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Take Action: Include Children in Your Worship Service

Why Include Children in Worship?

Including children as a significant component of worship is one of the hallmarks of a vital congregation, according to the U.S. Congregational Life Survey. The 2001 and 2008-09 survey was co-directed by researchers Cynthia Woolever and Deborah Bruce, who have summarized their findings on the relationship between the presence of children and the vitality of churches in the article “Children and Youth: High priority means high performance.”

The strong correlation between children in worship and church vitality raises an important question for those seeking to increase the vitality of their faith communities: Does increased church vitality come first, resulting in the participation of more young families, and so the inclusion of children in worship? Or does the intentional inclusion of child-friendly elements in worship lead to an increase in the number of young families who join, producing greater overall vitality?

The good news, according to the evidence, is that the question does not have a one-sided answer, which means that your congregation can start with no children but an intention to create a child-friendly worship service, or build more child-friendly elements into worship to improve the quality of the experience of the children you already have. Either way, you can create a great worship experience for children, which will make participation in your congregation more appealing for young families.

How to Add Child-Friendly Elements to Your Worship

Broadly speaking, there are two ways to incorporate children into your worship service. One way is to add child-friendly components to an otherwise adult-oriented service; the other is to transform your service into a truly intergenerational worship experience.

For help on adding child-friendly elements to your existing worship service, or enhancing the elements you already have, you may want to read these topical essays from the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship. For assistance in creating and presenting an engaging children’s message, click here; and to consider the theological reasons to include children in Communion, click here.

Also, the Reformed Church in America has written a helpful guide for planning a youth-led worship service, with embedded links to sample services, mistakes to avoid, suggested Scriptures, dramatic reading suggestions and ways to follow-up.

How to Create an Intergenerational Worship Service

Some sectors of the Christian universe are hearing a call to do away with the practice of separating families into age cohorts at church. The goal is twofold: to help families become more cohesive by providing them a common experience in the faith, which can carry over into their weekday world; and to engage children in a process that increases their sense of ownership in the ministry of the congregation, by progressively integrating them into all aspects of the church’s life. That sense of ownership can help keep children active in their faith communities as young adults.

To create a truly intergenerational worship service, your leadership team needs to reframe and transform the way your congregation understands worship. A good place to begin a leadership exploration of intergenerational worship is with a two-part resource from the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship that provides biblical warrants for including all ages in worship, along with suggestions and guidelines for including children in each element of a Christian service.

As a primary promoter of intergenerational worship, the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship offers a variety of additional material on the topic. The essay “Let the Children Come” offers perspectives and lessons suitable for a congregational introduction to the topic, along with a list of resources for groups that wish to pursue the idea more deeply; “All Ages Needed for Intergenerational Worship” is a longer article on the same topic, with additional insights, perspectives, resources and discussion-starting questions.

Relatedly, the Reformed Church in America has produced a 3½-minute video promoting intergenerational worship that highlights some of the ways children can be integrated into the church’s life. It can be used to initiate a board or study group discussion or as a sermon illustration.

Additional Resources

For help in understanding what keeps teenagers in church, read “Why Teens Choose Church,” an interview with youth researcher Carol Lytch, housed on the Resources for American Christianity website. To stimulate thinking on ways to help stem the exodus of youth from your faith community, listen to an interactive seminar, “Connecting Disconnected Young People through Worship," archived on the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship website.

For more insight and resources for working with teenagers, see the article “Take Action: Youth Groups” on our site.

You can get an objective look at how well your congregation is doing at including children by taking a brief survey created by the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship. Use it with your leadership team or study group as a way to get all members engaged in the conversation.

The Calvin Institute of Christian Worship has extensive resources related to worship, worship renewal and creating intergenerational services. Articles, study guides and resource lists offer suggestions and help on a variety of topics, including developing sermons; creating and delivering engaging children’s stories; creating multiracial worship events; improving accessibility for the mobility-, hearing- and sight-impaired; and building or renovating for greater accessibility for all ages and conditions. Each of those topics may help your congregation expand its ability to welcome children at worship. You can begin exploring the material here.

In addition, be sure to visit the Children and Worship Bibliography page on the Calvin Institute website.

Resources focused on African American worship experiences and needs are located on the African American Lectionary website. In an interview housed on the Resources for American Christianity website, Anne Streaty Wimberly, director of the Hope Builders Academy at the Interdenominational Theological Center, shares the key ingredients to effective ministry with African American youth that she has discovered through her work and research.

Finally, be sure to explore other worship and leadership topics on our website for more information and assistance.



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