I made this word search a few years ago and included it in a pack of materials we handed out to children on Easter Sunday. Feel free to download and use it in your churches. The words are designed to mostly be new and introduce children to vocabulary they may be unfamiliar with, so definitions have been included as well. Words are vertical, horizontal, and diagonal.
I’ve recently heard from many churches who want to do more all-age worship. For some, this was something they were working on before Covid. For others, it’s been the prayerful response to declining numbers of volunteers – they’re cutting down on Junior Church or even eliminating it altogether, and want to work on bringing children and families more fully into worship.
So what is all-age worship? How can you do it well?
It might help to think about what all-age worship ISN’T.
All-age worship isn’t:
- A particular style of worship. Doing all-age worship doesn’t mean throwing out your community’s identity and traditions. It may require rethinking why we do some of the things we do, and maybe changing or eliminating them as a result of that thinking, but all-age worship can be many things. You can have Anglo-Catholic all-age worship. Charismatic Evangelical all-age worship. Alt-worship all-age worship. And anything in between.
- A children’s service. Too often, people say “all-age” and then only plan for children. As the Revd. Mary Hawes says, “if there have to be children there for it to work, it isn’t all-age.”
- An entertainment programme. It’s about worshipping God, not doing a song-and-dance number to try and keep children entertained. Singing and dancing may be part of it, but the emphasis is on helping people worship, not creating a show.
- A performance by children. If children are involved in leading it, there can be an emphasis on “performing well for the audience,” rather than thinking about what it means to lead worship.
- An opportunity for children to stand at the front holding a picture. Again, to quote Revd Mary Hawes – “if your job can be done by an easel, it isn’t a job.”
- A chance for children to be cute for adult approval/entertainment. Enough said.
- An opportunity to just pass on a simple moral lesson and be done. Worship has space for awe and wonder, not just moral dictation.
- Nothing but happy simple joy, babies and flowers and nothing else. Life is complicated and everyone, of all ages, has different emotions. Worship needs space for this.
So what IS all-age worship? Luckily, the answer here is a lot simpler:
- It is all-age.
- It is worship.
So what does this mean in practice? Does it mean we have to knock ourselves out basically running five services at once, with something for different age groups at all times?
Luckily, no. Here are some things to think about as you plan:
No, not the Australian television show for toddlers – the fact that children move and wiggle and make noise.
Actually, some adults do that too.
Sometimes, adults knit during meetings. Sometimes they doodle in their notebooks. Sometimes adults journal along with a sermon in church.
Hmm, it’s starting to sound like having something to do with your hands could help people of all ages in worship. What if you had packs that had plain paper and markers, or colouring sheets (there are many beautiful Biblical colouring books that you could photocopy and which wouldn’t feel “childish” for adults, but could also work for children, such as this one), and offered them to everyone, regardless of age? Perhaps there could be a place to return something if you want it to be included in a display, after the service? A few plastic envelopes, some paper and markers, and suddenly you could have an all-age art display in response to your service.
You may want to create a children’s corner if you don’t already have one. More on that here.
How can you tell the story? In general, most people like to hear well-told stories. How can your reading and telling of Scripture bring the story to life? You don’t need to dumb it down or make it silly or simplistic or preachy in order to make it work for children. Think about how well Pixar does intergenerational storytelling – they know children will be watching their films with adults, and they will do better if the adults enjoy them too. Pixar films, in general, have a few things in common:
•There is real risk and danger. What are the stakes in this story?
•The story is clearly and simply told
•Not preachy, moralistic, or obnoxious – engages adults as well as children
•Keep to the essentials – detail enriches main point, doesn’t distract.
How can we respond to the story?
Dave Csinos and Ivy Beckwith have done some work on “spiritual styles” – the idea that there are several dominant ways in which people connect with God, and most people strongly connect to 1 or 2 of them. These are WORD (reading, discussion, Bible study), EMOTION (art, music), SYMBOL (mysticism, new ways of imagining God), and ACTION (doing something – either physically or an act of service). These tend to be the same throughout our lives – there may be a 6-year-old who loves to talk about the Bible story, and a 56-year-old who would love to meditate to music about it. If you mix up the ways of responding, people of all ages will be engaged.
Another great all-age response tool is wondering questions. These come from the Godly Play tradition, and are open-ended. They require no extra work from you to prepare different things. Silence is okay, so there’s no pressure to respond. Things like:
“I wonder what your favourite part of this story was.”
“I wonder what the most important part of this story was.”
“I wonder where you are in this story.”
as well as some specifically looking at the symbols and emotions of that particular story, eg “I wonder how James and John felt when Jesus asked them to follow him.”
A 4-year-old will respond to these questions in a 4-year-old way, a 34-year-old in a 34-year-old way. All answers are accepted – there are no right or wrong answers. It levels the playing field, allows everyone to be included, and means no extra work for a leader. I’ve done all-age talks that were just a bunch of wondering questions (sometimes finishing with a poem) and they’ve been very effective. All-age doesn’t mean complicated.
What do we have in common?
No matter what age we are, there are things in our life that we are thankful for.
There are things we need to say sorry for.
There are things that amaze and astonish us, which make us go “wow.”
And there are things we need help with.
These map onto the four types of prayer – thanksgiving, repentance, adoration, and intercession.
But everyone understands “Thank you, sorry, wow, help.” These four simple words are universal in speaking to our experience, connect to the church’s traditional kinds of prayer, and are understandable by people of all ages.
Perhaps you can open up prayer to be more sensory, in this framework as well: are there opportunities to touch/draw/write: shaping something, making movements with our hands, blowing bubbles, using stones, candles (battery-powered or real), play-doh, etc. The “Flame Creative Kids” blog has many good ideas for simple but profound sensory prayers.
How do we sing?
All-age worship doesn’t mean entirely changing your musical style. It doesn’t mean – though it can – doing silly action songs.
Think about what sort of music fits with who your community is, but doesn’t require a lot of reading, has simple words, and is repetitive. Maybe this is a traditional hymn with a repetitive chorus. Maybe this is modern worship music. Maybe this is Taize chants. Maybe this is music from Christian communities around the world. Worship Workshop is a good and diverse resource – once you sign up for a (free) account, you have access to backing tracks, sheet music, and words for 96 different songs and hymns, which work for all ages. Pastor Madeleine on YouTube also has a good collection of traditional and modern music, much in a simple style, with the words on the screen.
Children as leaders
Children are not only the passive recipients of the worship we put together. All-age worship is an opportunity for the wider congregation to hear the voices and concerns of children and young people. This gives children and young people a more authentic role in the community, and allows us all to learn from one another. Here are a few ideas for how this can happen:
- A group of children write the prayers. This can be done together, ahead of time, in a youth group or Junior Church setting. Alternatively, you could ask each child to send in one sentence each for “Thank you for …” “Please help …” and “I am amazed by …” and have a volunteer put these all together in a list. This allows the congregation to hear what the children’s concerns and thoughts are.
- Children create art. Whether you have a service sheet or use a screen, children can create artwork to accompany the worship. This helps us see the service, and the story, in new ways.
- Children as worship leaders. Very young children can hand out service sheets or bring up the bread and wine. If you have a bell, young children can ring it with adult help. Older children can do readings, serve at the altar (you can offer yearly server training for adults and children together, to help build relationships), play music, operate the AV system or any streaming you’re doing, prepare and serve the teas and coffees (with adult help), and almost anything else you can think of apart from actually consecrating the bread and wine. If you don’t have time to set out detailed jobs ahead of time you can do what the Revd. Mary Hawes’ church does (I’m quoting her a lot because she’s very wise – follow her on Twitter). They have a laminated set of cards with jobs on them – when people arrive, if they want to do a job, they pick up a card. The cards have words (“carry up the Bible”) and pictures (a book) on them, so they work for non-readers and readers alike.
And ultimately, worship occurs in the context of church. (This is another Mary Hawes quote, but the Revd. Ally Barrett has said it too, so I’m quoting two people here) If your church has ways of creating intergenerational relationships, all-age worship will feel like the natural growth of that. As Mary says – “it’s harder to tut at a child you know.” Where are the opportunities to get to know each other? To share our stories? To do activities together? To become a church of all ages, who live, grow, and worship together?
For an excellent example of building intergenerational community, I recommend the excellent “Old People’s Home For Four-Year-Olds” on Channel 4. (You will need to create an account to watch it, but it’s free). The first episode alone is inspirational, but you may end up getting sucked in and watching the whole thing – and the Christmas specials!
Yesterday, my church celebrated our Dedication Sunday. Our vicar preached with gratitude and love for all that we had done together to keep the church’s mission and ministry going during the pandemic. But he did mention something that many other churches have asked me about over the last few months – our volunteers have quit, in alarming numbers, over the last 18 months.
Why is this happening?
For some, it’s that committing to regular volunteering in uncertain times feels impossible. We don’t know if we might have to suddenly self-isolate with no notice, and we’re worried about letting people down if we do. We struggle with quickly responding and adapting to changing regulations – planning a Junior Church session is fine, but planning six different versions of it, depending on what we might be allowed to do, and then writing a detailed risk assessment, is too much. Or our own responsibilities multiplied over the pandemic – home-schooling, working from home, caring for relatives – and we just can’t stay on top of the church gardening as well.
For others, it may have been that we were close to burning out before the pandemic hit, and it just became an easy way to naturally stop something we no longer had the energy or enthusiasm for, but felt we couldn’t quit.
Or we may be in a group that’s particularly vulnerable to Covid, or live with someone who is, and we’re trying to minimise risk, and leading Toddler Group just feels like a step too far.
So now we as a church are trying to figure out a way forward, and all the children’s ministry stuff we used to do – Junior Church, or Messy Church, or Toddler Group, or schools ministry, or any number of things – and not only does it feel like the families have distanced themselves, but you also don’t have the volunteer support you used to have.
What Can You Do?
The simplest way of encouraging people to volunteer is to ask. Definitely in a general way, from the front, but also personally. “People like to be asked,” a vicar told me the other day, reporting on an elderly gentleman who she asked to help with a project, and who told her, emotionally, he hadn’t been asked to do anything at church for years. “People like to feel useful.” The personal touch can help. And in thinking about who to ask to help with children’s ministry, don’t just think about young parents (and especially not just young mums) – people of all ages can have a gift for ministering with children. Extra grannies and grandpas can help form deep faith, and create nurturing inter-generational relationships. And if there are admin or organisational tasks needed to help run your children’s ministry, people can do those, even if they’re “not good with kids.”
And think about changing trends in volunteering – an NCVO webinar I attended a few years ago pointed out that people these days tend to like volunteering for shorter, time-limited events, rather than ongoing commitments. So someone may not be happy to lead Junior Church every other week, forever, but they might be happy to organise the Crib Service. Or a half-term holiday club.
But there are bigger questions raised by this slump in volunteer numbers.
Going Back To Normal?
It is tempting to think “how can we make it so that things can go back to normal? How can we find the same number of volunteers we had before, so we can do the same things?” But it may be that God is calling you to a different way of doing things, a different way of being.
Perhaps the lack of volunteers is an opportunity – instead of doing separate things for children, which require a number of specialist volunteers, your congregation can think about ways to further integrate children into what the rest of the church is already doing. What if you stopped trying to do Junior Church every week, for example, and instead did it once or twice a month? The other weeks, use simple techniques to integrate children further into worship – I asked a few parents and clergy for easy ways to do this the other day, and here’s what they came up with:
- Provide everyone, of all ages, with paper and drawing materials. Encourage people to draw or write in response to what happens during worship.
- If you have a children’s area, can you make it larger? With things for toddlers but also for older children?
- Encourage children to come up and sit around the altar during the Eucharistic prayer.
- Keep children in church with clergy. Send everyone else out to self-guided groups with some discussion questions for part of the service.
In the longer term, can you make it a goal for the whole church to take seriously the idea of welcoming children and families, and including them in worship? What would it take for this to happen? Would it be more or less work than trying to re-launch separate programmes from scratch? Would the families you used to have be interested, or would they only be interested in coming back to the same thing they used to do?
Outside of Sunday morning worship, are there opportunities to include children and families in things that are already happening, so you need fewer volunteers?
For example, if you have a “tea and a chat” club for the elderly, is there a way of combining this with a toddler group, for at least part of the time they’re together? Yes, you would still need volunteers who were good with families, and volunteers who were good with the elderly, but you’d only need half as many people to set up, do the refreshments, tidy everything up, if you were only doing it once! The toddlers could have some time on their own to begin, then everyone could meet together for a while, and then the elderly could have some time on their own to finish.
If you have a group who works on a local issue of justice – homelessness, or a Foodbank – could they meet in an evening, include prayer and pizza, and make this group open to older children and teenagers who also care about these issues?
There may still be places where we want children to be just with children. This provides the opportunity for them to make friendships more easily than if their parents are right there, and it allows us to tailor things for different ages or interests. I’m not saying get rid of everything children do on their own. But if we start shifting our thinking from “how can we get lots of people to run all the programmes we used to run for children” to “how can the whole church move to open up what we’re already doing, so children and families can be more included?” we may find, with time, that our intergenerational relationships, worship, and ministry are flourishing in unexpected and wonderful ways.
UPDATE: In a discussion on social media, Wendy Claire Barrie, a children’s ministry expert from the USA, said the following, and gave permission for me to add it to this post:
A few thoughts from the other side of the Atlantic:
1. While young children remain unvaccinated, they are at risk and raise the risk of others, so it may not yet be time to match them with elders or have them stand around the altar.
2. Nimble is the word and mindset we’ve adopted. We are back in worship and with some programs here in NYC but have to be ready to pivot on a moment’s notice.
3. I am long past ready to reframe what parishioners do at church/for church events as volunteering. This is how church happens: we do this work together. What the lack of parishioners being willing or able to participate in this way must mean is fewer programs, events, classes, not that already overburdened staff take on more responsibilities.
I wrote an All-Age Lent course last year, and several churches were in the middle of trialling it when the pandemic hit. I’ve adapted it for Zoom and you can download it below.
A few notes – these are also included in the download:
- Each week, there is storytelling, and then a choice of response activity. Each response activity will be in a different breakout room. Some of the response activities require having various resources – these have been chosen to be fairly cheap and easy to get. HOWEVER, in the introductory section of the course, there is an idea for an ALTERNATIVE for churches for whom making up resource packs every week for different activities would be asking too much.
- You will need to be familiar enough with Zoom to be able to put people into breakout rooms manually and not just automatically, to be able to share a screen and share computer sound, to instruct people on Speaker vs. Gallery view, and to feel comfortable reading a book with pictures, using the webcam.
- There are safeguarding issues around children being present on Zoom. A link is included in the document to the Church of England’s accessible and straightforward guidance on best practice. Please do read and follow it.
Download the Lent Course here:
Many people have used churchyards more during the pandemic, as a way of getting outside, getting exercise, or finding a place of peace.
These prayer stations are designed to encourage people who may not attend church, or pray much, to use your churchyard for spiritual reflection, and become familiar with the season of All Saints, All Souls, and Remembrance. They can be used be people of all ages.
There is a sign for the entrance to your churchyard and then there are four stations:
- All Hallows Eve – confronting our fears
- All Saints – remembering those whose lives inspire us in faith
- All Souls – remembering our own beloved dead
- Remembrance – honouring the sacrifice of those in war, and praying for peace
These can be put anywhere around your churchyard that is appropriate. However, one suggested way is:
- All Hallows Eve – by graves that have imagery (angels, skulls, cherubs, etc) to explore
- All Saints – by something with a saint’s name on it (your church’s sign, or a statue, if you have one)
- All Souls – a memorial bench
- Remembrance – a commonwealth war grave, or your war memorial (if outdoors)
What do I need?
The stations can primarily stand on their own without resources. However, you will need to laminate the pages so they’re waterproof, and, if possible, provide the following and ensure they’re checked and topped up regularly as needed:
- A basket of stones, to go by the sign at the entrance
- Rosemary and myrrh for the fourth station (these can be in waterproof plastic containers – you may want to provide hand sanitizer here as well)
- There is a space on the third prayer station for you to add a sticker with contact details for someone to talk to about bereavement
Download the stations here:
Today I visited The Knitted Bible in its latest host site of Hampstead Parish Church. While St. Albans Diocese has an impressive fondness for knitted Bible stories – our cathedral’s large knitted Nativity, the smaller knitted Nativity and Noah’s Ark available to borrow from our Resource Centre, and many other knitted Bible sets around the Diocese – this goes beyond even our impressive yarn-based Biblical efforts.
It consists of around 35 scenes, from Creation to Jesus’s breakfast on the beach after his resurrection, each painstakingly re-created in yarn and stuffing, often with ingenious sets made of everything from kitchen roll to upside-down flower pots. (Please note: it does include the sacrifice of Isaac, without a huge amount of material provided about that story apart from “God wanted to see if Abraham would obey,” which is a simplistic reading that can be damaging to children’s ideas of God, and scary for them. Rabbis I have spoken with tend to interpret that story more as Abraham misunderstanding God, thinking God wants human sacrifice like the pagan gods of the time, and God stopping Abraham, clarifying he does not require human sacrifice. You may want to remove this scene from your display or provide additional material to give it context.)
The Knitted Bible was created in 2008 by over 40 people at St. George’s URC in Hartlepool. It is available for churches to borrow without charge – however, it’s booked up very far in advance. If you’re interested in borrowing it for your church in late 2021 or even 2022, contact information can be found here.
While that may seem far away, it’s definitely worth considering if this is something you might be interested in doing. I spoke with the stewards on site, the church’s administrator, and with the Rev. Jeremy Fletcher, Vicar of Hampstead. The stewards and the administrator told me they’ve received a marked increase in foot traffic in the church over the ten days the Knitted Bible has been in situ. The stewards said it’s been a wonderful point of engagement with the local community – the church school has brought several classes to visit, it’s been out during worship for people to look at and explore, and people of all ages have engaged with it.
Rev. Jeremy said, “lots of people have told me they expected to be charmed by it. And that they were surprised to find that they were both charmed and moved by it.” He suspects a lot of what’s so moving about it is the detail. Every person and animal is an individual, and has their own story to tell, and little details in the setup – from a steward in the act of pouring wine at the Wedding at Cana to the little foil tip on a Roman soldier’s spear – draw the viewer in and inspire wondering and imagination.
Visiting the Knitted Bible could serve as a springboard for follow-up activities as well, in schools, or church children’s/mixed age groups, such as:
- Make your own 3-d versions of Bible stories and display them alongside the knitted ones.
- Choose a character from one of the scenes and write the story from their point of view.
- Put together an assembly, or a presentation to the congregation, about your visit and/or one of the stories.
Here are some more photos. Maybe you’ll be inspired and create a knitted Bible – or at least a few scenes – of your own!
LIFE OF JESUS:
Think about a story or book that meant a lot to you as a child. What made it so special?
I ask this question at some of my workshops, to start a discussion about telling Bible stories in our groups. Often, the answers are very similar from one group to another – some of the most common are:
- There were characters I identified with.
- I loved the world it was set in and I wanted to live there.
- It gave me hope, or inspiration, or got me through a tough time.
- My grandmother read to me, and being in her lap and having her read me a story is a special reminder of our relationship.
- The person who told/read me that story clearly loved it, and their passion for that story was contagious.
All of these things about stories can help us think about how we pass on the stories of the Bible to children in our groups, and how we encourage parents and carers to read Bible stories at home. I have a Pinterest board of good Children’s Bibles or Bible stories – many of them are designed to be read aloud. The ones that work for under-5s can be given as gifts to Christening families if your church has the budget, and parents/carers can be encouraged to read a Bible story at bedtime. That special time with a beloved adult, hearing the stories of God’s people, will be treasured.
It’s also a reminder that the relationships we form, as children’s ministry leaders, are important. If we know, and care for, the children we tell stories to, our storytelling will have more impact, because it will come from a relationship of trust and love.
Another thing I take from this is how important it is that the Bible is full of diverse characters, and we need to include a broad range of them, for children to identify with. If we portray all Bible characters as perfect, obedient, brave, etc., we limit children’s ability to connect with the stories.
Moses was far from obedient to authority – he was a troublemaker for Pharaoh and other oppressors. Joseph went on a journey from arrogance to reconciliation. Ruth showed bravery and faithfulness in a new country not her own. Esther stood up and spoke truth to power, risking her life. Daniel stayed true to his own conscience, no matter what. Peter could never remember to think before speaking. John wasn’t afraid of having strong emotions. James was trying to follow Jesus while also feeling responsible for his little brother. Mary Magdalene wasn’t believed by her own friends when she told them what she’d seen. All of these are traits and experiences that children can relate to – let’s remember that we’re talking about real people in our stories, not idealised cardboard cut-outs!
The power of stories to get us through tough times, or give us hope, is also clearly relevant to our Biblical storytelling. The stories in the Bible are full of loss and pain, exile and despair – they tell the story of people who, in the words of the Beulah Land feltboard storytelling set, “lied and cheated and stole from each other, they fought and hurt and killed each other, and trampled the poor, and spoiled God’s earth, and worshipped gold and silver instead of God.” But the Bible also tells us that God never stops loving us, God never stops trying to save us, and that God has fought death for us, and won, and invites us to share in that new life in a Kingdom where death and suffering and cruelty are no more.
Often, we are afraid of some of these stories – and, in many cases, for good reason. The Bible is also full of what seems to be God-sanctioned genocide, and patriarchy, and the deaths of children as revenge for the sins of their parents. So we shy away from the tough stories, and give our children only the parable of the lost sheep, and the creation, and a sanitised version of the Christmas story without the politics of occupation and oppression. But that means we’re depriving our children of the very heart of the Gospel – that evil and oppression and cruelty are real, but that God’s love is stronger than them, and God will never abandon us. (What we leave out, and how, is a difficult question, and one that deserves more space than I can give it here.)
And let’s not forget to leave space for awe and wonder. I’ve heard this spoken in many ways in response to my question – and about books from The Famous Five to the Narnia Chronicles. That longing to be in that world, with those people, the way a book fires our imagination and gets us wondering. Creating that space for a child to explore the story for themselves, to make meaning out of it, and to play with it, is very important. This means we don’t need to draw a moral lesson from every story – the story itself can be the gift we give to children. Open questions like “I wonder …” questions can help your group explore what the story means without closing off the power of imagination. And providing response time that isn’t just reading comprehension or creating an identical craft can also encourage children to enter deeply into the world of story, and make it mean something to them.
For expansion on these ideas, I recommend Rebecca Nye’s “Children’s Spirituality: what it is and why it matters,” Gretchen Wolff Pritchard’s “Offering the Gospel to Children,” or Elizabeth F. Caldwell’s “I Wonder … engaging a child’s curiosity about the Bible.”
I know it’s a bit late, and I apologise – but bookmark this for next year if you’ve already had your Harvest Festival.
Especially now, as more of the world is waking up to the climate crisis and our collective failure to care for God’s creation, it can be easy to feel helpless.
So I’ve put together some simple actions we can take – some personal, some pushing for systemic change – that can genuinely make a difference.
I’m going to print multiple copies of these out on orange, yellow, and red paper, then cut them out, punch a hole in each one, and hang them on a tree* by the entrance of the church. During the service, I’ll mention the tree and encourage people to choose a leaf as a commitment and promise to do something that will care for creation. I’ll include some blank leaves for people to add their own ideas.
* The “tree” is a few twigs stuck in a basket of sand.
How would you list the activities and ministries your church does?
I suspect, in many churches, the list would go something like this:
- Worship (perhaps including professional-quality music groups)
- Bible study, education, Alpha or Pilgrim courses, Lent/Advent groups, home groups, etc
- Fellowship and relationship-building
- Serving the community – things like Foodbanks, lunch clubs for the elderly
- Supporting national or international charities/justice efforts
- Stewardship and governance decisions
- Children’s ministry
- Youth ministry
If asked about what Children’s Ministry consisted of, the response might be something like, “we have Junior Church, and our weekly toddler group, and Messy Church once a month.”
Which is brilliant! An active children’s ministry like this takes time, effort, commitment, and a lot of love. And it makes a real difference in the lives of children and their families.
But where are the children and young people in the rest of the list?
Often, we get so used to “children’s ministry” as a separate category that we forget that we can include children in other things the church is already doing. We can have things specifically aimed at children and families – baby and toddler groups are lifelines to many new parents – but we can also look at the list above and, for every item, not just the children’s ministry one, think, “could we include children in this?”
The Children’s Society Good Childhood report has come out today. You can read it here. In it, children express a growing concern about crime, and environmental issues – deep issues of concern for Christians who care about building peace, and caring for God’s creation. If your church is doing anything on crime, creation care, or poverty, could children be involved?
Statutory agencies and schools are also undergoing a cultural shift in how children are involved in decision-making – and churches have an opportunity to follow this example. Children are especially vulnerable, and can’t vote, but almost every decision made by adults in charge of institutions and governments affects them disproportionately. Can you include children in any decision-making processes in your church – about priorities in spending money, about programmes, worship, or choosing a new vicar, children’s worker, director of music, etc? Can children be present at and included in your annual meeting? What would be needed to make that happen?
Here are a few ideas for how this could work in practice:
- Invite children and young people to visit the PCC three or four times and year and talk about what matters to them at church, in their community, and in wider issues of justice.
- Have a “children’s table” at the annual meeting, facilitated by someone who knows your church’s children, and who can help them share their thoughts and contribute (and provide pens and paper for them to scribble and draw to keep the fidgets at bay).
- Think about how your church’s community service, and wider action on social issues, could include children. The church where I was children’s worker includes older children and teenagers on a local charity’s annual “sleep-out” for homelessness – they are sponsored by their teachers and friends. We also include children and teenagers in our pub quiz for Christian Aid. Could your junior church join in fundraising events? Could they make posters or speak in worship, to encourage other church members to get involved? Could you include children in deciding which charities or causes the church supports?
- How do you include children in worship? Are they doing what adults tell them, or do they have a chance to share their own ideas?
Children can be involved in the full, broad life of the church – indeed, they should be, because that’s how they learn that Christian life includes thinking about our common life together, reaching out in love to the community, and advocating for a world that reflects God’s values of justice, equality, and dignity for every human being, and stewardship of the earth he has given us. Including children in activities and decisions outside of children’s ministry also gives your church:
- The chance to foster inter-generational community.
- A reminder to the older members that children are full disciples and members of the Body of Christ.
- The enrichment of the ideas and contributions the children bring.
We are all richer when all our voices are heard.
For those of you who may not yet have seen the research from Church Army on Messy Church, called “Playfully Serious,” please find it attached below. It’s very useful in helping churches discern what you’re doing Messy Church for, how to do it well, how to make it church instead of just entertainment, and so on.