feel comfortable in God’s kingdom (Mark 9:37), to do nothing that would turn them away from His kingdom (Matthew 18:6) and, conversely, to do everything we can to attract children to His kingdom so that none of them are lost (Matthew 18:14), and to make sure His lambs are spiritually fed (John 21:15).
• We also read, “At every suitable opportunity let the story of Jesus’ love be repeated to the children. In every sermon let a little corner be left for their benefit.”1
• A church service is very different from children’s experiences in most schools, where they sit in small groups, move around, talk together, and learn by trying things out for themselves.
• When children are involved in a service, they are more likely to listen, understand, and learn. They are being actively discipled, and they are developing their ideas about their faith and their relationship with God.
• Church services that do not actively and positively involve children can create a negative image of the church. When children are not involved in the service, the main points they learn include that church is uncomfortable, boring, and not for them. Some children learn from the age of two or three that nothing exists in the church service for them except the occasional children’s story. So they learn to switch off their minds as to what is happening in the service, lost in their own imaginations or coloring books, and never switch back on again.
• When children take part in church services in simple and creative ways, they feel valued, included, needed, loved, and special.
• Even if only one child becomes involved in the service, the others will often stop what they are doing to watch whatever is happening. If one of them receives value, then the others know they are valued.
• Involving children supports their parents and grandparents and encourages them as they disciple their children and nurture their spiritual development. I regularly hear from parents who are desperate to find churches where their children will be welcomed, appreciated, and involved. Positive church atmospheres contribute to evangelism. For example, nearly half (43 percent) of all Americans who accept Jesus Christ as their Savior do so before they become a teenager.2
• With children involved in services, other children and their families are attracted to your church. If grandparents or friends bring a child to church, their own parents may come along to church if they know their child will be participating in a program.
Here are some ways of involving children in church worship:
1. Train a group of children to pray for others. Invite people who would like someone to pray for them to put up their hands. The children can then fi nd a person who needs their prayers, ask about their prayer requests, and pray a few sentences on their behalf.
2. Invite a small group of children to develop their own series of actions to illustrate the Lord’s Prayer and then teach their actions to the rest of the church.
3. Give each person in the congregation four pieces of paper (each the size of half a sheet of copy paper) as follows: yellow paper with the word Praise written on it, blue paper with Sorry, green paper with Thanks, and pink paper with Please. Also, stick one of these papers onto four different gift bags, the same colors as the paper (to make matching the words to the bags as easy as possible). Have pencils and pens available and allow time for everyone to write a sentence or two of praise, sorry, thanks, or please prayers on each of their sheets of paper. Place the four labeled gift bags at the front of the church and invite everyone to come forward and place their prayers into the relevant bags. Then pick up each of the bags in turn and read a selection of the prayers inside.
4. Ask the children to bring objects to church that represent the things they want to thank God for or praise Him for. Make a collection of the objects on a table at the front of the church, and interview the children about their choices. Use these objects to inspire a thankful prayer.
5. Give each child a piece of white modeling clay. Ask the children to make a model of something they want to thank God for, praise Him for, or say sorry for. They can reshape their clay several times during one prayer or bring their sculpted objects forward as part of the prayer time. They can make shapes that represent the things they want to say sorry for and then reshape them into heart shapes.
Five ways to involve the children in the scripture reading
1. Give children several weeks’ notice when you want them to do the scripture reading, and ask them to be prepared to say a few words about what the passage means to them.
2. Invite a small group of children to act out or mime the action in the Bible passage as it is being read.
3. Choose a significant and repeated word in the scripture passage and invite the children to perform an action or sound each time the word is mentioned.
4. Ask several children to draw or find a series of pictures to illustrate the scripture reading. Scan these into a PowerPoint presentation to show as the verses are read.
5. Be creative! Choose one or two verses for a scripture reading and then find an interesting way to teach the verses to the children. Write each word on a different shape appropriate for the text, and hide the shapes around the church for the children to find and bring to the platform. Then stand the children in the correct order so that the verse can be read by the congregation.
Five ways to involve the children in the offering
1. Children (or the whole congregation) can come forward and put their offerings into attractive gift bags, reminding them that God has given us everything we have, and we are just giving a small part back as a way of saying “Thank You!”
2. Print envelopes with an appropriate design that links with the sermon theme, and give everyone an envelope into which they can place their offering. Children can then help collect the envelopes and bring them to the front to be placed in an appropriate container. For example, when the sermon is about the story of the lost sheep, the envelopes could be printed with sheep on them and placed in a box lined with green velvet that looks like a field.
3. Have a special offering for the children when they come for the children’s story. Perhaps this money can be used to fund outreach projects for the children in your community.
4. Invite each of the children’s classes to design and decorate offering containers that can be used for a special event or for a whole month.
5. Instead of playing music while the offering is collected, invite different children to come and tell the congregation what they are most thankful for or how God has provided for them in a special way.
Five ways to involve the children in the sermon
1. As part of a story about Noah, children could fi nd small plastic animals hidden in sevens and twos around the church. They could bring them up to the front of the church and place them safely in a boat. They could look for the characters needed for your Bible story or different objects that illustrate your sermon points.
2. Use a science or nature object lesson as a sermon illustration, and demonstrate it with the children during the sermon.
3. If you are using PowerPoint slides to support your sermon, choose a small object that is relevant to your sermon, such as a coin, heart, crown, angel, etc., and hide pictures of these objects throughout your slides. Ask the children to look for the hidden pictures quietly and secretly, and count how many they can find.
4. Give each child a small piece of modeling clay. Ask the children to model something that relates to the sermon—an object you mention, what the sermon means to them, something that helps them to understand God’s love or forgiveness, or an item from the Bible story, for example.
5. Dress a few children as the characters in your chosen Bible story and help them to create tableau scenes to illustrate the story.
These are just some of the ways of involving children in worship. Once you start involving the children, you and your church leaders will find many others ways to make the worship service a blessing to the children.
1 Ellen G. White, Gospel Workers (Washington, DC: Review
and Herald Pub. Assn., 1915), 208.
2 The Barna Group, “Evangelism Is Most Effective Among
Kids,” Barna Group, www.barna.org.
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Web sites and books to help you involve children in your church
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Formerly called “Bible Reading
Fellowship,” the Barnabas Web site
has hundreds of ideas for prayers,
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Many are suitable for whole
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then search for what you need.
50 Creative Worship Ideas, by
Nancy Goudie, Eastbourne, UK:
Kingsway Publications, 2002.
ISBN 10: 1842910272.
100 Creative Prayer Ideas for
Kids: And Grown-Ups Too!, by
Karen Holford, Nampa, ID: Pacific
Press Publishing Association,
2003. ISBN 10: 0816319685.
100 Quick & Easy Worship Ideas
for Kids, by Karen Holford,
Nampa, ID: Pacific Press Publishing
Association, 2004. ISBN 10:
100 Instant Ideas for All-Age Worship,
by Sue Relf, Eastbourne,
UK: Kingsway Publications, 1993.
ISBN 10: 0854767630.
Multi-sensory Church: Over
30 Innovative Ready-to-use
Ideas, by Sue Wallace, Milton
Keynes, UK: Scripture Union
Publishing, 2002. ISBN 10:
Multi-sensory Prayer: Over 60
Ideas, by Sue Wallace, Sarah
Mayers, and Darren Hill, Milton
Keynes, UK: Scripture Union
Publishing, 2000. ISBN 10:
Pick ’n’ Mix: Over 100 Ideas
to Create Programmes for
Children of All Ages, by
Judith Merrell, Milton Keynes,
UK: Scripture Union Publishing,
1997. ISBN 10: 1859990967.