COVID-19 and Including Kids in Online Worship (Part 1)

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Like so many churches across the world, my congregation has begun to gather online for worship temporarily. Our time together (we used Zoom) was informal and loosely scripted; we told stories of God at work in our lives, shared prayer requests and prayed for one another, and celebrated the Lord’s Supper together. The hour I spent online with my people last Sunday, worshiping God together in a space that embraced both imperfection and the unplanned, filled me with a peace that carried me through the week. Here’s some of what made our time together so beautiful: 

  • the look on a child’s face as we sang happy birthday to him.

  • the tear that rolled down the face of a woman as we sang our first song off-key but together—so together.

  • the blanket-covered fort that could be seen behind the family with four kids gathered around the kitchen table.

  • the boy who shared with everyone that he was feeling “freaked out” and sad. 

  • being able to say “Hi kids! I miss you guys!” in the chat box and seeing their “Hi Karen!” to me.

  • the crackers and pieces of toast each person held up to the screen before eating them together during communion.   

It filled me with hope. 

This week we’re going to try it again. I suspect that you are too. And we’re going to make even more of an effort to include the children in meaningful ways, because we recognized that while kids were able to listen and to respond, it is difficult to hold their attention when there’s just a talking head on the screen. (If we’re honest, that’s difficult for adults too.) I’ve been tasked with gathering ideas for how to help our kids participate in meaningful ways. In case it’s helpful, I thought I’d share them here with you too. Adapt them for your context or use them to jumpstart your own thinking about how to ensure that children are able to participate equally. 

Before Sunday: 

Consider assigning children (or maybe all people of ages!) a task during the week that will connect to your time together on Sunday. Some examples:

  • Invite people to create a picture to go with a particular Scripture passage. During worship their art can be shown as the passage is being read (either by the artist holding them up or by them sending a pdf to you in advance for you to show on the screen).  

  • Encourage kids to bring to online worship an object that represents the day’s Scripture passage (for example a paper boat to 'wave' if you're reading Mark 4:35-41), or a time when God was faithful to them or their family, or a time when they knew they were using the gifts God has given them, etc. During worship, create space for them to hold the object up and, depending on the number of people and the time you have, to tell about it. 

  • Invite families with kids to work together and print in large letters words or phrases from a passage you’ll be reading responsively together. Kids could also draw pictures that depict the words or phrase. Then, for example as you read Psalm 33, kids can hold up their signs and/or pictures for the part “The Lord fills the earth with his love.” 

  • Invite every household to start a “gratitude chain” at home. Using paper strips, each day print one thing you are grateful for on a strip and add it to the chain. When you gather, invite people to share some of the things they’re grateful for.

Think about how you might use images on the screen to help all ages enter a story, think more deeply about a concept, or connect what they are learning with their own life. Some ideas:

  • Using their “safe search” feature, access and share free images from Pixabay (for example, here’s one I found by searching “water”)

  • Purchase access to the fabulous Visual Faith images from the fine folks at Vibrant Faith here.  

  • Invite people to take pictures that represent words/themes from the passage you’ll be reading or a familiar song you’ll be singing and show those pictures during worship. 

  • Get inspired by the words from the CRCNA’s Lent Photo Challenge

Encourage people to have things near the computer to use during your time together. Some ideas:

  • Provide people with links to song lyrics and a copy of the order of worship for readers to use as they follow along.
  • Let families with young children know in advance which Bible story or passage you’ll be focussing on so that they can have it bookmarked in their child’s Storybook Bible or their family Bible and can easily follow along during worship. Some families might also find it helpful to read with their kids prior to your online gathering. 
  • Encourage kids to have paper and markers nearby during worship in case they’d like to draw the story. Children who prefer to build could do the same with Lego or other blocks. Suggest to parents/caregivers that a great way to begin a conversation with their child following worship is with this prompt: “tell me about the picture (or building) you’ve made.” 
  • Share with families these two practical pages of ideas: Connecting Kids with Online Worship from the First Presbyterian Church of Aurora and Worship at Home with Children from First Presbyterian Church in Gastonia.  So helpful!

Finally, I just want to extend a huge thank you to all the pastors and other ministry leaders for all the work you are doing during this time. I know that much is being asked of you! I hope that you find some of these ideas helpful as you seek to include the kids in your congregation. I’d also love to learn from you. As you experiment with new ways of worshipping online during this time, what sorts of things have been working well in your context? Please share your ideas in the comment boxes below so we can learn from each other.  

For even more ideas on ways to engage with and include children during specific parts of worship, please see the post COVID-19 and Including Kids in Online Worship (Part 2).

 

You may also find it helpful to check out the ideas on the CRC Children’s Ministry Facebook page and the Network's Worship and COVID-19 page. For support with questions you may have around technology and online worship, check out the resources offered by Church Juice

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