Monday, January 28, 2008

"Worship for kids"

You may have noticed I linked to an interesting debate on worship, peppered with lots of great humour, here.

Amie commented there
"Here' a slight tangent that Lynn will enjoy. On our church worship forum somebody has brought up a point about how we make worship inclusion for children and young people, rather than making it the part of the service they just have to sit through. Thoughts anyone? "

I thought I would post some thoughts on this topic here. Thanks, Amie, for bringing it up.

How do we make worship inclusive for kids?
Errr, I was tempted to simply say: don't use patronising kids' songs but it's a bit wider than that and strikes right at the very heart of how your fellowship sees children.

In the mould of Stuart Murray Williams in the last post, I have written my own list of questions which could be helpful to a leadership team or to those involved in worship leading:-

1. How does your church view children? Are they seen as integral to the life of the church or as add-ons to be catered to because they come with their parents? As little people who need to "learn how to behave" in worship services (whatever that means?)

2. Why are children present in the first part of your service? Best to interpret that question exactly as it is written - is it to allow Sunday school teachers to prepare the rooms? Is it to quieten them down? Is it to allow families time in the service together? Is it for them to see worship modelled by all generations together?

3. What would you like to see children doing during the worship time - joining in I presume - but in what way? Are they to sit still? Are they allowed to move about/wave flags/play instruments/dance/shout/make noise? And when I say "worship time", I don't just mean when singing is taking place - in whatever you do before the preach/teach or before they go out to their small groups.

4. Would any conditions be put on what children are allowed to do in their time in the service? This is a vitally important question to consider. For example: if they would not be allowed to come out or their rows or pews to bop up and down then half of the resources I would recommend would be thrown out the window.

5. If a relevant question to your situation: what are children taught about worship in their homes? Do parents/grandparents talk to their children about their day and the way they have tried to worship God in all they have been doing?

6. Are different forms of worship practised in the children's small groups on Sunday mornings? Are they given the opportunity to express emotions, bounce around, clap and cheer, bow down or other words - are children being given an opportunity to learn about the ingredients of worship as laid out in Psalm 95 - (thanksgiving, adoration, awe and wonder)

7. Not the last question because it's unimportant - the opposite is true! but finally - what are your church's/leadership's view of children's faith? Please see these two posts here and here. Do you/your leadership believe that very young children can love God so much that their heart feels as if it could burst with love? That they can't get to sleep without telling him how much they love him? And in this, they demonstrate true worship. How is this reflected at a child's level in your Sunday gatherings?

I have so much I could write but I sense this is probably enough for now. I don't feel this is the appropriate time for me to launch into a full description of what I recommend or practise, suffice to say that at the very deepest level it's not about what songs we choose in our services.

I will post some theological thoughts on this another day.

I was asked to present a seminar on children and worship at an external event in the next few weeks but unfortunately that day falls on the wedding day of one of my friend's so I was unable to take the invitation up.

But I'm passionate about this topic!
Comments are most welcome - Amie (thanks again for starting this) and Hideous, what are your thoughts? Do start us off!


  1. Let me start off with the rather anodine observation of my own kids and their participation/lack of participation in church.

    The difference between the things my kids respond to and what they experience in church is 'repetition'. In church they are constantly given new ideas, new children's talks, new stories, new songs..... but at home they want the SAME things again, and again, and again! We adults sometimes despair at reading the same book AGAIN - but they actually appreciate, understand and respond more with each telling. (I really liked the Gruffalo the first thousand times!)It's the same with TV progs etc.

    Not a deep, considered or theological response to your question - but where my kids are at!

  2. Thanks for addressing this Lynn. As I thought a little about it today I came back to your question about what children at taught at home about worship. I actually thought, "What are our children taugh about what we do in church by the sunday school?" Do we actually sit down and say, "Well this is why we sing together... When we all say 'The Grace' it's about praying for each other... When we do this it's about ... etc." It took me about 3 years of sitting in church after leaving bible class to work out what all was going on and why we did it. Do we,

    a) Presume our kids know and understand all of this?

    b) Presume they do not need to know or understand it all yet?

    In relation to worship I think we need to be explicit in explaining to our kids what we do in church and why... and then provide opportunities to say, "If you want to worship God...what would you like to do?"

    More thoughts to follow =)

  3. You know what "Hideous Man" said is so true - I've never thought of that before. There is always the pressure to be new and fresh - but yes ypunger kids especially want the tried and tested over and over again. That could be quite liberating! (What of older kids tho?)

  4. Thanks for the thoughts so far.
    Hideous is right. Kids love the familiar, love to repeat things they have learned. Sometimes it even helps them feel "safe". Worship leaders in my place of worship are very good at introducing new songs (usually very good ones) and then they might not be sung again for ages and ages. Months can pass by. Most of us forget them unless they are done again and again!

    This Sunday our kids learned a great Doug Gorley song. We're doing it again this coming Sunday and then we're doing it again on Sunday 10 Feb.

    Think about it as a teacher (if you are one) - recap and reinforcement is one of THE most important tools to (a) check learning (b) iron out misunderstandings and (c) build up self-esteem via statements such as: "that's it! well done" you've got it" which provides a firm basis on which to introduce new concepts.

    I'm not so sure that adults are all that much different :)

    So we have a relatively small pool of songs that we use with kids; most of them sung by adults just as much.

  5. errrr, typo on last comment: unless Doug turned into a matador overnight, the name should be Horley, not Gorley!!

  6. I have to confess that very few of our services seek to consciously include the children before they leave for sunday groups. I was also thinking (me and my tangents!) about when young people leave sunday school/bible class and come to that stage when they must be part of the whole church service. How well do we prepare them for this? Do we help them understand how to 'deal with' the sermon? (i.e. maybe takes notes, reflect on it, think about application to their lives etc.) Do we allow our children to almost live separate lives on a sunday and leave them vastly unprepared for being part of the church, worship included?

  7. Anonymous11:20 PM

    I totally agree with the "don't choose patronising children's songs" comment. I tried getting young people (and adults!) to really think about and understand the words they were about sing. Some of the language is archaic and downright unusual and as for some of the imagery....however, I gather some adults didn't take too kindly to having kids explore the meaning of words or indeed being asked to think about it themselves (proving I guess you won't please all the people all the time).....mmmmmmm......think the fundamental questions about how adults value young people are important. There is of course a difference, I think, between children's church and church for children..............

  8. Hello Anonymous

    thanks for your comment. Lovely to hear from you.

    You've made an important point about thinking about the meaning of the words. My daughter was given 8 words to learn for a spelling test the other day - including "disburse" and "dispensation" (I kid you not - she's 8!)

    She did not know what they meant. I would not allow her to write them out 3 x in her jotter like she is supposed to do without her knowing what they meant as it's a pointless exercise otherwise. Irritatingly so!!

    So the words we use in all contexts with children must either be explainable and well explained (two different things!)

    And so I can explain what sanctification means to 8 - 11 year old children on Sunday with relative ease using messy substances to help but in eschatology I would find the concept of discontinuity very difficult to explain to a child.....therefore I wouldn't freely choose to go there!

  9. Reading back over the comments I looked at the two questions I set about explaining the purpose of worship and our assumption about what kids know/need to know. Here's my next question:

    How do we explain what worship is to our kids when it seems (re: THM's blog comments) that we don't always know how to define it ourselves? Is it, at times, too abstract to explain? Do we stick to a simple definition and expand this idea as they develop spirtually/mentally ?

    Lynn - as a student teacher im in much agreement about the spelling exercise! Why get them to learn words they don't understand/use?!

    Can we transfer this concept to worship songs ie. getting our kids to sing songs/words they don't understand?

    Anonymus is right - I think kids need to be allowed explore the meaning behind the doing.

    Thanks to everyone for helping me explore this and think it through. I'll be posting some feedback on our church worship forum to fuel discussions there too.


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