Marian Green found the nametag that said "Cayden" and slipped the lanyard over her son's head.
"It's a little long," she said.
"I don't care, Mom. I gotta go!" he said as he raced away to switch places with the man holding the door. It was Cayden's first Sunday on the church host team.
A few weeks earlier, Marian and her husband, a pastor, had an idea: "What if we let kids greet kids? What if, from the moment a family enters our church, each family member is engaged in familiar terms?" Now young volunteers — including their son Cayden — stand alongside the adult greeters, welcoming other kids to church.
The idea first came about after the couple attended a leadership conference for pastors, where a challenge from one presenter really resonated with Marian: "If your church isn’t including children in your service, on your volunteer teams or in your worship, you are missing the opportunity to cultivate excitement in kids regarding church."
Marian and her husband left that conference certain that they needed to do more to connect their own children to roles in the church community that would build their character, worth and spiritual excitement through their weekly church gatherings. The couple wanted to develop their kids’ gifts and talents for God's kingdom. "After all, nowhere does Scripture say the gifts of the Spirit aren't accessible to children," Marian says.
While it's natural for kids' enthusiasm about church involvement to fluctuate, here are a few ideas that may help your kids connect with God through the corporate body — and even get excited about going to church:
Set the stage. How's your own attitude on Sundays? Are you begrudgingly getting ready for church or complaining to your spouse about elements of your service? Negative emotions or words can quickly transfer to your child — but so can positive ones. Try playing some upbeat worship music before church to prepare your family’s hearts and attitudes.
Find their place. Marian asked her children, "If you could serve Jesus in any area of the church on Sunday mornings, where would it be?" The kids' responses varied, and these days, one child assists with the set up (and occasionally the eating) of doughnuts and pastries. Another child sets information cards on each chair before services. Marian's oldest plays in the worship team. And Cayden, the greeter, also loves playing with toddlers in the nursery. "It took awhile, but each child has found a niche, and the adults mentoring them in those roles have been more than gracious," Marian says.
Worship wherever. Churches follow different formats for worship services. Some, like Marian's, split for simultaneous children's church or Sunday school. But the Green kids love the music in the adult service and don't want to disappear to kids' church right away. "So we let them stay in ‘big church’ longer to worship," Marian says. "Sometimes I have to gently curb their vivacious rockin' and rollin', but it’s a blessing during the week to hear them humming worship songs as they do homework or chores."
Artistic aids. When Dad is preaching, some of Marian's five children want to stay in the sanctuary and listen. But sitting still can be a challenge for young kids. Marian has them draw a picture of what they hear. "They usually clue in on one or two stories, verses or points," she says. "We talk about their pictures later in the day and discuss how to apply them to life in ways they understand.' The art not only keeps them engaged in the service, it also provides opportunities for family discipleship.
Talk about the experience. Don't ride in silence. The drive home is a great chance to ask about and discuss a worship song, sermon point, Sunday school lesson or other observation. Kara Kootstra, a former church children's director, recalls the day her son left Sunday school carrying a bee made from a plastic spoon and marker. When her husband asked why he had made it, her son replied, "It helps me remember to bee God's little helper," the boy replied. "Now whenever we see a bee in our backyard, we ask him what it reminds him of, and we discuss the types of things he can do be God’s helper," Kara says.
Find motivation in the mundane. Serving in an area that isn't a child’s first choice doesn't always foster excitement, but it can help him recognize that others' needs are more important than our own preferences. And even preferred assignments can grow routine. A rotating schedule can help keep their activity fresh. Offering encouraging reminders that their roles help other people can infuse them with a fresh wind. "The art of parenting requires I discern between enforcing responsibility and cultivating a love for the church and her people," Marian says. "When feet are dragging, I'll advocate we serve together, or I say, 'I’ll fix you a hot chocolate while you hold the door open.' I'll remind my kids to balance serving where they are needed alongside where they are most passionate."
Let church be fun. It's easy to make church a serious and formal event. Reverence is a good attitude, but it can look different for young kids. "The first time my daughter handed me her superhero cape to put over her beautiful church dress, I considered telling her it was not appropriate church attire," Kara says. Instead, Mom bit her tongue and tied the cape. Her daughter was absolutely thrilled. "It occurred to me that this simple act had conveyed a message to my child: It's OK to be a kid at church," Kara says. "Not only did it add an element of excitement to her Sunday morning experience, but the seniors loved it!" And her wonder-worshiper was able to behave appropriately even in the unorthodox outfit.
Go beyond church walls. Church engagement doesn't have to be limited to Sundays. "Encourage your child to write a note, draw a picture or visit someone who is sick," says Kara. Enlist your kids' help in hospitality or visitation outreaches that you are involved in. Does your church have a food pantry, soup kitchen or missionary care program? Find a way to plug in together. Having a sense that they are vital members can infuse kids with purpose on Sundays and beyond.
Connect with friends. Getting together with another family from church can help kids feel connected to other children and parents outside the church setting. Sharing a meal, getting ice cream, meeting at a playground or any other fun gathering or activity can help. "When my children would rather stay home and play with toys than go to church, I can motivate them with a reminder that they will get to see and play with friends," Kara says. Serving with friends within or outside church can also keep kids motivated when enthusiasm for their volunteering commitment wanes.
~For a simple way to include young children in serving at church, check out Young Kids Can Serve.~
This article appeared in the February 2014 issue of Thriving Family: Ages and Stages. Copyright © 2014 by Jeremy V. Jones, Marian Green and Kara Koostra. Used by permission. ThrivingFamily.com.
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