Thanks for joining me at my Including Kids in a Family Worship Service Breakout session! Below you’ll find a copy of the complete notes for the breakout, links to the free downloads I mentioned, and even a few additional resources. Have more questions? Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Why Host a Family Service?
Family services provide a HUGE opportunity for the church! Including (not just occupying) kids in a family worship service and inviting families to worship together will have a lasting impact on kids and adults alike.
Hosting family services can…
- Teach kids that they are part of the larger church body, regardless of their ability to sit still or understand everything. Do kids understand everything that’s said around the dinner table? Probably not. But they are still learning along the way and are included in the conversation. Kids don’t have to wait until they “grow up” to be part of the church.
- Model family worship so families can replicate the ideas at home. When families worship together at church, parents have hands-on training and in-person examples of faith conversations and activities that they can use at home.
- Encourage participation in the worship experience. In a culture often focused on consumerism and entertainment (even in the church), family services help teach that church is a place that requires action, not just observation.
If you can shift your (and your staff’s) mentality about family services from “something to endure” to “something to explore,” you’ll be more open-minded to the opportunities family services can provide. This season of family services isn’t just the solution until things go “back to normal,” but can be a completely new way of doing ministry that provides deeper faith development for adults and kids alike.
Action Step: Write a list of the new opportunities hosting a family service could provide. Keep this list handy to share with your staff, your volunteers, your parents, etc.
Remember It's a Team Effort
Remember it’s a team effort. Effective family worship services involve more than just you as the children’s pastor. Your senior pastor, worship leaders, and other staff members have to be on board too.
Have a conversation with your senior pastor and share your vision and your heart with him or her. Talk about your ideas and what he or she is comfortable pursuing. Make a list of the top 3 things you’d like to see, then share with him/her and ask how you as a staff can work together to make it a great experience for the families who walk through your doors. Let the senior pastor guide the conversation, and offer your input as you go.
Being inclusive of all ages requires some flexibility, so consider adjusting the flow of the service. Worship that crosses generational divides means that someone, at some point, is probably going to be uncomfortable. Some of your adults may not enjoy worshiping with hand motions for a song. Some of the kids may get a little squirmy if the teaching time lasts longer than they’re used to. Your senior pastor might not be comfortable teaching with props. It might be different and new for everyone, but working together as a team makes it do-able.
What aspects of a child’s experience from children’s ministry can you pull into the family service? This provides some sense of familiarity for kids. Talk with your senior pastor, your worship leaders, your volunteer coordinators, etc. about ways you can include kids in all aspects of the service. Be respectful of these leaders’ comfort level with your suggestions, and offer these ideas as starting points, allowing them to shape the ideas to work for them. When bringing ideas to the team for kid-friendly adjustments, pose the ideas as questions: “Since we will have kids together in the service, do you have any thoughts on how we can help kids feel welcome?” Or “What would you think about singing a song with hand motions the kids know?” Asking questions rather than making statements can help other staff members be part of the brainstorming and take ownership of the kid-friendly elements of the service too.
Ideas to share with the senior pastor:
- The sermon can invite participation through questions, stories, and applications that relate to various age groups. (Your pastor might need help with topics and pop culture references that are relevant to kids).
- Maybe your pastor shortens his sermon time by a few minutes to adjust for shorter attention spans in the audience.
- Even having the pastor acknowledge kids’ presence from the stage can make kids feel welcome. Whether that’s saying hello to the kids at the beginning of the sermon, or even saying “Hey kids, look at me, don’t miss this part!” in the middle of the sermon, acknowledging kids piques their interest and attention.
- For each sermon, you could offer a challenge or a “code word” for kids to listen for. This might be spoken about from the pulpit or just included on a kids’ worship notes page.
- What are some creative teaching methods your pastor could incorporate to help engage kids and make the teaching time more interactive (games, acting, props, questions, etc.)?
Ideas to share with the worship leader:
- Take time to teach a new song or to teach about the meaning of the words in a song.
- Put people kids know and recognize on stage, whether as scripture readers or as assistant worship leaders.
- Consider changing one of the worship songs to a song the kids know and love.
- Invite a child to pray at the end of worship.
Ideas to share with the volunteer coordinator:
- What volunteer positions are needed, and which ones allow for kids to assist or manage?
- Can children greet or usher before or after the service?
The team includes parents too! While you and your staff have to be on board, if no parents ever show up with their kids for a family service, what’s the point? Maybe you need to adjust the time of your service to start later in the morning so families aren’t rushed getting out the door. Review the communication tips in the next section about preparing and equipping parents for the family service. Ask a few parents (or your parent council) about their experiences after the first family service. Did they ever feel overwhelmed or stressed? What was their favorite part of the service? Can they think of anything you could do to improve next time?
Be patient and give grace. 2020 has been a tough year for all of us. And family worship services might be new to your families, your team, and your staff. Be patient when trying new ideas in family worship, and give your parents, your pastor, and yourself a lot of grace as you experiment with a new format for Sunday mornings. Give yourselves permission to try new things and then adjust them if they aren’t working. It will take time for everyone to adjust and embrace this incredible opportunity for families to worship together.
Action Step: Make that list of your top 3 things you’d like to see happen in the family service to include kids, then schedule a meeting with your senior pastor to discuss your list and hear his/her ideas.
Set Expectations & Communicate Clearly
The way you speak about your family service will subliminally influence the way your kids and families think about the family service. If the people on stage are apologetic about having kids in the room, kids will feel unwelcome, and parents will feel awkward anytime their child makes a peep. So be excited and positive when you talk about the family service. Frame the family service as an opportunity, not a burden or inconvenience that we just have to get through until the children’s ministry is open again. Set expectations for the entire congregation, reminding them that Jesus welcomed the little children to Him, wiggles and all. Share the list of opportunities you created in the first section with your congregation from the pulpit and in other forms of communication.
Help families feel welcome, not like a burden. Just as this might be new for you and your staff, family services might be new to the parents in your ministry too. Take time before the family services start to communicate with your parents about what the service will look like and how you can partner with them to support their kids. Send emails, schedule social media posts, host a Q&A session, and post signs or cards within your physical worship space. Ease parents’ fears by letting them know they (and their little ones) are welcome and wanted in your family service. Use the free resources below to help you get started.
- Fidget Friendly Signs – Families with young kids may be nervous about how their little ones will do during the service. Post these signs in sections of your main worship space to let families know they (and their wiggly little ones) are welcome! Designating a place for the more movement-minded members of your church helps them and others worship more freely.
- Family Worship Cards – Attending a worship service as a family might be brand-new territory for your families, and parents may feel anxious or nervous about their child(ren) being disruptive during the service. Use this free download to help put parents at ease! Use the full-page PDF to email the card to families before your family services start. Print and laminate the full page version or the 1/4-page version and post them in your worship space to remind families and help them feel welcome.
- FAQs – Your families probably have a lot of questions about what that means for their kids. Use this list of frequently-asked-questions about returning to worship to help communicate the changes with your families. Post these FAQs on your church website, as social media posts (download a set of editable pre-made Canva templates here), and/or in email communications with your families.
One way to help support parents and kids is by providing worship activity bags. We’ll talk more about what to include in these bags in the Active Listening Resources section, but be careful about what you call these kits. A common name I’ve seen in many churches is “Busy Bags.” The name “Busy Bags” implies that kids should be kept busy or entertained through the service rather than being part of the service. It may just seem like semantics, but by framing worship activity bags as aids to worship rather than distractions for boredom, kids are encouraged to participate in the service as fellow believers rather than noisy guests. Simply by changing the name and being intentional about the items you include in a worship activity bag, you can redirect kids’ thoughts about how and if they participate in the service.
Action Step: Write down a list of questions or fears your families might have about attending a family service. Make a plan to ease those fears and communicate the answers to those questions. (Psst – here’s a list with some ideas to help you get started!)
Active Listening Resources & Ideas
Worship Activity Bags: These kits are more than just coloring sheets to keep kids distracted long enough for the service to be over. They are tools to help invite kids to participate in the whole service. When packing your worship activity bags, keep participation rather than distraction as the focus of your worship kits. The key is to pick items that will help the kids listen for certain words or actions going on in the service – but they can’t make noise! No jingling, rattling, or squelching (I made the mistake once of giving out slime putty and *facepalm* fart noises everywhere). Diana Garland, a family ministry expert, warns against providing distracting materials for intergenerational services because it unconsciously tells children that they will be bored and encourages them to disengage. Instead, include worksheets or items that can help kids focus on what’s going on in the service. During this COVID-19 season, think through the cleanliness aspect of your worship activity bags too. Whatever you give kids, plan on it not coming back, pre-pack the items beforehand, and set out bags or stations for kids to pick up the kits. See a full list of my favorite items to include in worship activity bag here.
Pro Tip: Think about how you package your Praise Packs too. Use a quiet bag that doesn’t crinkle when kids dig through it, and if you’re using clear cellophane goody bags, don’t tie the bags closed. They are more difficult for children to open when they are tied shut, and your church janitor will thank you for not making him clean up pieces of ribbon or twist ties under every 5 chairs. One children’s ministry friend said these bags have worked great for them!
Use your technology. Whether it’s putting pictures up on the screen throughout the sermon or using videos during transition times, changing the visuals of what kids look at helps them re-engage. It’s also a great way to have a little fun with your families! On-screen games make the perfect countdown to the beginning of a service or a really fun introduction element in a family worship service.
Physical Environment and Space: How can you adapt the physical space to be more conducive for kids? Consider providing alternative seating, whether that’s smaller chairs, small tables, small bean bags, or even round tables for families to sit at. Designate a spot in the worship space for families with littles using these fidget-friendly signs. If families with kids can sit near the stage, kids can often see better and are more inclined to participate.
Order of Service: We talked about adjusting the flow of the service in the previous section, but really consider what aspects of a child’s experience from children’s church can you bring into the family service? Even something like providing a snack in your worship activity bags can bring some familiar elements to kids (we all need our Goldfish fix, am I right?). How can the time of prayer or response look different to include families? Could you incorporate a time of small group family discussion somewhere in the service?
Remember your online families. Even if you host the most amazing family service ever, there will still be families who choose to worship from home online. How can you still engage them? Share the kids worship notes with them online before the service starts so they have them ready when watching at home. Post discussion questions and family activity ideas on social media. Find ways to help families who stay home stay connected too.
A word on the “children’s moment”: Many churches include a “children’s moment” in the service where the kids are invited to sit on the steps of the stage while the pastor or another leader sits with them and shares a short object lesson or teaching moment while the rest of the congregation watches. Be careful with this children’s moment or children’s sermon within the service, as it can communicate to kids that those 5 minutes are for them, but not the rest of the service, so they can just tune out. A children’s sermon teaches kids that the adult sermon is not for them, so they learn not to listen or pay attention. It can also be very intimidating for kids. I don’t know many adults who would enjoy being the center of attention while trying to learn, so why should we expect kids to enjoy it? I’d encourage you to find another way to give kids the opportunity to move or participate in the family service.
As a little gift from me to you, I’m giving all participants of this breakout session exclusive access to my Sermon Notes for Kids Printable Pack completely free! Click here to download this resource.
Looking for other resources for hosting a family worship service? Check out some of these:
- A complete Guide to Family Worship
- Parent Note to ease parents’ worries
- Ideas for what to include in your Worship Activity Bags
- Emoji Sermon Notes for Kids (free printable!)
- Sermon Notes for Kids Printable Pack – exclusive breakout freebie!
- Looking for activity pages based on a specific passage of Scripture? Browse our available library here.
- List of my favorite sermon notes for kids resources
- Facebook Live discussion with me and Michayla White from the International Network of Children’s Ministry about including, not just occupying kids in a family worship service
- On-screen games the whole family will love!
- Free “Fidget-Friendly Zone” signs you can use to reserve a special section in your worship space for families with littles.
To start implementing what we’ve talked about today, talk with your senior pastor & share your vision and your heart for family services with him or her. Talk about your ideas and what he/she is comfortable pursuing. Make a list of your top 3 things you’d like to see, then share with him/her and ask how you as a staff can work together to make it a great experience for the families who walk through your doors.