Forming Faith Blog

The Problem of the Children’s Sermon

Due to a high level of interest in my previous post “Inclusive or Exclusive Worship?” I have decided to pull out a couple of posts in a previous series called Expansive Worship that continues this topic.

We need a children’s sermon to include our children in the worship service, right? But what if that question itself is a sign of a much deeper problem?

An older man giving a children's sermon to a family.
The Story So Far

Earlier this summer, during an especially crazy June, I edited and reposted a 2021 blog series on Insiders and Outsiders in church. The last installment of that series “Inclusive or Exclusive Worship? proved to be especially popular, with almost four times the views of a typical post.

Originally, that post was a transition from the series on inclusion and exclusion in churches to a deeper dive into inclusion and exclusion in different aspects of the worship service. Since we only have a few weeks left this summer (yikes!), I’ve chosen three out of the original six. If you want to read the first two posts in that original series, check out “Worship, Language & Community” and “Language, Liturgy & Education.”

This week’s target is the children’s sermon.

Benefits of the Children’s Sermon

The children’s sermon—or whatever name you choose to give it—is a time for the pastor or another person to simplify a concept or story, generally aimed at an early elementary audience. I have known many children who love this time—a time to be the focus of a leader’s attention and to physically move in the service. I have also heard that children are not the only worshippers who appreciate the simplification of the children’s sermons. Adults can find them engaging and valuable, too.

For the Children

However, these benefits also hint at some of the problems of the children’s sermon and the rest of the worship service. Often, this is the only time we specifically include children in the worship service. By designating a specific time for children, we communicate that the rest of the service is not for children. Or, rather, the children’s sermon is an admission that children are not being purposefully included in the rest of the service. I’ve even heard the complaint from a kid that “the worship service is only for adults.”

Including the Adults?

Second, if adults are finding the children’s time valuable, what does that say about the rest of the service? It’s completely overstating the point, but it might say that the rest of the service can be boring or inaccessible. That (generally) is not true. But it does indicate that a simplified teaching time can also be engaging to an older demographic.

Intergenerational Worship

The way I see it, these two problems point to an opportunity, a solution of sorts: intergenerational worship. I’ve gone into much more detail on this in the past but, simply put, intergenerational worship is worship we consciously design to engage all ages together (building relationships across generations). We can look at this in two steps.

The first step is somewhat minor and doesn’t necessarily require a lot of congregational buy-in. Simply make the “children’s sermon” explicitly intergenerational.

  • If your goal is to make the Bible passage more accessible, call it some version of “story time.” If the person who is leading this time doesn’t already know how to tell a story in an engaging way, train them (or yourself) how to do so.
  • If your goal is to teach or explain something (for example, the meaning of different parts of the worship service), then direct this teaching to everyone—though do allow kids to come up front or whatever you do to physically include them!
Expanding Worship

The second step takes more work. It is to adapt more and more of your worship service toward intergenerational worship. We should design worship to be accessible and engaging to all ages and stages: children, youth, and adults; newbies and established members alike. You leverage your most popular, most regular event to be an effective, faith-formative experience for everyone and build a strong community across generational lines.

Children, visitors, and others who are not engaged in worship or don’t have positive relationships with other worshippers will feel like they don’t belong. They will generally attend worship because they are forced to (by families, a sense of obligation, or even guilt). If those pressures are removed, then they will likely stop coming because they weren’t really present to begin with. (This is something I think we encountered during and after the COVID pandemic.)

Small Congregations

To plug intergenerational worship (and intergenerational ministry in general) further, this can be beneficial for small churches that might not have the “critical mass” of children or youth to create full-fledged children or youth programs. You know the problem: not having a solid children’s/youth ministry will make it harder for families with children/youth to feel welcome and engaged. So, they won’t come. This leads to a cycle of stagnation or even shrinking. Intergenerational worship can be done even if there aren’t many children or youth and help visitors to feel like there is a place for them, too.

Christian Educators

As I mentioned previously, this movement should include Christian educators and youth ministers (even if you are not the one giving the children’s sermons). You know—or can easily find out—whether your age group is engaged in worship or not. And you can advocate for them to your pastor and/or worship leaders toward more expansive worship. You can also spend some of your contact time teaching about worship as well as the Bible.

In the love of Christ,

Gregory Rawn (Publisher)

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