Practical pointers for all-age worship
by Mike Burn - [printer version]
1. Use a variety of songs, and don't "label" songs as being just for children, or just for adults, but rather encourage all ages to join in every song.
2. Avoid having slots or items "especially for the children", because the implication can be that the rest of the service is therefore not especially for them.
3. If you use action songs, explain why we do them (eg. expressing unity with our bodies as well as with our voices adds an extra dimension to our worship. The Psalms are full of encouragement to clap, dance, shout, etc.) Never force anyone to join in (especially teenagers), but do set a good example yourself, and make sure that other leaders and musicians also set a good example, and don't hide behind their responsibilities or instruments!
4. If younger children are present, be clear in your instructions as to what you expect from them, and be firm if they become distracted or a distraction. It can be helpful to have a few parents or helpers on notice to help with younger ones if necessary.
5. Be enthusiastic yourself about praise and worship - your enthusiasm will be contagious. Children learn best by observation and repetition, so give them good role models of worshippers and they will become good worshippers themselves. (On the other hand, it has been said that "you can con a con, fool a fool, but you can't kid a kid!" If the adults are merely "going through the motions" in worship but aren't entering in with their whole hearts then children will quickly pick that up and become bored)
6. Be visual where you can, ie. don't just use talk and sing, but incorporate dance, visual illustrations, anything with movement. We live in a visual age where people, and especially children, are far more used to watching than they are to listening. It frustrates me greatly to think that an average 9 year old will sit for 3 or 4 hours at a time on a Saturday morning glued to children's TV, but the next day in our churches we often fail to hold their attention for more than a few minutes. I'm not suggesting that worship should be entertainment (although it should be fun - "serious fun"), but well thought out visual elements will stimulate peoples' imagination and provoke responses of worship. Think how visual the worship in the temple of the Old Testament would have been, and how visual and evocative, for example, the act of communion is.
7. Use contributions from as many different ages as you can, eg. prayers, readings, testimonies, songs, dances, drama etc. Teenagers especially prefer to be active contributors rather than passive participants. Follow the 1 Corinthians 14 model for worship where there is an expectation that when we come together, everyone should have something to contribute, not just those up the front
8. Be practical about the length of time that children can concentrate for. It's better to have a shorter time of quality worship than a longer time that might deteriorate as some children switch off. (It's certain, by the way, that if some of the children are getting bored then so too are some of the adults, but children are just more honest about showing their feelings!)
9. Ask for feedback from different ages as to what they do and do not enjoy in worship. Ask too for feedback from other leaders that you can trust as to how they feel that it's gone.
10. Persevere with all-age worship, and explain and teach as you go along why the church feels it is important to have times of worship with everyone present. It can take a while to break down the resistance and objections from some people, especially those who find it hard to concentrate with children around, for example. However, the rewards of getting the whole church to be able to express worship with one heart and voice are well worth persevering for. Just as an earthly father would take delight in a meal with all his family eating happily at the same table, imagine how our heavenly Father feels when he sees all his children, young and old, joining together as one to sing his praises. Where there is unity, God commands the blessing!
This article is taken from the introduction to the songbook for Family Worship 3 - Fire & Rain and may be reproduced as long as the author and source is acknowledged. www.familyworship.org.uk