Creative Ideas for Children’s Worship is a series of 3 books by Sarah Lenton, providing fresh ideas and activities for a children’s chapel program. The books follow the Revised Common Lectionary, years A, B, and C. Each book includes a CD of music and detailed ‘scripts’ for each Sunday. In addition, the author sets the stage for planning and preparing a children’s worship setting during the Liturgy of the Word. The assumed context is children exiting the main liturgy to hear (and experience) the Gospel in their own setting. A preview of Year C can be found here.
Sarah Lenton read theology at King’s College, London. She has worked in the theatre for many years, is a cartoonist, and a sub-deacon and preacher at her home church in Chiswick, England.
Nuts & Bolts Ideas for Children’s Worship
Below are some ‘nuts & bolts’ ideas for setting up a children’s chapel. Also, some helpful hints for understanding the members of the children’s church worshiping community.
Setting Up: The most basic requirement is a separate room. Obviously you have to take what is given, but it is surprising how quickly you can adapt any space to your needs.
Rooms/Halls: If you are given a room, clear away as much furniture as you can and make an empty space at one end. If you’re given the church hall, mark off one bit as the holy area — the place from which you’ll be leading prayers and reading the Gospel. Limits are important in church halls as the mere sight of acres of floorboards makes children want to rush around.
Furniture: Try to appropriate a cupboard or filing cabinet to store your props. You’ll need a lectern or a little table on which to place the Bible or Gospel Book. Another table at the front is also very useful: you can drape it in the liturgical color of the day, and use it to focus attention on the icon, candle, toy, or whatever you are going to use in the liturgy. Chairs, oddly enough, are not a great idea. They inhibit the children from acting together, and kids usually can’t resist the temptation to swing their legs and kick the chair in front. Cut the chairs down to a couple for the leaders and visiting grown-ups.
The Floor: Nothing really beats getting the kids to sit on the floor. Or mats, if your church has them, but the floorboards if need be. Children are used to sitting on the floor for assembly at school. In small spaces it means you can accommodate more children and bring them nearer to the front to see what’s going on. If you’re up to it, sitting on the floor yourself among the children works very well — especially if you’re telling them a story.
Young Children: As a rule of thumb, a children’s liturgy works best with children who have started school and are used to basic school rules. For example: sitting quietly on the floor, putting up their hands before they speak, and playing games in an organized way. You don’t have time to instill such guidelines to a toddler. If parents want to bring small children along, ask them to remain to look after them. Sending little ones under the care of a sibling does not usually work.
Teenagers: You’ll find that some of the older children don’t want to move on, partly because they like you and partly because they feel children’s liturgy is more fun than adult church. Obviously you’ll know your own kids and how to deal with this. Teenagers can be very helpful as auxiliary helpers, as long as they are never allowed to stand along the back wall!
Cool Dudes: Cool dudes who hang around at the back are the death of liturgy. From about the age of eleven onwards, kids have a tendency to drift to the back wall, lean up against it, and watch the proceedings with their friends. With all the sympathy in the world for teenage angst, you can’t let this happen. If you do, you’ll get a hall divided between enthusiastic little kids, cool dudes, and a middle group who want to copy the big ones. You have to sort this. Liturgy is about participation; big kids are fine if they want to join in, otherwise — back to the service in church.
Discipline: Children’s Church is not school. Nobody has to come, but kids have either with you (and behaving) or back in church. The problem with doing discipline by sending children back to church is that you have to accompany them there, or call their parents out to collect them. Fortunately the resulting interview between parent and child usually ensures it never happens again.
When it comes to dealing with children shouting out or offering silly answers, you can usually block this by applying a “hands up” only rule. As for Gameboys, iPods, and phones – they should not be in children’s chapel. We killed an outbreak of texting once by saying, “Hands up who’s got a cell phone?” Up shot the hands. “OK, bring them up front and leave them on the table.” (Of course this only works once.)
Parents: Some parents process out with their children to settle them, or to look after the little ones. “Spare” parents should be encouraged to return to the main service.
Helpers: They can be parents, big kids, Confirmation candidates, or nervous adults thinking about committing to Children’s Church at a future date: they are unbelievably useful. Be realistic about what they can actually do.
Runners: You need to know when to bring the children back into church and it’s useful to have some people in church ready to tell you when the Offertory (or another agreed cue) is about to start. Teenagers can be very helpful here – especially if they’re able to tell you the news via mobile phone.
Clergy: As the children’s and adults’ liturgies should form an organic whole, make sure your pastor knows what’s going on. This is particularly true when it comes to the children’s return and any presentation they may want to make. Some pastors prefer to be the one who asks the children what they’ve been doing, others are happy to let the team try. Either way, make sure there is time for a presentation— if there isn’t, don’t rehearse it. There’s nothing worse than a pew full of disappointed kids.