41 Ideas for Making Your Church More Kid Friendly
by Mary Stearns Sgarioto (November / December 1999 — Volume 15, Number 6)
Sometimes serious, outrageous, or lighthearted, the author shares ways to make certain that our children know they are welcomed in God's house. And her ideas cost next to nothing.
1. Youth and child-related events are scheduled at prime time only, with no exceptions. In particular, no Youth Sundays can be held on a "low Sunday" (i.e., the Sundays after Christmas or Easter). This is a crime against the people of God.
2. Ask families with small children to sit in the front or near whatever is most interesting to look at or listen to (music, choir, artwork). Just like at the movies, kids like to sit in the front row. So don't relegate them to the back.
3. It is okay for people to be human during all church services. For example, smile when you hear the crunch of cereal underfoot. This means the Lutheran church is alive and will continue to crunch on after you are gone.
4. Put pads of paper and pencils in each pew especially for young kids (not just those crazy little pew cards they're not supposed to color on that no one uses anyway).
5. Place boxes of Kleenex in humane places for expected spills and tears.
6. Child-noise, mess, crying, and confusion associated with spontaneous songs, tantrums, or crying during worship are forevermore viewed as gifts of the Spirit and can be recognized in public as such by clergy or others. The Spirit continues to create order out of chaos, and we must have faith. Pastors are trained to speak over the din.
7. Pastors, please cruise through the Sunday School rooms during class time and chit-chat with kids of all ages. They think this is cool. Bring treats or prizes for the youngers ones; donuts impress the older ones.
8. To save money on stained glass and raise self-esteem, post children's artwork in the sanctuary, not just in subterranean Sunday School rooms. Cork strips or tape can be provided.
How to Dress
9. Kids do not have to get dressed up for church; they just need to be clean. T-shirts, shorts, gym shoes, and jeans — all are O.K. Chill and ask yourself, "Do we want them to come or not?" That is the question.
10. If you serve coffee for adults after a service, serve juice for kids. Carpet the church the same color as the juice or coffee.
11. If you want kids to worship, select at least one song per service that children and teenagers know from Sunday School, confirmation camp, or Vacation Bible School. This is particularly important for preschoolers who cannot read. Watch them smile ecstatically and do the "motions."
12. Develop ways to get kids actively involved in worship on a regular basis and think the unthinkable. Invite kids to play musical instruments in church, even if they are far from prodigies (do this all year long, and not just in the summer when nothing's going on). Let kids collect offerings, read Scripture, bring up gifts, and sing. For Holy Communion, get an itty bitty little carafe for wine and a tiny basket that fits 5-6 wafers that even a two-year-old can carry. I have done this. It is to die for. (Hint: Get as many kids involved every Sunday and their parents will come, too.)
13. Be brave enough to have children meet with the church council or other parish leaders to express their ideas, feelings, and needs. Let children be members of committees that involve them: education, worship, and others. Dare to allow a child or teen to participate in council meetings.
14. Let kids help with choosing and evaluating curricula. Talk with teachers in the community who can help choose curricula and books. Let kids give feedback and ask questions on children's messages in worship.
15. Have a church library for kids only. Videos, books, and Bible games can be checked out. Have a cookie/cracker jar to attract customers. Welcome crumbs and overdue books with grace.
16. Have extra diapers and baby wipes on hand for emergency use, plus a few extra outfits of various sizes and a basket of underpants for "accidents."
17. Changing tables should be located in men's and women's bathrooms and wherever else is appropriate.
18. Post infant CPR (cardio-pulmonary resusitation) and Heimlich maneuver posters near the kitchen and in the nursery, as well as other informative child-related health information (articles on "shaken baby" syndrome, child abuse hotline number, etc.).
For Modest Types
19. A place to nurse babies should be available and advertised as such (for the more modest types).
20. Reclaim the church kitchenlet kids make food and create projects that relate to their education. They can make gifts for others, holiday decorations, ethnic foods from ancient Palestine, and other fun stuff. Make sure people hear the noise and smell the cooking, if possible.
21. Stock lots of glitter, glue, new markers, colored paper, and good scissors. No old, worn out supplies for kids' ministries are allowed. Keep a hand-held vacuum cleaner on hand to clean up the expected mess.
22. Place posters and pictures at child's eye level. Many little people actually can read.
23. Make a worship bulletin for kids, which explains what goes on in worship. Include games, pictures, and places for them to express their faith through drawing. Set aside bulletin board space for them to hang their drawings anytime they like.
24. All church newsletters should have a kids' pageactually written by kids, or at least created with their input. It can be as simple as reproducing a couple of drawings, publishing a young person's confession of faith made at confirmation, or a simple prayer written by a child.
25. Never hold congregational meetings at times when people should be feeding children, or you de facto will exclude families with young children.
26. Have a kids' suggestion box (make sure they can reach it), and let them offer their ideas. Then implement some of them.
27. Make a decorated little basket on a table with blank note paper in it. Encourage kids to write thank you notes or other notes to teachers, parents, God, and others. Let there be a little bulletin board for this where the children can see it.
28. Try to have kids' names posted in their classrooms so they know they belong.
29. During holidays, let older teenagers or young adults dress up as Bible characters (i.e., Mary and Joseph and a real live baby for Christmas) and circulate among the little kids' classes before or after church, saying hi and passing out stuff. Make it real to them.
30. Let kids read texts and preach, especially on Sundays around confirmation time, graduation, Mother's Day, and every Sunday in the church year where there are kids in the text, or anytime you feel like it.
31. Continue to explain that Jesus came as a baby and grew up, played, had fun, and cried — just like they are doing. This is important to children.
32. Leave the manger up all year in an area of the church where children congregate. Encourage children to write letters to Jesus and put them in there.
33. Above all, on Christmas, the Visitation, Annunciation, and any Sundays where kids are especially focused on or appear in the biblical texts, the congregation needs to remember that there are people without children, people who have lost children, people who are estranged from their children, those who have aborted children, and people who cannot have children. Those in these situations should be prayed for at these times as they may be struggling.
34. Remember the elderly and grandparents, as they were children once, too — especially if there have been a lot of funerals lately. Let the elderly preach and share their thoughts with the young at graduation time, Christmas, or whenever kids have congregated.
35. Children should be prayed for at graduation, confirmation time, when school begins, if there is a tragedy, or some other significant event involving children in the community.
36. Parents, the divorced, and other caregivers should be prayed for regularly as they parent their children.
37. Pastors and church educators should know which kids in the congregation have special needs — Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, Behavioral Disorder, Learning Disorderso they can understand these children and provide for their needs.
38. Offer special activities/groups for children of divorced parents, children who are grieving, or to help children deal with the spiritual aspects of violence within their community.
39. Develop resources to help teenage girls who become pregnant. Have a congregational game plan for this. Know who has experience with devising resources on this issue.
40. Develop resources and programs necessary to help children understand gender issues as they relate to spirituality and self-esteemi.e., inclusive language and gender of God. This is rarely, if ever, covered and can offer clarity and new insight into the gospel.
41. Consider lowering the age for first communion in your church. Nobody knows "how Jesus gets in there" anyway, so you don't have to "get it" to be communed.
Mary Stearns Sgarioto is an ELCA pastor from Elmhurst, Illinois, on leave from call.