It is the Sunday morning rush to get to church. Where are the car keys? Has Sam got his shoes on the right feet? Why does Abi have to take her teddy? And then you get there. The children rush around. Oh dear, will they knock into Mr Jones who has just started using a walking stick? Why does Sam always make straight for the platform? He’ll trip over the PA leads. What a relief when the service begins and everyone can sit down! But is it? Let’s hope the kids don’t wriggle, what a relief when they can go out to crèche and Sunday School.
Sound familiar? Sundays can be like that in our churches. We can certainly empathise with hard-pressed families. But let’s stop and think that maybe parents are missing an opportunity before children leave for crèche or Sunday School (if that is the pattern in your church) to help children to engage with what is going on.
Deuteronomy 6 lays a strong responsibility on parents to talk about the Lord’s commands to their own children, make these conversations part of daily life and be ready to answer spiritual questions when they ask of them. How much more should this be part and parcel of our Sunday routine? Their time in the church service is time to learn and experience something of the worship of God.
Here are some suggestions of things I have put into practice over the years with my own family and with Sunday School children in church in the services to make this time valuable to them and make church more accessible.
If your church has a website, show the children the pictures on the website of the building and explain how the building is used, what a pulpit is for (if you have one). Show them photos on the website of the church leaders and staff. Explain their roles in simple terms. If you have no website, consider taking photos on your mobile phone to serve the same purpose.
2. Start with attitude
Children can dread the Sunday rush and the rebukes they get when they aren’t ready in time. Stressed parents can dread being late and worry about where they will get a seat, hoping that it isn’t the front row that is the only available space for latecomers.
So, how about making the Sunday routine part of your family prayer-time? Cultivate an expectation of meeting with God and his people through talk and prayer. Explain to your children how God speaks to you through his Word and through the songs and prayers. Pray for the preacher and the Sunday School teachers.
3. Use the time before the service
Make sure you tell your children what to expect in terms of the order of the service. If you have a service sheet, then you can point to what is on there. Perhaps you can take your children with you to greet someone before the service begins, so that they get to know church members.
Explain what behaviour you expect from your children, according to their ages, and try to express this with do’s instead of don’ts. With very young children you can encourage them to watch out for something, for example when words come up on the screen, or to listen out for something, for example, when the keyboard player starts playing.
4. Once the service has begun
Think about explaining (in a whisper) and pointing out things to the children. Children as young as three years can learn by ‘look and say’ to spot the name ‘Jesus’ on the screen or in the hymnsheet/book. For early readers, following the reading in the Bible by pointing can help them.
If you are an avid watcher of Mr Tumble on children’s TV then you may be able to pick up some signs to use alongside the hymns or songs to make these more understandable to little ones.
Whispering a summary to a child of what is said or sung shouldn’t be a distraction to others.
5. In or out?
Christian parents and church leaders have different opinions about whether children should stay in the main service and be present for the sermon or not. Some churches produce a sheet of questions and puzzles based on the sermon for children who stay in. In the past I have used pencil and paper to draw or write down the main points of the sermon for children. Even encouraging them to count the number of times the preacher uses the word ‘Jesus’ can keep children’s attention focused.
6. After the service
Some churches produce questions on the notice-sheet or order of service for parents to ask their children about their Sunday School lesson and for children to ask their parents about the sermon. This encourages brief conversations (not the ‘third degree’) about learning from God’s Word.
7. Older children
The resource Destination Church, published by Day One, is a course for a Sunday School class or youth group. It can also be used by parents to use an introduction to church life for teenagers.
8. Support other families
All these ideas are very well, but suppose you are a single parent or the only parent who attends church services, does it seem like a tall order? Yes, it is. So why not enlist some support from an older Christian who is free to help. A perfect role for a Titus 2 woman?
Sundays – bane or blessing?
Hopefully we can all get excited about making church services more accessible for children as we try out some of these ideas.
Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.