We know that church is more than what happens on a Sunday. The church is a body of believers, and gathering on a Sunday is just one part of that fellowship. Over the next few weeks and months, it’s likely we won’t be able to gather together, apart from virtually or listening to services broadcast on radio or TV.
For those with young families, we thought we would share some ideas we have successfully used with our own children in the past. When we go on holiday, we have often decided to do “home church” with the children – this can be easier than finding a local church, where we don’t know the arrangements for children (or they don’t speak English!) and coping with a different style can make it an uncomfortable experience for children. We are keen for our children to enjoy church and see it as a positive experience, rather than a “must do, just because it’s what we do.”
Before doing a home church, if there are two adults, it can be good to split the roles and think about what each of you might prepare. Often we do this the day before, to allow some time to creatively plan. For example, I often think of a theme and a child-friendly passage (all Scripture is God-breathed, but this doesn’t mean it’s all child-friendly!), then suggest my wife think of a song and some kind of activity or game that might relate to the theme. [Note: these are not gender roles! My wife just happens to have worked a lot with children and knows more songs than I do, and I enjoy thinking of a talk – do whatever plays to your strengths!]
It’s good to have a very light structure. Children feel secure when adults seem to know what they are doing. However, don’t overdo the structure either – we want this to be an enjoyable experience, not a military boot camp!
For example, we might have something like this:
- Opening prayer [this helps calm things down and focus on God]
- Introduce the story for today [let people know what we’re thinking about]
- Sing a song (can use YouTube) [there’s a familiarity to singing and gets some energy out]
- Bible passage [keep it short, and choose a child-friendly version, not the KJV!]
- Talk with props [use age-appropriate props, like toys or lego for characters]
- Ask what we learn from story [engaging children and encouraging them to think is great]
- Optional: activity/game
- Sing a song
- Say a closing prayer & celebrate a great service
Involving the Family
There’s a temptation for one person to do all the work and the others to passively sit and listen.
However, in our experience, this doesn’t work well with children. They get bored and can’t wait for it all to be finished. It can also be frustrating for the person who has done all the hard work. Ironically, we can then create a problem that some churches actually face – a small number of people burning out and getting frustrated at people’s lack of engagement, and others being bored or only being there as a sense of duty.
We find it a much happier experience when we give everybody a role. Sometimes it works to say in advance of the time together “we’re going to need someone to say a little prayer, or to help with the story and the lego, or to be a helper in the game… who wants to do what?” [Note – the way you ask a question is important. Make it sound positive and exciting, and make it sound like everyone is going to do something – even the smallest task can make someone feel part of it]
Finally, don’t worry about the length of this time (family Church service). If it lasts 15 minutes and you’ve had fun together, then that’s been a great Church service. Stretching something to try and fill an hour is likely to be torture for a child’s attention span, and the last thing you want is to create something that people can’t wait to be over. Keeping it short and fun (finish on a high) is more likely to make them look forward to the next one. God doesn’t want us to create our own misery as an act of worship!
Personal Experiences and Ideas
We have really enjoyed House Church when we’ve done it in the past. Firstly, trying to think of a talk and make it understandable for a child is a really good exercise. If you can’t explain something in a simple way for a child, then perhaps our own understanding of it needs to develop? Secondly, we have always been amazed at how much insight children bring and hearing their questions can show where their faith is at. We also love their enthusiasm. When we say we are doing house church, they cheer! Our eldest likes leading a prayer (children can like having a leadership role where adults follow). Our youngest likes offering up toys for the story characters. We’ve used barbie dolls, lego figures, even smurfs as disciples. Children love seeing their toys as part of the story.
Don’t forget to pray through your preparation. I believe God works through us in all sorts of situations. Changes to normal routines and thinking about our faith and approach to the Bible creatively and differently can be part of our own spiritual growth. I really love the preparation part of Home Church, as much as the time together itself. Thinking how my own child might respond to God and a story that Jesus told can be a very humbling experience.
There are lots of different stories that have themes that children can really engage with. We tend to focus on Jesus stories – the Good Samaritan is excellent, different parables can open up themes. You can use them to help children think about how they deal with difficulties in their lives, with challenging friendships etc. In many ways, this is exactly what the Bible should be about – helping us apply principles in our every day lives. How can we be loving in different situations? Who is our neighbour?
It’s also good to help children think about prayer and what this is. Too easily, we reduce prayer to
shopping list requests. However, prayer is much more than asking God to do things… it’s about opening up to God, sharing our worries, our hopes, our dreams and our fears. It’s about spending time with the person who loves us most in all the Universe. It’s about asking for God’s help in showing love to others. We have been trying to teach our children that God works through us to show love to others, so why not ask for God’s help to do that? There is no harm in a child asking God to look after them or someone they care about (what loving Father doesn’t want to hear their child open up their heart to them?), but we also want our children to know what it means to partner with God in making His Kingdom of love here where we are today. The lessons we learn today as children can shape our relationship with God as adults. Small moments can make a big difference. There can be blessings in many storms.
Blessings from the Craigie Clan!