Last Sunday the sermon at my church was a very heady discussion about the relationship between beauty and faith. Hey, it is a university church. The students and professors probably loved it. Still, it went right over the heads of the children. Given all that, it raised an old thorny question in my mind, “what do you do to reach out to the children when the main theme of worship that day simply is not very child-friendly.” In a way that is what my blog is all about. But, revisiting the big question led me to put into words a list of more specific questions to ask when confronted with this situation.
Is there a sub story or connection that children do recognize? Could one part of the sermon speak more to children if it were tweaked?
The preacher on Sunday opened with reference to Beauty and the Beast that led to comments about King Kong. It was just an opener, but still children in the room heard something at the beginning of the sermon that they recognized. It made them think worship might be for them too – even the sermons.
During the sermon the preacher talked about how the church over the years has supported or attacked the arts. He briefly noted how those issues could be seen in our sanctuary. What if that part of the discussion either within the sermon or as a children’s time was expanded pointing out various parts of the sanctuary and explaining why they are as they are? Children (and probably some adults) would learn about the room they worship in every week.
Could the children lead the psalm for the day? The format of the psalms often suggest a reading script with several parts. Children’s classes or families can prepare these readings and lead them in the sanctuary. Or, if you will sing a hymn based on the psalm, take time to point out the psalm in the Bible and in the hymn book. Walk through key words and phrases in the song. Then sing it together.
Is there a hymn that could be introduced just before singing and thus draw children into singing? Walk through one verse putting it into your own words, tell the story behind the hymn, or identify key words and phrases. (I’m playing at the moment with creating hymn word sheets that use different colored fonts and small illustrations to help children catch more and more of the meaning of the words.)
Is it a day for worship education on a specific part of worship, i.e. is the worship theme more about praise or confession/pardon or prayers or saying what we believe. Walk through that part of worship before using it. Is there a phrase in the Lord’s Prayer or other frequently used part of the liturgy that you could discuss with the children and turn into a responsive reading or prayer for the whole congregation?
Is there something going on in the church or children’s world to explore or highlight? Report cards (this week some have been in school long enough for report cards while others are still in Back to School mode)? Seasonal concerns? Something in the news that probably got the attention and concern of children? A project in which children are engaged at church, e.g. CROP Walk?
Even when the main thrust of a worship service is going to fly right past the children, we do not need to ignore them. There are ways to draw them in.