Being Intentional About Including Children in Worship

March 7th, 2014

It seems that most of my adult life I have heard complaints about the number of young adults who leave the church after high school. I have read the statistics and taken part in the initiatives to try and keep them active, involved and engaged. And while I definitely see the positives in many of the efforts the church is making, it still seems to me that we are often a step behind, doing “recovery” work instead of prevention.

Many churches keep their children locked away in Sunday school and children's church classes, graduating them to “big church” only when they are old enough to “sit still and behave.” While there is definitely a time and a place for educational and worship programs directed at children, I believe there is also a lot of benefit to intentionally involving children in worship (yes, adult worship) in their early years. By giving children specific and important tasks in the church, we are not only teaching them but giving them hands-on experience in the role of servanthood. We are engaging them in an important and often neglected form of worship.

Sometimes, as adults, it is much easier to do things ourselves than to give children the opportunity to do them. At home, we prefer to make the bed or vacuum the floor because we know if our children do it, then the task may not be done to our level of expectation. Unfortunately, we sometimes carry those thoughts into the church as well. Children are, well, child-like, and they make mistakes. My oldest son still teases his brother for dropping the plate when he (as a four-year-old) took the offering up with his father. I honestly don't remember the mishap. I do remember his dad standing proudly behind him and the sweet smile on his face as he walked from aisle to aisle holding the wooden plate out in front of him.

Proverbs 22:6 says, “Train children in the way they should go; when they grow old, they won’t depart from it.”

How can we expect teens and young adults to willingly accept the responsibilities of church leadership if we fail to properly familiarize them with those positions when they are young? Wouldn't it be a lot easier to garner servants within the church if we first help ignite enthusiasm for God and the service itself?

Children are naturally curious and often eager to help do things when they are young, and they are much more capable than we think. There are many roles in which they can take part, either alone or with the help of an adult mentor:

  • handing out bulletins to the congregation

  • serving as an usher

  • taking up the offering

  • participating in the serving of communion

  • reading or quoting scripture passages

  • leading the church during a song service

  • saying or reading a prayer

  • carrying in flags or banners before or during the service, or

  • participating in choir, singing solos, or performing an instrumental selection.

While some churches designate a “Children's Sunday” or “Youth Sunday” in which to engage young people, I believe that actively including them on a regular and consistent basis is even more effective. We don't want our children to think that service is something reserved for special occasions. And most of us would agree, that when children serve us, especially in church, it turns out to be a very humbling and beautiful experience.

Glenys Nellist, a Christian education directior, recently wrote about such an experience,

I did something in church this morning that I have never done before. I received communion from a fourth grader. It touched by heart.' This is the body of Christ, broken for you,' he told me shyly, as he carefully lifted the plate of bread towards me...And as he took his place at this altar, next to candles, and choirs, and bread, and wine, where sermons have been preached for years and years, and babies have been baptized, and people have knelt before Christ-I couldn't help but wonder how experiences like this would help to shape this young man's life, and to kindle a sense of the sacred in his soul.”

We want our children to grow into men and women who love and serve God with their hearts and their lives. We want them to understand “sacred” and to joyfully take part in worship. We want them to be a part of the church, the body of Christ. Of course we want those things. So, let's help our children to grow in Christ in this regard, by intentionally involving them in the service of worship—now.

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