One of my most vivid memories of childhood comes from the very small (and by “very” I mean we had a max weekly attendance of 50 each week) United Methodist church my family attended in my early years. My mother was the choir director and pianist of this small congregation and my father was the weekly usher. This meant that each Sunday my older sister and I were left to our own devices during worship, expected to mind our “P’s” and “Q’s” while mom and dad did their weekly duties.
Heh, well, that didn’t always pan out so well. I remember one Sunday, and I couldn’t have been more than four or five-years-old, my sister stacked hymnals for me to sit on so I could see better. I guess it was two or three hymnals, but my little tushie sat atop those books as I tried desperately to see what was going on. I remember the person in front of me was an elderly woman with a rather large puffy hairdo and I began to get very frustrated that I could hear, but not see. And, even more frustrated that I couldn’t understand the little I heard.
I complained to my sister several times (she is six years my senior) and she just kept saying “SHHHHHH” so I gave up. Then the light bulb went off inside of my juvenile brain and I decided that I could just manuever myself to a more strategic spot in the room. So, I quickly hopped off of the stack of hymnals and began crawling underneath pews until I found an opening closer to the front. Needless to say, my mother was mortified as my little head popped out from under the front pew, right in front of the piano where she was playing one fo the hymns. She tried to keep her composer as she motioned to my father who was frantically trying to get to the front of the room to grab me before I pulled my dress above my head, or some other crazy thing I probably would have done at that age. The only thing I remember after that was my father scooping me up and taking me outside for a long “talk” about how we behave in church. I’ve never forgotten that experience and it has carried over into my ministry with children, families, and even as a parent to my own kids.
There is a big debate in main-stream denominational churches today regarding worship for children and whether kids should be in “big church” with their parents, or should churches offer a more age-appropriate alternative for them. As a product of the “big church” experience, I’d have to say I see both sides of the issue. I learned the Lord’s Prayer, Apostles Creed, and many wonderful hymns through my having to sit through church each week. I learned how to pray from watching my parents and the adults around me. I kind of “soaked up” the experience and it’s stayed with me all these years. Having said that, I could not tell you one sermon I heard, one Bible verse I learned, or anything of relevance beyond the liturgy I “absorbed” by just being there. Is that a bad thing? Not necessarily because as I grew older, I listened more and understood more of what was being said. So, I turned out okay not having a jazzy, age-appropriate children’s worship to attend.
With all of that being said, I have kids now and I am experiencing, through them, the other side of that coin. My son DOES talk about Bible stories after children’s worship and he DOES remember the point of the message and yet still DOES know the Lord’s Prayer and the Apostles Creed. Most importantly, though, he doesn’t need a stack of hymnals to sit on because the worship he attends is all on his level. He doesn’t have to be lifted up with hymnals to access God’s Word . . . rather, God’s Word has been brought straight to him, on his level. So, is age-appropriate worship for kids important? I’d say “absolutely.”
Now I do get the controversy – I’ve heard children’s worship called “fun & games” church and “play time” church. I do understand that parents may feel that a children’s worship experience does not offer a “real” enough worship experience for kids and that it’s not reverent and holy enough. Perhaps it’s the rock music or the games the kids play and I can certainly see how some parents may be wary of that. Again, I see both sides of the coin because I, too, want my kids to have an awe about worship and not to treat it like “play time.” It’s a delicate balance, but one that I think we can attain.
At HUMC we are trying to strike a healthy balance between “age-appropriate”/”fun”/and reverent. It’s a work in progress, but so far I am thrilled with the great job Rachel is doing and my son and daughter both love it. The volunteers have been amazing and we are continuing to evaluate and work on this ministry to make sure we are serving the kids and their parents the best way we know how. If you are on the fence about children’s worship, I’d love to talk to you. Children are ALWAYS welcome in “big church” and I love hearing their little voices saying the Lord’s prayer. But I am very much aware that some families want this type of option and we are happy to offer it. Email me anytime at firstname.lastname@example.org and give me your thoughts – let’s try to give kids the best worship experience they can have so God can be super accessible to them!