I’m writing this having just finished planning and leading an All Ages Worship Service, with an Advent focus. In my context at Highland Baptist Church, this includes children in Junior Kindergarten and up.
I want to share a little bit about what these services look like at Highland. This is by no means a model to follow. I’m simply sharing some of the things that we have tried and some things that have worked well in our specific context.
At the beginning of the service we tell everyone that it is an All Ages Service and it might be a little louder with kids in our midst, and that’s okay, we welcome that. It’s a joy and a privilege to worship together. We try to name and welcome the obvious.
We still provide nursery and toddler care. We tell parents that babies and toddlers are welcome to stay in the service for as long or as little as they would like to.
No service looks exactly alike. Each time we plan a service, we pick a theme and run with it. We often use the church year calendar as a catalyst for our ideas. The first Sunday of Advent, Christmas Eve and Easter Sunday are all times of the year that lend themselves nicely to an All Ages Service.
You may be wondering, who the “we” is in planning. Our Christian Education team plans and leads most of these services. Our staff team also plans and leads about two All Ages Services a year.
We typically hold these services anytime there is a 5th Sunday of the month, on Christmas eve, the Sunday between Christmas & New Years, and Easter Sunday.
We do our best to make these services for all ages. They are not kid services, youth services, or adult services. Rather, our hope it that these services will be inviting, inclusive, accessible and engaging for everyone. Does that mean young children understand every word spoken at a service—no! That being said, when we use big words or convey more abstract concepts, we also try to provide child friendly explanations. When reading Scripture, we often use a child friendly translation, such as the New International Readers Version.
We aim to keep our services under an hour. Some of our services have even been 45 to 50 minutes. We have been doing All Ages Services for a few years now, and this is something we have become more conscientious of.
We get children (and sometimes the entire congregation) out of their seats a few times. For example, for the Advent service we just had, kids were given Christmas tree decorations in the shape of Mary, Jesus & Joseph that they could colour. Two times during the service we called the kids up front to put their decorations on our Christmas tree. We work with the reality that kids are not made to sit still for long periods of time.
We aim to have all ages represented throughout the service—whether it’s on the worship team, reading scripture, participating in a drama, or praying. For example, at this past service our youth were involved in a drama, our choir and kids did the anthem together (the choir sang, and the kids did sign language), and a child sang a solo.
When I talk to other pastors and leaders about these services, a question that often comes up is, what do you do about the sermon? We often do not have a sermon. Yes, you read that correctly! Sometimes we have dramas, readings and Scripture woven throughout the service, in place of a sermon. When we do have a sermon, they are often 5 to 7 minutes in length. The times we do have a full sermon, which in our context would be approximately 20 minutes, we often have an activity page related to the sermon, so that kids can follow along.
Our All Ages Services came out of a desire to equip and provide resources for parents as they nurture their children’s faith, as well as a desire to include children in our worship services more often. At one point in time, we held special events for parents where we provided them with information and resources about topics such as reading the Bible with your kids. Rather than hold these events, we decided to incorporate the resourcing and equipping of parents into some of our All Ages Services. So, for example, at this past service we had, parents (as well as everyone in the congregation) were given an Advent devotion to take home. It has been from this place that these services have grown.
Our All Ages Services have required extra planning and coordination. They require an element of risk as sometimes we try new things. They require humility, as sometimes the things we try don’t turn out as we had hoped! Yet, it’s always worth it. There is something so beautiful and special about worshipping together.
Amanda McCulloch is Associate Pastor, Children’s Ministries & Congregational Life at Highland Baptist Church.