As churches begin reopening after COVID-19, many will keep families together in one service for a while before opening their children’s ministry. That means babies through adults will be worshiping together in one setting, and while that excites us as children’s and family ministers, parents and senior pastors may not be so thrilled.
In an interview with Michayla White from the International Network of Children’s Ministry on FaceBook Live, I share some ideas for engaging (not just occupying) kids in your services. (This conversation turned into me teaching a breakout session on this topic at several children’s ministry conferences + making the breakout session available online here.) One of my favorite ways is to provide worship activity bags, which we call Praise Packs! Praise Packs are a goody bag with activities that help kids engage and participate in the service. You could also call them Worship Wiggle Bags, Service Swag, Salvation Sacks, or any other name you can think of that encourages participation! These are great ways to help alleviate stress for parents who are worried about their child making it through the whole service, but more importantly, they help teach kids that “big church” is for them too.
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. Even calling these items a “busy bag” encourages distraction rather than participation for the kids.
It might seem like semantics since Praise Packs contain many of the same items as a busy bag, but by framing the resources 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, you can redirect kids’ thoughts about how and if they could participate in the family service.
Praise Packs 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, not just the children’s moment designed for them.
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).
Here’s a list of ideas and items to include in your Praise Packs:
- A little note from you telling them how glad you are to see them! You could also include any instructions for using the Praise Packs in this note, and if you’re doing some sort of challenge (like completing the sermon bingo board), this is the perfect place to describe it!
- Pipe cleaners or Wikki Stix – This is always a HUGE hit! Give each child one pipe cleaner of each color, and encourage them to create the Bible story, the church, or something related to the service out of their pipe cleaners.
- Lyrics to the worship songs – Sometimes kids are too short to see the screens, especially when sitting behind a tall adult. Plus, the slides may move too quickly for your young readers.
- Sermon Bingo – Have kids listen for certain words in the sermon, then let them bring their completed Bingo card to you after the service for a small prize! We shared a Sermon Bingo printable you can customize here!
- Sermon Notes for Kids – A quick Google search will yield hundreds of options for these printable sheets that ask kids to engage with various parts of the sermon. I created a few you can customize + shared my favorites from online in this downloadable resource!
- Bible Activity Pages based on the sermon scripture. Browse our library of available scripture activity pages here.
- Small tactile puzzles or toys – Providing (or giving away) small fidget toys like these can help some kids focus. Put a toy in each Praise Pack, or allow kids to choose a toy then return it at the end of the service.
- Small memo pads or notebooks – If you include small notebooks like these in your Praise Packs, be sure you also include instructions for the kids that help them engage. Should they draw what they see or hear? Should they make a list of things to pray for that they hear in the service? Should they draw a picture of the Bible story? Should they write down words they don’t know or things they have questions about?
- Crayon packs for the kids to use with their worksheets, and you could even provide blank paper for kids to doodle or draw.
- If you know the sermon scripture well enough in advance, you could even provide a small, relevant craft kit that goes with the Bible story.
- Consider including a small snack! Kids are often used to having a snack at church (goldfish, anyone?), so including a snack in their Praise Packs will help make the adult service feel a little more normal for kids.
- My friend Kayla over at Baby Devotions recommends including some Cheerios! They double as a snack and as a great activity for littles: Encourage them to string the cheerios onto the pipe cleaners! She lists other ideas for toddlers and preschoolers here.
- Finally, think about resources you can include that help parents have faith conversations at home too! Whether it’s a list of discussion questions on the Sermon Notes page or a family devotional for the week, what can you add to your Praise Pack that helps family faith development extend beyond Sunday morning?
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!