Welcoming Children Into Community

Sunday is my son's favorite day, because he gets to worship in community.

"What's your favorite day of the week?" I asked.

"Sunday," Jonathan answered without hesitation.


"Because of worship at our Home Group," Jonathan said.

This was no isolated response. Around our house, there was no doubt about it: worship was the highlight of six-year-old Jonathan's week. The same was true of four-year-old Janelle.

It had not always been so. In fact, only two years earlier, one of the most persistent problems of our worship community had been the "babysitting problem." What do we do with the kids?

We had tried a half-dozen babysitters during our meetings. We had tried letting children play without a sitter. We had tried keeping them in the meetings with us. Nothing we tried worked very well for very long. The "babysitting problem" stubbornly resisted solution.

Reading Children's Ministry by Larry Richards[1] reminded me that the first-century church didn't segregate children from adults. Evidently worship and the nurture of children's faith took place in intergenerational settings. Children were simply part of the life of the community.

That got me thinking. What if we quit looking at our children as babysitting problems to be solved and started looking at them as members of the community? What if, rather than trying to find someone else to take our children off our hands, we accepted the responsibility of discipling our own children when the community gathered?

In response of these questions, the group decided to experiment with intergenerational worship. During the first forty-five minutes or so of our two-hour worship time, we—all children and adults—worshiped together. That period included all the elements of our adults-only services:singing, prayer, sharing and the week's joys and pains, and teaching. We tried to avoid adult-oriented activities that turned children into spectators, or "children's stories" that turned adults into spectators. Rather, we aimed for activities that fully involved everyone and promoted interaction among generations.

Adults signed up to take turns leading the intergenerational worship time. The intergenerational story usually tied into the Bible teaching that would follow in the adults-only part of the service. We enjoyed a wonderful surprising variety in storytelling—from the whole group acting out a Bible story to puppet dramas to chalk talks to a visit from Rainbow the Clown. (The kids did wonder why Patty missed the fist hour of worship.)

Children chose many of the songs, and when adults chose we took care to choose songs the children knew or could quickly learn. At sharing time, both children and adults shared happenings from their week that "made them feel happy" or "made them feel sad," with adults saving for later any sharing that went beyond a minute or two.

Our favorite way of handling prayer time was one-on-one prayers, an idea we picked up from Larry Richards. Each child would choose an adult prayer partner. The remaining adults would pair up. Each person would share a prayer request with his or her partner, then the partners would pray for each other. This only took two or three minutes, but it packed a lot of power.

First, it said to each child, "Your concerns are important enough for me to pray about." Equally important, it said "Your prayers can make a difference in my life."

Through all these experiences something wonderful began to happen. The children quit being simply the children of our community members; they became community members themselves. No longer were Kara and Katie just Mark and Patty's girls; they became my friend Kara and my friend Katie. And my own children became personal friends to the other adults in the group, too. No longer an adult community with a babysitting problem, we had become an intergenerational community.

Interestingly, as soon as our community accepted the primary responsibility for nurturing the faith of our children, a wonderful children's worker was provided. Melanie was a mature mother from our neighborhood who needed the income, loved the kids, and who, along with her daughter Heather, quickly became a part of the life of the community. Melanie and Heather joined us for intergenerational worship. Then Melanie took the kids off for play, crafts, or stories while the adults continued with worship.

The group dissolved a couple of years later when a couple of families moved out of state. Our family went back to the large suburban church we had been attending all along on Sunday mornings. It had a full-time children's director and an impressive children's program involving over one hundred volunteer children's workers.

A few weeks after this change, I was surprised to hear Jonathan say, "I hate Sundays."

"But I thought Sunday was your favorite day," I said.

"That was when we had house church. I don't like church regular church."

Time alone would not dissolve that dissatisfaction. Our family left Oklahoma for a sabbatical, and when we returned two years later we began looking for a new church home. I suggested two or three alternatives, but Jonathan was unimpressed. "I want to join a community," he said.

"But there just aren't any more communities like that in Oklahoma City," I explained.

"Well, then, let's start one," Jonathan countered.

I smiled, remembering the hours my wife Melody and I had dreamed and talked of doing that very thing. "There's one problem with that idea," I told Jonathan. "You can't be in a community by yourself. Other people have to do it with you. And we don't know anyone else in Oklahoma City who is called to the kind of community we want to be a part of."

So, reluctantly, Jonathan and Janelle and Melody and I found another church to attend—a nice church, nice people—but not one that could fill the void left by our former community. We were spoiled. It seemed we would never again be satisfied with less than the community we had cherished, the joys and pains we had shared across the generations.

Then, through our unwillingness to settle for church as usual, God led us to a new home in Kansas. A few weeks ago, our church started a small group for the purpose of nurturing intergenerational community. We can already feel the difference. It's like coming home after a long journey. And we're not the only ones who've noticed.

Today I asked Jonathan what his favorite day of the week was. For the first time in over four years he answered, "Sunday."

[1] Zondervan (1988)

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