Children’s Times are a worship staple in lots of mainline churches. Both Presbyterian churches I’ve served have had long histories with inviting kids up to the front of the sanctuary during worship and treating them to a lesson or a story.
While the Children’s Time is a focal point for a lot of congregational nostalgia, it is also the one moment many churches have of explicitly welcoming children, so it deserves to be done well, and that is easier said than done.
My colleagues and I recently changed a couple of things about our Children’s Time that we hope will allow us to improve the church’s welcome of children of all ages and developmental abilities.
First, we moved it from after the Passing of The Peace to before. When it followed the Peace, it was the first part of worship’s second movement, Hearing And Proclaiming The Word. It preceded the choral anthem, Scripture readings, and the sermon. So it needed to be based in telling a Bible story. That suited me fine, because my training was to gather the kids, tell them a story, and then get out. No props, no metaphors, no Q&A: just the story.
That’s the way to go with elementary-aged children, but our kids’ ages have skewed younger over the past several months, and trying to tell a four of five minute story to preschoolers is a different animal. They want to move. Restraining them produces tantrums, but letting them roam the chancel is distracting–if the substance of your activity is sitting passively and listening to a story.
But moving the Children’s Time forward in the service makes it part of The Gathering, the first major part of worship that also includes greetings and announcements and The Call to Worship. That part of the service handles improvisation and movement a lot better. And that’s the second change we’ve made: we’re building in movement.
We don’t feel like sitting and listening is developmentally appropriate for most of the kids we having coming forward now, and so we are building our welcome of children in worship around an invitation to move, either by standing and then sitting, by clapping their hands or stomping their feet, or even by getting up and relocating; last Sunday we moved from the chancel steps to the communion table and back again.
This movement also involves the adult congregation. Most of the movements we do with the children are simple enough to be repeated by the adults, and so we explicitly invite them to join in. That has the added benefit of transforming the Children’s Time even further, turning it from a moment for grown ups to passively watch (and even judge!) children into a chance for them to connect with and welcome kids into the church.