Worshipping With Young Children

Worship is the process of ascribing worth to, of turning our hearts and minds to God. It is reflected in our language, gestures, time, material goods, skills, and all aspects of our lives.

It is painful to realize that going to worship God on Sunday is now a counter-cultural thing to do. When our children are baptized we promise to raise them in the faith and support their lives in Christ. The following suggestions are ways to fulfill our promises to both God and our children.

These suggestions for teaching worship to young children come from many sources: a variety of Christian websites and several books such as Parenting in the Pew by Robbie Castleman.

Adult authority and responsibility should not be given to the child. Adults do not ask children if they want to go to school or if they want to go to the doctor, or any other things that are deemed critical for a child. Going to worship should be a “given.” Children take their cue from the priorities of the important adults in their lives.

Getting Ready at Home:

At worship we are celebrating the living, dying, and rising again of Jesus Christ for our salvation and for the salvation of the whole world.

Sunday morning begins on Saturday night. Developing a routine makes it easier for everyone. How can Sunday be made simple, but special for young children?

Build anticipation; make it the big deal it really is!

“Sunday, the very best day of the week is about to begin. Jesus is excited, it is His special day.”

“Every Sunday morning Episcopalians go to church to worship God in celebrating the Eucharist. You are so lucky to be one of them!”

Let the child plan something special to wear.

Have the child prepare their own offering envelope with their name on it.

Have the child think about personal prayer requests; make sure to include something specific for which to ask forgiveness.

Speak of “our church” rather than “the church”

Have them bring a donation for the food pantry.

Talk about what they may expect to see and do. For example: See the procession, torchbearers, choir, lay readers, clergy.

Mention the church season. Tell them to look for the color of the season on vestments and hangings.

Go over the Gospel to be read.

Behavioral expectations:

Talk about what are acceptable church manners.

Don’t expect them to sit still and stay quiet for the entire worship service. Movement should be restricted but not prohibited.

Don’t say, “Be quiet or don’t talk.” Say, “whisper” or “Use your quiet voice.”

Noisy shoes should be removed.

Sunday Morning:

Keep breakfast simple, perhaps with a special treat not usually eaten during the week.

Sing Christian songs especially on Sunday morning.

Before Worship in Church:

Sit close to the front where the child can see.

Teach them to reverence the Altar or Blessed Sacrament before entering the pew so they will know that it is special.

Teach them to make the sign of the cross if it is your custom.

Introduce them to the people sitting near them. It is important for everyone to develop a sense of belonging to a wider community other than just their family.

During Worship:

It is important to fix your hearts on being with your children before the Lord and not before the congregation. You are bringing your children to be with your heavenly Father. Remembering this helps free you to help your children without being self-conscious about what others are thinking.

A child who is crying loudly or having difficulty behaving within certain boundaries should be calmly taken out for a time, or taken to the nursery, all without anger.

It is appropriate to whisper to help them notice what is going on during worship.

Have children stand, sit and kneel at appropriate times. These may be explained in a whisper when they are about to occur:

“We are going to sit and listen and be taught.”

“We are going to stand and pray or give praise by singing.”

“We are going to stand to hear the Gospel because Jesus is speaking to us and Jesus might say ‘Come follow me,’ and we are standing to show our body is ready to follow Him.”

“We are going to kneel and ask God to forgive us.”

Even the very young can learn the responses: “And also with you.” “Thanks be to God.” “Alleluia” is a word that children enjoy saying. Let them hold a prayer book and point to the response, cuing them when and what to say. “Amen” is an easy one with which to begin.

During the confession, remind them it is time to ask God to forgive them for something specific that they have done or failed to do.

During the Prayers of the People, encourage them to include their own prayer requests.

Encourage them to listen to the readings and tell you something they heard.

Let them hold a hymnal and hum or sing “la la la” along with the music.

Encourage them to listen to the sermon and tell you something they heard the preacher say.

Have them draw something they heard the preacher say.

Don’t give unrelated things to do because that teaches them it is OK to “tune out” of worship

Children as young as two years of age can learn The Lord’s Prayer and recite it with the congregation.

Point out that the altar is our table and we have special tablecloths for different seasons and occasions. The chalice is our cup and the paten is our plate.

If your child receives the chalice at Communion, teach them to stand on the kneeler so the chalice may be administered without difficulty. Teach them to take a “sip.”

To communicate an infant, the parent may lightly touch the top of the wine with his/her little finger and put it into the infant’s mouth.

If something special like a baptism takes place, talk to them about their baptism and show how they were adopted into God’s family too. Show them pictures of their baptism day when you return home.

After Worship:

Talk about what they saw, heard, did and felt.

Ask them if there was anything they wondered about.

Take a closer look at something of interest, like the front of the altar. Ask them, “What do you want to do this week for Jesus by serving other people?”

Volunteer occasionally to help ushers pick up stray bulletins and put books back into the racks.

At Home:

Pray daily with your children about their concerns.

Bless them in their comings and goings. As they leave, simply give them a kiss on their head and say, “Bless you.”

Celebrate their baptismal day… make it special.

If your child has a saint’s name, look up the date in the calendar to celebrate that saint and talk about the things for which the saint is remembered.

If your child does not have a saint’s name, check the church calendar to see if there is a specific saint celebrated on their birthday or baptismal day.

Or failing all else, read a children’s book of saints and have the child choose a patron saint to celebrate.

Have the child make a prayer corner or space in their room. They can make a cross and other things to keep in their prayer space. A picture of them on their baptismal day, or their baptismal certificate could hang there too.

Celebrate church seasons. There are many appropriate activities to help children celebrate church seasons and holy days. The church calendar and Sunday bulletin will give information for special days.

Develop family traditions and rituals. Materials for specific ideas are available from the Grace Church Education Office and from the Diocese of Oklahoma.

This material was adapted from literature found at St. John’s Episcopal Church in Springfield, MO