Some children grow up in the sanctuary. Some children begin coming regularly to the sanctuary when they start elementary school. Some of these come only for parts of worship and start staying for the sermon at some later time. IMHO the earlier children are in the sanctuary the better. But, if a congregation plans for children to join the worshiping congregation in steps, it is important that the children be clearly welcomed and that their parents be supported at each step. One way to do this is a simple letter to parents with some guidelines about helping children grow into the new experiences. Below is a sample of a letter to parents whose children are going to be staying for the sermon for the first time. Feel free to use and adapt it for use with your parents.
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At NAME OF CHURCH third graders (OR WHATEVER GRADE) begin staying in the sanctuary for the sermon. They have been learning about the songs and prayers of the congregation during the last few years. Now, they will begin growing as sermon listeners.
Listening to one person speak for FILL IN THE BLANK minutes without interruptions is not something children do often in today’s world. That does not mean they cannot do it. The truth is that most people tune in and out from sermons. They often listen until they hear something that sends them off on a “important to them” rabbit track, then return when they have run that course or when something breaks through their thoughts calling them back to the sermon. Children do the same thing. The trick is not to expect them to hear the whole sermon or to insist to them that they should listen to the whole thing. Instead we can teach them how to tune in and out and to think about what the preacher says. Here are some strategies:
Your attitude is critical. Repeatedly let your child know that worship and the sermon are important to you and that you are excited that he/she is now old enough to share it with you. Whenever possible talk more about the content of the sermon than about worship behavior and focus on what a child did hear rather than what was missed.
Avoid giving a child a book or other diversion that clearly says “the sermon is not for you. You are stuck here, but nice parent that I am, I’ll provide an escape hatch.”
Point out the preacher’s “Let the words of my mouth and THE THOUGHTS OF ALL OUR HEARTS” at the beginning of the sermon to insist that your job as sermon listeners is to think in God’s presence, i.e. sermon listening is active rather than passive.
To encourage thinking in God’s presence with the preacher, look for “Sermon Take Aways” and “Windows.”
A Sermon Take Away is something the preacher said that you think is important and want to remember. It may be a new idea or an idea that speaks to you right now. It may even be a joke or funny story.
A Window is something the preacher says that makes you think about something important that is going on in your life and that you need to think about with God. It is an opportunity to crawl out an imaginary window, think what you need to think, then crawl back in when you are done.
Have a written conversation about the sermon with your child during the sermon. Write notes or draw pictures about what you hear and think in the margins of the bulletin or in a worship journal you bring to worship every week.
Talk about the sermon in the car on the way home. Share some of your “sermon take aways” and “windows.” Ask your children about theirs. When this happens every week, over time children learn to be ready with at least one contribution to the conversation.
Children are an important part of this congregation. Your child is welcome, especially at this big step toward fuller participation in worship. Please let NAME know if there is a way we can help make it a richer, fuller step.
PASTOR or OTHER WORSHIP LEADER/S