By Bekah Stoneking
Age-graded groups for children are wonderful opportunities for your kids to engage with biblical truths in a way that’s accessible for them. But sometimes—like summertime schedules, or when kids age out of your church’s programming, or simply when a family desires to worship together—transitioning little ones to “big church” becomes necessary.
Participating in a church’s corporate worship service can help build a child’s faith foundation. Hearing God’s Word, singing worship songs, and observing their parents and other church members as they read, listen, worship, pray, and engage with the service will provide a model for children to follow as they grow in their faith.
Here are seven ways to transition children to the service and to help them cultivate the habit of regularly gathering with the church for worship.
1. MAKE A VISIT.
During the week, have families with young children tour your church’s worship area. Let the kids lead the way, exploring with freedom and asking questions. Explain what happens in each area of the sanctuary.
During the tour, mention the names of people children might see there. Invite children to mention how they think people will participate and act during each portion of the service. As you return to the church building on Sunday, parents can help children mentally prepare for the service by recalling the people and activities they might expect to see.
2. GO PART TIME.
If your church’s worship service opens with singing, praying, and other interactive elements like greeting one another or listening to brief testimonies, consider including children in this time before going to their regular group.
Additionally, if your church is celebrating the Lord’s Supper or baptism, invite children to watch these special events. Quietly describe what’s happening and invite them to celebrate or ask questions when appropriate.
If there are children in your congregation who are with parents for a portion of the service, consider having them go through the check-in process in the children’s area beforehand to make the late transition more efficient.
Also, make sure Sunday School teachers know what’s happening so they know to expect children later in the morning.
3. PLAY PRETEND.
Kids learn through playing and activity. Encourage parents to make the most of this by playing “church” at home. This can include streaming worship songs to sing together, practicing opening Bibles, praying out loud, and listening as someone from the family reads from the Bible.
Take turns role-playing the different people who lead your church’s worship service. Practice sitting, listening, and taking notes or drawing about the sermon.
4. PACK A BAG.
Encourage parents to pack a special bag for church, including: a child-friendly, full-text Bible in the translation your church uses; Bible storybooks; a clipboard and paper; pencils; and crayons or colored pencils (avoid pens and markers so you don’t have to worry about losing their caps).
Include a spill-proof drinking cup in the bag and place allergen-free snacks in fabric or other reusable baggies so they can be opened quietly during the service.
The contents of the bag can help children engage with the sermon, which will likely be the longest and most difficult part of the morning for them. Parents should help children open their Bibles to the right page and have them point to the big chapter number or to familiar words in the text.
Encourage children to “take notes” or draw pictures about what they’re hearing. Have emerging writers copy words from the bulletin or from a memory verse. Challenge older kids to write a summary sentence about the sermon’s main idea and to make notes of new words they hear or things they think are important.
Suggest to parents to use their notes to talk about the sermon during the week.
5. CREATE A CHART.
If your church follows a routine order of service (ex: three songs, prayer time, the sermon, the offering, and so on), make a chart with simple words and pictures representing each part. Have the children in your kids ministry mark off each part as the morning progresses. This will give a visual representation of the time that has passed and an idea of what else remains.
For children who are still learning behavioral expectations for the church service, you can also use the chart as a behavior management tool. Affirm their hard work throughout the service by drawing a star next to each event where their behavior meets expectations.
6. SIT STRATEGICALLY.
Encourage families to sit close enough to help children visually engage with the service, but plan an exit strategy as needs arise. Do this by choosing seats at the end of a row or along the outer edge of the room.
Wiggles, potty breaks, and big emotions are all to be expected, and sitting strategically will allow you to step out, care for your child, and return with maximum efficiency.
And parents: Please return! There’s no shame in doing what you need to do to care for your child and then helping him return to the service.
7. HELP ONE ANOTHER.
Kids are kids. They move. They make noise. They can be messy. They say whatever is on their minds. The things that make kids adorable can often be the things that make it nerve-wracking to bring them into serious, holy moments.
Have conversations with other church leaders and parents. Decide, together, that wiggles and messes aren’t deal-breakers, but are markers of who God designed children to be at this age. Take the pressure off parents and help them include their children in the service.
And if you’re not a parent or if you no longer have young children, you can support families in your church by choosing to sit with them. Show them with your proximity and patience that they are loved and welcomed and that you support them.
The church is one big family, after all! Whether you become an extra set of helping hands or simply another friendly face to bring calm and familiarity to the Sunday morning routine, we can all help one another bring the little children to the feet of Jesus.
Wiggles, giggles, questions, and snack requests are all signs of life. Praise God for these “distractions” because they’re evidence that He has brought new life to your church!
With planning, practice, and an extra dose of patience, the church can work together to give kids the opportunity to establish the routine of gathering with believers and learning about loving and worshiping the Lord.