As we prepare to resume in-person worship this Sunday, you may be slightly freaked out at the thought of having your kids sit through an entire worship service. Rest assured. Your kids will not be the only ones acting like kids. For an example of this, please go back and watch last week’s live stream, where you can see my son pick his nose and wipe it on my shirt and later disappear underneath the pew chairs until I attempt to pull him out.
Although I have clearly not mastered the art of eliciting perfect behavior from preschoolers (or elementary students), I would like to offer a few ideas for helping your kids genuinely participate in worship. After all, their spiritual growth and participation in church life is as vital as yours.
For those of you who do not plan to return to in-person worship services yet, most of these ideas will also be helpful for making the most of a livestream.
- 1. Encourage your kids to join in singing. I’ve found it is easier to sing if you know the songs. To that end, we are planning to list the worship songs for each week in the e-newsletter that goes out on Wednesdays. I like to make a playlist of the songs as soon as I get them and then try to play them in the background once a day between Wednesday and Sunday (When I say “try,” I actually mean “forget about it until Saturday, and then play them four times to make up for it.” But playing them once a day would be great for you more organized people.) We also pick one of the songs as a family and sing it together for several days during our family worship time, so that our kids will have at least one song they are familiar with in the service.
- 2. Encourage your kids to take notes during the sermon. Notes are more fun if they are in a special notebook, with a special pen (or markers!), or if they look like a comic strip. Drawing pictures is a wonderful form of notetaking. We plan to resume note-taking packets for the service soon, although you will probably need to print them at home. We are looking at making them available as a download from our website and sending the link out in our church announcements. We also hope to add a packet for younger children.
- 3. Have your kids bring their Bibles. Consider bookmarking the passage ahead of time (this week is 1 Samuel 13-14). Those who can read will be able to follow along. Those who can’t will still feel like they’re following along. I let my kids use a highlighter to highlight the sentence or verse that stands out the most to them in the sermon. Then, we talk about what we highlighted and why (yes, I do it, too!). This means that my youngest has highlighted the entire chapters of 1 Samuel 11-13, line by line. It makes him feel like a “big kid;” it keeps him quiet; it develops his fine motor muscles; it makes his Bible special; and he usually wants me to read to him what he highlighted. I’d say that’s a win.
- 4. Pick a quiet activity your kids can do when they’re not doing any of the above things, and make that activity “Sunday only.” I personally really like sticker-by-number books (also called paint-by-sticker). My kids are allowed to do one picture each week (so they don’t use up the whole book too fast). Melissa and Doug make some of these as well as other sticker activities that would be great for worship services. My rule for activities during the worship service is that my kids ears still have to be listening even if their hands are busy (so I stray away from reading books and playing on screens, other than letting my youngest push numbers on my phone’s calculator).
- 5. Give your kids a snack and have them use the bathroom right before you leave home. Being physically comfortable makes it a lot easier to sit still!
- 6. Relax. This is a difficult time for everyone, including kids. I think most of us recognize that. No one should think badly of you as a parent because your kids don’t know how to behave during a global pandemic when they’re asked to go back to a church service they haven’t been to in three months. But if someone is critical, try to give that person grace, too. Stress tends to bring out the sin in sinners. God is giving you an opportunity. An opportunity to be compassionate. An opportunity to listen. An opportunity to forgive. An opportunity to please God rather than man. An opportunity to love your neighbor…and your kids. Let’s not expect perfection from anyone but Jesus.
We’re in this together.