“Can I show you what I drew? That’s Jesus, and that’s the crowd, but the person next to Jesus isn’t Zacchaeus… it’s me!” –Johnny, Age 5
“Can I light the candle in my dining room at home when I pray, as a reminder that Jesus is with me?” –Tanner, Age 4
Last September, my church began using Young Children & Worship with our preschool-age children. We started with a half-dozen eager storytellers, a cupboard full of a smattering of storytelling pieces from years’ past, and a preschool-classroom-turned-sacred-space. Instead of waiting until it could be perfect, we jumped in with enthusiasm, and we’re so glad we did!
Here’s what we learned:
Children couldn’t compare our space with the beautiful sacred spaces in other churches, so they were drawn to worship even in a classroom only thinly veiled by soft twinkle-lights and white bedsheets draped over toys. Mid-year, we moved into our recently restored Children’s Chapel, a miniature worship space crafted in the 1940s. Now that we have a beautiful space, we enjoy it, but we know that the Holy Spirit works effectively in both settings!
Mats, trays, and small plastic bowls from IKEA fit our budget when creating individual work spaces. We splurge on wooden story materials and craft most other things ourselves.
Our classes include up to twenty children, so we gather art supply bundles ahead of time, otherwise, children lose reflection time setting up. If they want something particular, they can still help themselves.
We may never perfect our timing. We hate rushing children, but a 75-minute service feels very short when accommodating for late-arrivals inherent in preschool drop-off. To be hospitable to families, we can’t let our intentionality lead to inflexibility. If children run more than 10-minutes late, they’re dropped off in the sacred space instead of the preschool room.
Logistically, it works best for our volunteer storytellers to teach just a few times a semester for both services. It’s easier to prep once and teach twice than commit to more Sundays and lessons. The liturgy of the time provides continuity for children even when storytellers rotate.
The children often ask to sneak back into the sacred space to show the story with a parent or sibling; we love that! Children largely disengaged last year have been some of our most eager participants.
During Lent, we shared stories with children ages 3-11 together in one room at mid-week ministry. For the preschool-age children, it was a repeat of Sunday’s story, and the repetition gave them confidence to participate with the “big kids”. We had 25+ children for these gatherings, and children of all ages loved it.
Week-by-week, things haven’t gone perfectly, but both children and storytellers have engaged in deep worship, reflection, and learning together. Initially, many storytellers felt intimidated, but we’ve found the rhythm for our weekly worship guides our hearts and minds to God even when other things in the preschool wing have gone awry.
Contributed by Robin Turner, Children's Ministries Director at St. Stephen's Church in Sewickley, PA and creator of www.worshipwithchildren.com