Engaging Children in Worship

Any program of worship education will need to have several areas of focus. The content of worship can be taught to children in some manner regardless of age. The preschooler experiencing the season of Advent, for instance, can feel the sense of expectation, sing some of the songs, and learn the names of the major characters in the Advent drama. Each time Advent is approached thereafter, new layers of understanding and participation can be added. We as Christians never outgrow our potential for perceiving new meaning during the Advent/Christmas season. The same is true for other worship concepts. Let's look at some of the content areas of worship education.

A Special Sense of Time. In order to appreciate the life and ministry of Jesus Christ, it is very helpful for the child (indeed, for all of us) to relive that life and ministry in a systematic fashion. The Christian year is such a tool. One of the important aspects of a child developing cognitive skills is that of a sense of time. Understanding and reliving the Christian year, each year offers the child an organization and experimental basis for relating to Jesus Christ as a person and friend. Without the Christian year, the events and teachings of Christ become a series of episodic activities that lack cohesive structure and intent. We weaken the message of Jesus Christ by not leading the child to an understanding of this special sense of time.

A Special Sense of Place. Children identify worship and their understanding of God with the church building, especially in the preschool and early elementary years. While adults can conceptualize worship at any time and at any place, children live in a concrete world, where such abstract ideas do not have any relevance or significance. Church buildings exist to promote a variety of ideas and feelings, including a historical tradition, fellowship, ministry to the community, and worship. Naming the parts of the sanctuary and explaining their function should be a part of the worship education. Developmentally, the child will be much more at home if he understands the place of worship. There will be time later to expand the child’s concept of where God is and where we might worship God.

A Special Sense of Order. Children need to learn why things are done the way they are in worship. How is a service organized? Where can the child participate in the service? What are the different moods expressed in the service? Why are certain words said (rites) and certain actions done (rituals)? The words, actions, and symbols of a worshiping congregation are unlike those of other gatherings and need to be explained.

A Special Sense of Community. The worshiping community gathers to praise God, to confess, to hear God’s Word, and to go from that time of worship to share what it has experienced. These are different reasons from any other grouping of people that are a part of the child’s life. Children need to understand worship so that they may more fully appreciate this special community of which they are a part.

These are some broad ideas for worship curriculum for children. There are many specifics to be answered, but it is important that these areas, at least, be covered.

From "Guiding Children in Worship, Part 2," Chorister's Guild Letters, March 1986, Used by permission.