Involving Children in the (Virtual) Worshipping Community
In March, as houses of worship were responding to the COVID-19 outbreak, my congregation scrambled to discover ways to worship without gathering in person. We hoped that the entire worshipping community would experience a smooth transition from worship in the sanctuary to worship at home. For adults, we trust that worship will feel right through the familiar weave of music, prayer, scripture, and sermon. But for children? When your experience of worship has so much to do with sitting with friends, playing in the “children’s corner,” and going to the nursery, how can the transition to worship from home speak to you?
One way of helping children recognize worship as worship is through children’s time. My congregation’s worship these days is a YouTube video, constructed as a community patchwork quilt: worship leader, musician, pastor, and, yes, children’s time leader all record and submit their own videos, which are stitched together into a unique and colorful whole. What has surprised me, and given me joy, is what a highlight children’s time has been each week.
When recording videos for children, we have realized that a little fun makes for better communication! Without being prompted to “do something fun,” each leader has creatively used the video format to do more than just talk from a screen. Sometimes it’s something simple that could be done in person, like showing a prop or a picture. But video opens up new possibilities too, like speeding up the video, or appearing in the frame from a surprising place, or even turning the camera upside down! Each of these ideas has been a way of sharing about the morning’s theme and drawing children into the video worship. Even better, it turns out that good communication for children is just good communication, period. Children’s time has been essential viewing for me during video worship, because it always awakens new ideas and opens new windows onto the weekly theme.
A further benefit of children’s time is that it gives a few moments for the children to connect with adults in the congregation. One of the great gifts a congregation can offer its children is a network of positive relationships that connect generations. Sadly, this network is challenged when we no longer have in-person activities. A video message from a beloved Sunday School teacher, family friend, or teacher from school can brighten a child’s day and remind them of the friends they have in their congregation.
Of course, there are more ways than children’s time to help kids connect with worship and church during this pandemic. Children have appeared in our video services to play gathering music and assist with children’s time, helping them participate even further in the congregation’s worship. Many congregations are creatively exploring Zoom Sunday School, virtual Vacation Bible School, and socially distanced small group and mentor activities. Each of these has enormous potential to be a welcoming and inviting space for children.
This is an exhausting time for adult pastors and congregational leaders. I understand that we can get tired of inventing new ways to connect, to worship, and simply to be a community when we cannot meet in person. When we are tired it is all too easy to lose sight of the way children are connecting with the congregation. But that is only when we forget the gifts that children offer our congregational lives. I have seen how children’s time has inspired a moment of creativity and playfulness in our worship service each week. Committing ourselves to nurturing our congregation’s youth can help each adult grow in their faithfulness to the community and to God. The good of our children is the good of our community. I invite you to continue seeking the good of your congregation’s children throughout this season of church life. The practice will strengthen us all.
Ben Woodward-Breckbill is an associate pastor at Shalom Mennonite Church in Newton, Kansas, and Dove’s Nest board member.