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Encouraging children to be active in worship can enhance their congregational experience

One of the greatest gifts that churches offer to their communities is the opportunity for people of diverse ages to engage each other. Sitting side-by-side in the pews, children and adults can inform and enhance the worship experience of those from another generation.

“Children enrich our worship life. Diversity in ages is an absolute necessity. Where do we see that in our culture in any other place?” asks Pastor Nancy Lee Gauche, program associate for the Children, Youth, and Family program at Luther Seminary, St. Paul.

Taking children to worship is an important responsibility, one in which parents need to be supported. “We have to be sensitive to parents trying to be parents in church,” Gauche says, noting that children are just learning how to behave in church.

A group of boys participate in a worship service at Inspiration Point Camp and Retreat Center, a ministry of the Church of the Lutheran Brethren located near Fergus Falls, Minnesota.

It is important for congregations to make worship a place that is welcoming and friendly to children. Pastor Carol Tomer, lead pastor of Pilgrim Lutheran Church in St. Paul, says their congregation emphasizes child-friendly worship due to the grounding assumption that “what makes worship good for children makes worship good for everyone.”

Being a part of worship gives children both confidence and a desire to serve.

So, what makes worship good for children? Tomer notes that children need to be connected in a variety of sensory ways. She says children are encouraged to engage in different parts of the worship service, including being invited to the front for baptisms, helping with different parts of the liturgy, taking part in the processionals, and assisting with offering.

In an effort to help parents, as well as other members of their congregation, Pilgrim Lutheran offered members a list of tips to welcome children into worship. Suggestions included:

* Arrive in time and find a good place to sit. Let children sit along the aisles or use the front rows to make it easier for them to interact in children’s times.

* Avoid having children sit next to each other to minimize quarrels or distractions.

* Provide children with something to look at or do; use a worship bag or children’s bulletin. Make sure the learning tools are thematic and age appropriate.

* Decide on a signal to let children know they need to settle down.

* Be calm in worship — many children cry out during the middle of a service.

Members of the congregation are, in turn, encouraged to welcome children to worship by expressing joy and thanksgiving for their presence in the service, leading by example, and being supportive of parents with small children. This will make children feel welcome in worship.

Making children an active part of worship

Beyond making worship a friendly place for kids to be present, children are excited to be involved in the worship service.

Janet Anderson, program coordinator at the Church of the Lutheran Brethren’s Inspiration Point Bible Camp, works with children who come to their camp to help them understand who God is and that God is worthy of praise. While at the camp, children are encouraged to be actively involved in all areas of the worship experience — they actively lead songs, read Scripture, and more.

Anderson says being a part of worship gives children both confidence and a desire to serve. She suggests simple ways to involve children in the worship service, including participation in music (either in a choir or praise band), reading Scripture, and other creative ministry (such as drawings or other art).

Anderson also emphasizes the importance of communicating to children that they are valuable participants in a worship setting. “It builds them up when they participate,” she says. To thank children who participate in worship in her congregation, Anderson says she will often write them a postcard of appreciation.

“Kids are disciples and have everything to offer in worship,” says Pastor Tim Coltvet, coordinator of contextual learning and coaching for the Children, Youth, and Family program at Luther Seminary. “Almost every aspect of adult worship roles [can be] informed and enhanced by children.”

Prior to coming to Luther, Coltvet served as youth pastor at Mt. Olivet Lutheran (ELCA), Plymouth, Minnesota. Coltvet says the congregation worked to intentionally include children in various aspects of the worship service. “Kids were known by name. Kids ushered and helped with communion. Almost every aspect of adult worship roles were informed and enhanced by children,” he says.

“It’s really Christ-centered. It’s something you have to do as a church,” Coltvet says. “That’s one of the greatest gifts the church offers in the world — engaging intergenerational activity. ”

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