Does Your Children's Worship have a Purpose?
As I answered my ringing telephone, a pastor asked a question that opened his world to a whole new perspective. "We have run out of videos for our children's church; can you recommend some that we can use?" I paused to breathe a short prayer, then asked, "Do you have time for us to talk a while?" This pastor was not unconcerned about the children. He just had not considered that children's church needed the same philosophy, attention to needs, quality leadership, and careful planning as did the church's congregational worship service
What is the purpose of your children's church?
Churches need to consider why they have a children's church. The answer to this question will affect the children and the ministry profoundly. There probably will be a mixture of motives, but above all a church must be guided to provide the best possible worship experiences for children that will meet their needs and ultimately connect them with the congregational experience in meaningful ways.
Some of the reasons a church might provide a separate children's church service include
- There are a large number of children who attend church without parents to sit with them and guide them during worship.
- Many "seeker" parents need to hear the gospel initially but then need to be prepared to later guide their children through worship.
- Worship leaders and/or the congregation are unwilling to be inclusive of children in the congregational worship service. Children sense that they are not welcome.
- The church wants to prepare children for worship through a short-term worship education process.
- Parents are unwilling to accept their God-given role as spiritual nurturers, and the church may need some time to "grow them" to assume that responsibility.
Keep your focus on what you are trying to accomplish, and that will guide the structure and content of your children's church service.
What is your church's worship style?
Children's church should prepare your children to join the worshipping congregation. If your church has a traditional worship service, blended service, or contemporary worship, your children's church should reflect that same style. Your goal is to use this time both as a worship experience on the child's level of understandings as well as a teaching opportunity about the meanings of the elements of a worship service.
The transition from children's church to the family worship experience should feel familiar and inviting to the child. If the children have been "entertained" with videos, puppets, or play time, then the transition to a radically different worship experience will have limited meaning for them. Consider including the school-age children in the family worship service at least part of the worship time or perhaps one Sunday each month, using the children's church time as an opportunity to prepare them for future worship events.
What do your children need?
Preschoolers and school age children have different attention spans, levels of biblical concepts, and levels of ability. These differences make it extremely difficult to meet the needs of all these ages in one worship experience or any other church ministry.
Preschoolers need to have worship experiences in which they can use their five senses but are still guided by adults to pray, sing, learn Bible phrases, and hear a short Bible story as they are involved in activities. School age children, who can read Scripture and words of songs who have longer attention spans encouraged by school expectations, can benefit from a more structured worship experience that is compatible with the congregational service.
Consider limiting the ages of school-age children in children's church to first and second graders. If a church chooses to provide children's church for older school age children, consider having two groups: first-third grade and fourth-sixth grade. If there are more than 24 children in one group, they need to be divided, too, in order to give each child as much encouragement and guidance as possible.
Who will lead worship?
Leadership is perhaps the greatest challenge in having a quality children's church experience. Many churches make the mistake of rotating leaders every week - convenient for busy adults but unsettling for children. You might consider how you would feel if the preacher in your pulpit were different every Sunday. Faith is communicated primarily through relationships - with others and with God. Children need to relate to their worship leaders, and the worship leaders need to know the children.
If you want to meet the worship needs of children, the leaders must know how to relate the worship experiences to all of the needs of the children. This cannot be done effectively through rotation of worship leaders. Teaching/leading styles as well as behavioral expectations vary from person to person. Children will continue to test their limits unless they know what is expected each time.
The worship leader needs to make a commitment of one year for optimal effectiveness, but if that is not feasible, a minimum of no less than three months at a time will provide some security and stability. The worship assistants (one for every six children) should serve for at least one month at a time and longer if possible.
A church that values its children and their potential will provide more than an entertaining children's church coordinated by a handful of overworked volunteers. They will invite parents, church staff, and other adults to engage and guide children in worship that glorifies God.