Friday, June 5, 2020

8 Ways to Engage Children in "Big Church"

Location, location, location. These are three most important words in real estate.

Connect, connect, connect. What are these the three most important words in? Intergenerational services. You could say, "Engage, engage, engage." too, but I like the connotations of what connecting means. So even though I entitled this "engage," I want the purpose of the engagement to be to connect children to the big picture of church. This entails realizing that they are a part of something bigger than their children's church or Sunday School classes. It means realizing that there is a body of believers that they are a part of. The more you can connect them to that body, the more they will feel a part of it. And the more they feel a part, the better the chances that they will maintain a life long connection with a local body of believers. Even beyond that though, children should be a part of our churches NOW, not when they are grown up. So I will give you ideas in this post, but more important than doing these things, is developing a church body that values the collective body, which includes children, the disabled, ethnicities, and, well you get it, all that are a part of the body of Christ.

Today with the event of Covid-19, as churches are facing re-opening, they are also facing incorporating children into the worship services. I did write a similar post a few years ago about alternatives to children's church, but I have included more ideas in this post. So here are 8 ideas for connecting and engaging children in "Big Church."

Melissa J. MacDonald just did a webinar on "Engaging Kids in Big Church" which had some really helpful insights. I will incorporate them into the article and credit her. She is also offering a Communion for Kids guide for $25. You can order that here.

Ideas for Engaging Children In or During the Worship Service:

1.Worship Bags:
Covid-19 Version - Everything in the bag needs to be disposable, or something you are willing for the children to take home each week. Also, you will need to use some type of disposable bag - such as zip-lock or paper. Ideas for what goes in the bag: coloring picture related to the pastor's sermon, a few crayons, and blank paper. If your church is alright with it, you could include a packet of gold fish crackers or some other snack. I am listing some other ideas below that could either be used IN the bags, or just handed out stand alone.

2. Printed Bible Stories
If your pastor is preaching on a particular Bible story or event, you may be able to print up one of Lambsong's Bible story books. If you want to include a story regardless, you can use these as well. Jill Kemp has done a wonderful job of illustrating over 70 Old Testament stories and over 80 New Testament passages. Most of her booklets are for preschool age. She even has some one page versions. Everything is free on her site. Below is a picture of the cover to one of the booklets. They print 2 to the page. You can access all of the OT and NT booklets here.

3. Fill in the Blanks
This was one of the ideas Melissa gave in her webinar. According to "Miss Mel" (and she is the expert), kids love fill in the blanks. See if you can get your pastor's sermon notes or power points to make fill in the blanks for his sermon.

4. Draw Pictures
Include blank paper in your bags and ask kids to draw a picture from something in the sermon (Another "Miss Mel" idea). If you know what your pastor is going to be preaching on, you can give some suggested drawings. Have them put their names on them and post them on a prominent bulletin board or notice board. You can post them on social media and scroll them before the church service along with your announcements or whatever you use pre-service. Kids will love seeing their stuff featured. And it helps them to feel connected with "Big Church." Connect, connect, connect.

5. Word Search
This idea also came from Melissa's webinar. Create a word search from the scripture passage your pastor is using (or from some of the scriptures he will be using). Print out the whole verse, and then the words that you want them to find. There are lots of sites on-line to do this. Here's one at Discovery Education.

6. Bingo
I think this idea is super, but I can just see an exuberant child forgetting all decorum and yelling out, "Bingo!" during the service. All kidding aside, this seems kind of fun and engaging at the same time. Not having tried this tactic, I cannot say for sure, but I would put words from the sermon into a bingo generator. This site can make up to 75 different cards off of one sermon. You can also put words from the other parts of the service into the grid. This might be especially nice if you have a more liturgical service.

7. Key Words
This idea comes from Melissa's father, Pastor David MacDonald. Pick a key word from the pastor's sermon (or better yet, let the preacher pick it). Have children count how many times they hear this word in the message. If he or she is willing, children can go to the Pastor after the service to see if they got it right. He/She can even give them a small prize if he wants. The real win is that it is a way to connect with the Pastor. Connect, connect, connect. 

8. Children's Bulletins
There are a lot of generic ones on line. I know someone who has the children turn their bulletins in after the service and she posts them on a special bulletin board for all to see. This gives the kids a sense of pride and it helps the rest of the congregation to connect with the kids. Connect, connect, connect.

You won't be able to do this right now, but on the back of my bulletins I had pictures of different people in the church. If the kids got them to sign their bulletin, they got extra credit. We give out fake money to our children for different projects. If kids turned in their bulletin the following week, we put money in their "store" account. (You can read about the different ways we taught giving with this  here.) Having them get peoples signatures helps them to _____________. (Hint, it starts with a "c.")

Here is a sample below of what I used to do.

Bulletin cover
Inside of Bulletin
I even had guest speakers give me questions or outlines of their sermons to use in our children's bulletins.

Next week I will give you some ideas for helping the sermon to be all-age accessible, for doing a children's focus during the service, and hints for the Pastor and staff to help make the transition to an all-age service.

If you are looking for some more help with an intergenerational service, I have included some links below. Come back next week for more ideas.

  •  Parenting in the Pew by Robbie Castleman. This book contains ideas, challenges and examples of ways you can help your children learn to worship God and participate in the worship service.
  • All Age Worship Resources - this is a British web page with excellent resources on it. 
  • Do Not Hinder: Welcoming Kids to Worship - using Jesus's words in Mark 9:36-37 the author makes an excellent point that "whoever welcomes one of these little children in my name, welcomes me;" refers to our congregations. Very motivational article.
Google "intergenerational church worship service" and you will find lots of other ideas. Have a good idea? Please share it with us. 

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