In the hustle and bustle of church life surrounding the holidays, it seems children don’t always get the opportunity to worship at their own level. Sure, they seem to be performing something around the holidays, whether it is in the children’s choir or the Christmas pageant. However, do they really get the concept of worship? Do they understand the true meaning of Christmas in a highly secular world? What if there was a way to captivate children in a worship setting so they could truly understand how much God loves them? Could there be a time when, on their own level, they get to experience the birth of Christ and learn about Him through Word, music, and message?
At Home Lutheran in Wake Forest, North Carolina, that is exactly what we try to create for our families in our annual Children and Family Christmas Eve service. In this service, we cater to our youngest worshipers interactively while still having great insight for our adult worshipers. This balance of liturgy, traditions, and unique elements truly makes this worship service one that allows participants to experience worship with their body, mind, and spirit.
Creating this service each year takes hard work and dedication from our staff. The process begins around October, when we start discussing theme ideas. It is important to have a theme that serves as the creative catalyst for other parts of the service. The theme isn’t our main focus; our main objective is that God be glorified in the worship service. To help achieve this goal, we have five key points that keep us on track and focused on the children and families who will be involved in the service.
Interactive worship for kids allows all types of learners to engage with the service. Over the years of creating this worship service, we have used many ways to interact with the worshipers, primarily through our message time. Typically, the message has been skit-like, with our associate pastor taking on the role of the central character.
Usually, the main character doesn’t understand the true meaning of Christmas, so he asks the boys and girls to answer questions, play parts, or help him in some way. This interaction helps the children focus their attention on what is going on up front and allows them to get involved so they can truly understand the point of the message.
Have Child-Friendly Liturgy and Music
The liturgy is key to a well-planned worship service, but a liturgy can become overwhelming for young children. We work to develop ways for children to participate in the liturgy without causing confusion. For example, we try to select familiar songs for children, ones they might already know without needing to read. We also create a one-line response for the children, which they practice, for the responsive reading section. Both of these things allow the children to speak and join in without needing to read.
In past years, the line has been as simple as “Jesus is the light of the world.” In each section of the worship service, there is at least one place the children speak their line. This not only allows them to connect to the service, but it also allows them to see the connection to the theme of the year.
Finally, we try to choose readings that have familiar, kid-friendly words.
Video clips, sound effects, and pictures don’t just attract adults, they also keep the interest of children. Using multimedia items captures the young worshipers’ attention and helps them with transitions. We have used thematic music and video clips to tell the Christmas story. We’ve also made use of creative lighting to draw children to a specific location in the sanctuary. By appropriately using multimedia, we have found we can help them transition to each section in the worship service.
Create a Hands-On Component
The hands-on component of this special Christmas service has become our signature experience over the years. Each component has been very creative. Some examples include:
- a glove with a star placed on each finger;
- a Christmas card with loose letters that spell out a Christmas greeting;
- a wooden nativity set; and
- a recipe card with a hidden ingredient.
All of these hands-on components have helped children to follow along with the message. The year we did a tour of Bethlehem, we had nativity pieces at each stop along the tour. The tour was in our sanctuary, and everyone remained seated. We had different locations set up along the front of the church for our different “stops” along the tour. As we came to each stop on the tour, the kids found the matching nativity pieces from a bag they received earlier and held it up for our tour guide to see. By the end of the tour, they had pulled out each piece. This helped children stay focused on what was next.
Another hands-on piece we make frequent use of is the flameless candle. Adults love the tradition of a candlelit service for Christmas Eve. But to make the service more "kid safe," we’ve used either flameless candles or glow sticks.
Use a Giveaway Reminder
It is important for families to worship together. What they do with the lesson learned is also vital. Each year, our giveaway is our special gift to families from the congregation. It is an item that allows children to tell the story over and over to others. When our service concludes, we encourage families to tell others the story they have learned, and they have a special gift to help them share the message.
This resource also equips parents to answer questions and have faith discussions during their family Christmas celebrations. One year, we gave each child two sets of silly bands featuring the nativity characters. Children were asked to take the bands and give one set to a friend. As they gave the bands away, they were to use them to tell the story of how Jesus was born to save the world. This tangible reminder was truly a gift that kept giving as the message and love of Jesus was passed on.
A worship service for families shows your community that your congregation understands the priority of building a child’s faith. This special service can also serve as a great outreach tool to new families in your community. We have families from our preschool without a church home who attend annually---long after their children graduated.
This post is based on an article authored by Beth Ray.