02 August 2012

children in church - advice for grown-ups

Earlier this week I wrote some advice for parents who bring their children to our Play and Pray area in church. In the weeks since we've brought children back into our regular services (rather than having them at Junior Church) I've also thought of advice I'd like to give clergy and other other grown-ups in the congregation. (Some is this is based on my own mistakes!)

photo (c) Pikku Arkki Valokuvaus, used by permission*

Advice for clergy, worship leaders, and congregations
  1. Include the children in your congregation. Include the children when you make eye contact with the congregation. If you'd like the children to participate in something, such as the Peace, say so. But attract their attention before your instructions or invitation. (It's better to ask, Children, have you got your banner ready? than Could you bring the banner forward now, children, which has the attention-getter at the end of the sentence.)
  2. Signal that narrative Scripture texts are stories. Whether or not your church stands for the Gospel, whether or not you include a Gospel lesson - if your Bible reading is a story, try to make it sound like one. You don't have to ask the children to listen - just reading something as if it were interesting will attract attention. 
  3. Think of ways to get children involved. Could children help collect the offering? hand out leaflets? read the lesson? serve cookies or biscuits after church? Even if the youngest you can easily include right away are in their early teens, I believe that'll help younger children look forward to the time when they too can participate. 
  4. Remember that not all children are alike. Work not to embarrass a child. If you wouldn't call on the average adult for this, is it something you should ask a child to do? Some children love to be the center of attention (and it may then be difficult to get them to step back out of the spot-light), while others hate it. Some children love to sing and others don't. For some, the best part of church is community; for others it is the chance to be still and know God
  5. Model the behavior you want children to follow. Stifle your laughter at behaviors you don't want to encourage (however hard that may be). Even glaring at a child who is "misbehaving" may be less fruitful than putting extra effort into your own concentration. If a child is going to take on a new task (such as using a tall candle-snuffer or reading into a microphone), let them watch you do it during a practice run ahead of time and then try it themselves. 

* I find this photo wonderfully funny because it looks as though the boy has been invited to watch what is happening at the altar but is bored by it. However, it's important not to mistake a lack of eye contact for a lack of attention. Who's to say that he isn't listening intently? And even if he is bored, I'm so thankful that he was welcomed to the Lord's Table!

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