How Parents Can Help Involve Children in Worship
by Dorothy Henderson
Worship is the central unifying act of the whole Christian community. Parents, as well as other church members, believe that children belong in worship and should be fully involved as an integral part of the “church family.”
Worship has barely begun when Sarah begins to fidget. Her mother quietly reminds
her to sit still. Sarah’s father digs in his pocket to find a candy. After a few minutes,
Sarah starts rhythmically kicking her shoes against the pew in front of her. A firm
hand on her knee makes her look up to see her mother frown and her father glance
at his watch. Twenty-five minutes before worship ends.
Obviously, this is not the type of worship experience we want for our children. How can we help children and youth worship in a joyful, positive way?
Suggestions for parents of young children
- Plan to arrive for worship rested and relaxed. A good night’s sleep increases children’s ability to participate. A leisurely Sunday morning routine helps eliminate situations that cause families to arrive harried and annoyed.
- If your children are small, arrange to sit where their view is unobstructed. When the worship area is not being used, go with your child and decide where you would like to sit. It is helpful to sit with your children in a pew, then crouch down until you are on the eye level of the child. What would provide a clearer line of vision for your child? A booster seat? A cushion? A side aisle position? A seat at the front?
- Sometimes it works to have your child choose a peer, older teen or adult with whom they can sit in worship.
- Give your child—especially young children—quiet, interesting things to do during worship. These can be activity sheets, cloth story books, worship bags, coloring books, bags of dry cereal. Children are capable of doing two things at once.
- As you use a hymnal, psalter or Bible, encourage beginning readers to follow along.
- At meals, bedtime or in the car, teach your child simple hymns like “For the Beauty of the Earth” and familiar choruses like “I Am the Church” and “Lord of the Dance.” Teach the Gloria Patria, the Doxology, the Aaronic Blessing or other music used regularly in your church.
- Teach children the version of the Lord’s Prayer used in your worship service so they can join in.
- Arrange for your child to come to church with an offering. Explain how the money is used.
Suggestions for parents of older children and teens
- Incorporate attendance at worship into a larger routine enjoyed by all family members. As children get older, it is often more difficult to get them out of bed on Sunday morning! Our family found it helpful, with teens, to plan a relaxed and pleasant family time after worship. Often we visited our favourite coffee shop for doughnuts and conversations. It was something to which we all looked forward.
- Allow your child to come to church comfortably dressed. If clothes are good enough for school, they are also fine for church.
- Ask your church to provide a worship bulletin for young people.
- Work with your minister and/or worship planners to find ways to involved your older child/teen in leading worship—reading scripture, receiving offering, ushering, liturgical dancing, drama, greeting others.
The psalmist of old expressed what parents will echo. It is our joyful hope that our children and youth will say, “I was glad when they said to me, ‘Let us go to the house of the Lord!’” (Psalm 122:1).
Dorothy Henderson is an educator in The Presbyterian Church in Canada.
This article first appeared in APCE Advocate, Summer 2009.