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Worship Is a Family Affair

Some Ideas to Have Children “Up front” in Your Worship Services – Part V

Sometimes Church Can be Scary

 Little children, in particular, can find going “up front” to hear a children’s message, sing a song they learned in Sunday school, or take part in the traditional children’s Christmas Eve service can be a bit frightening. Older children, and even adults, may feel apprehensive when asked to read a lesson, make a report after church, or help in some other way during worship.

To help children learn how to participate actively in worship, we should think of it as a family affair. For example:

  1. When young children come forward for the children’s message, their parents and/or older siblings should know that they’re invited come forward as well. This will help whoever is giving the message with “crowd control” and makes it easier for children to relax knowing that their family is nearby.
  2. If older siblings aren’t available, ask teenagers from your church’s youth group to help with the children during the message. A cadre of older children and teens could be recruited and taught how to shepherd younger children should the need arise. Additionally, older children can help the toddlers to fold their hands in prayer, pray with the children during an echo prayer, or sing with them if a song is called for.
  3. When the pastor or another person presenting the message speaks an echo prayer, the entire congregation should participate in it. If your congregation already does this, that’s great; if not, I want to encourage you to have your whole congregation pray aloud with the children so they know that all God’s people are with them as they pray.[1] Helping children learn how to pray by praying with them is one of the joyful responsibilities of God’s family.
  4. Invite families to sit “up front” so children can better see the action of the service. Sometimes the back pews are “reserved for parents with small children.” This is unfortunate because, unless children are infants who need special attention, youngsters can’t see what is happening in the front of the church. Some churches have invested wisely in booster seats for children to sit on so they can at least see over the heads of adults sitting in front of them. However, many congregations I’ve attended (with some notable exceptions) inadvertently make it difficult, or may discourage children’s ability to see what’s happening. If the hymn rack or back of someone’s head is all children are able to see, they will miss much of the worship experience.
  5. Speaking of the hymn racks, find opportunities to have entire families come up front to sing in the service. Families with children could come up front to sing a children’s hymn as an introduction to the children’s message or sing the first stanza of the gathering hymn.[2] Invite several families to do so, provide them with the hymn and, if needs be, give them a CD recording to practice their singing.[3] Get them together for a quick rehearsal before the service begins and remember to reserve pews for them in the front of the sanctuary. This not only encourages families to sing, but the congregation will be blessed by their singing as well.[4]

A Final Suggestion

 Every now and then have the children’s message given by a puppet. Nothing captures our imagination more than a puppet. Puppets can say things that are personally uplifting, sorrowful, poignant, and filled with excitement that “live” amateur actors can’t always do. A puppet telling a Bible story, giving spiritual advice, reciting a Bible passage, or singing a song, has an especially strong impact on children. If you click HERE you will be linked to a short puppet theater script that can serve as an example of how to present a puppet play with a cast of one puppet/puppeteer, a teenager, and one adult. It contains web sites and information about making simple puppets, constructing a simple puppet stage, and presenting the play to an audience of families. You can feel free to modify it to fit your needs if you like. It’s yours free for the taking.

I hope this encourages you to be intentional about bringing families up front in worship services. May the faith life of each family in your congregation be uplifted as you encourage families to come “up front” to support their children’s spiritual growth and to praise God with their heart, soul, and might.

You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.

Deuteronomy 6:5-7 (ESV)

[1] I’ve served as organist (long term and sub) and given children’s messages in many congregations over that last fifty-five years. My observations have found that praying the echo prayer with children is spotty. The same is true if children are asked to sing a song such as “Jesus Loves Me.” If children are asked to sing during the children’s message, the congregation should sing along with enthusiasm as well.

[2] I’ve done this with a number of congregations with very positive results. It takes a bit of planning, but it’s really worth it. Sing children’s hymns that can be found in Little Ones Sing Praise All God’s People Sing, My First Hymnal, the new One and All Rejoice. These are available from Concordia Publishing House (CPH) at: https://search.cph.org/search#w=lITTLE%20ONE’S%20SING%20PRAISE .

[3] There are hundreds of recordings of hymns available on YouTube. Google “Jesus Loves Me” and you’ll see what I mean. Also see: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uyJ8P7F2r9M for a 3-4 minute video from CPH about “My First Hymnal” and how important singing is in the life of the church.

[4] Ask your music teacher/director to help with this project. She/he will probably know which families you should call upon first. Families singing in the service could become a tradition in your worship services.

Dr. Jeffrey E. Burkart, former Associate Dean of the College of Vocation and Ministry and Coordinator of Lutheran Teacher Education, now serves in retirement as Emeritus Professor of Education and Artist in Residence at Concordia University, St. Paul, MN. He is a nationally known teacher, author, speaker, dramatist, poet and musician. Dr. Burkart has over 200 publications including 12 books, numerous professional journal articles, book reviews, chancel dramas, Christian musicals, hymns, poems, CD recordings, films and videos.

Before coming to Concordia, St. Paul, he taught in LC-MS elementary, junior high, and secondary schools in Indiana, Missouri, Nebraska, and Wisconsin. He and his wife, Martha, have three grown sons (Jonathan, David and Andrew) who all are proud graduates of King of Kings Lutheran School and Concordia Academy, Roseville, MN.

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