In my opinion WHEN you plan for including children in the congregation’s worship is one of the keys to success. If you wait until the last minute when everything else is set for the service to go looking for “something for the kids,” you often find yourself looking for anything at all that has some sort of connection and can be pulled off with minimal preparation. On the other hand if you study the commentaries asking (among other questions) “how will the kids hear that story?” and “what will I need to explain to the kids for them to understand this idea?” even “how does this theme play out at school?” at least eight wonderful things begin happening.
1. You have time to locate a prop with which to introduce the scripture, e.g. a plumb line for Amos.
2. You have time to track down that kid book that deals with the day’s theme. Then you can read all or part of it or recall it during worship.
3. You can speak to the children throughout the service rather than just during a brief “time on the steps” and thus draw them into the entire service.
4. You can highlight different parts of worship each week to enrich everyone’s participation. One week’s texts will suggest extra attention to the prayer of confession. Another text leads one to explore part of the liturgy for one of the sacraments. (Knowing which part of worship will be highlighted may make a difference in what goes in the printed order of worship.)
5. It tells the children they are not an aside, but are part of the whole service. Instead of “that was your part, so now sit down and be quiet while we have our part,” we say “come join us in worship. You may not understand everything, but you can understand some things and you will understand more and more. And, it wouldn’t be the same without you here.”
6. Helps us be more intentional about including the older children who remain in the sanctuary for the entire service. Too often we pitch “children’s times” to the younger children. The older children consider them baby stuff and wonder “what is here for me?”
7. There is time to enlist children and children’s classes as worship leaders, at least occasionally. Children can read scripture, act out scripture while someone else reads it, offer prayer concerns on a given topic, even produce art work for the sanctuary or bulletin cover.
8. Planning for the children early takes away at least one part of the Saturday night panic!
These wonderful possibilities lead me to a rule of thumb for worship planners who want to include the children: You must know how the children will be involved in worship before you turn in the draft for the printed order of worship each week.