Read on for 3 steps to helping your young family truly get the most out of online church!
This morning my family sat in the basement during our livestream church, and in the course of the hour-long service, one or more of my boys participated in the following:
- asking for snacks
- flipping through a photo album
- playing with the dog
- racing back and forth across the basement
- hiding under a blanket
- climbing the telepost
- begging for a kids show
It’s not that my kids are “bad”, and it’s not that our church service was boring. It’s that…well, they’re KIDS. And most kids aren’t great at sitting still through a whole sermon, even when it’s on TV. The novelty of “church-on-TV” seems to have worn off, at least for my boys.
I wish my family looked like this while doing church at home:
But we were definitely not on our best behavior. ? It was more like this…
In the middle of the Livestream, I had an epiphany – what if I took all the tools I teach in Sacred Pathways and about helping kids experience the Bible and applied them to our Livestream church services?
What if we simplified our lives and made church more engaging at the same time?
But first, a question…
Why should they participate in “adult church” anyway?
When I first posted this idea online, several people suggested churches that have dedicated online children’s ministry programs on Sunday morning. That’s fine. I have nothing against children’s ministry. In fact, I worked in paid or volunteer children’s ministry for over 20 years. Our church has a weekly online class for kids too.
While there are definitely benefits to age-appropriate teaching, I firmly believe that inviting our kids into full participation in the service has benefit too!
Participating TOGETHER in church makes our kids feel included right from the start. There has been a lot of chatter recently about why teens leave the church, and it seems that part of the mass exodus may be related to our age-segregated programming (aka Children’s Church and Youth Group).
They’ve been separated for so long, they don’t know how to be part of the bigger church family. When they’re not specifically catered to anymore, they leave because they no longer feel a sense of belonging.
Want to explore more on the benefits of Intergenerational Worship?
Check out these articles:
Why Intergenerational Worship and Why Now?
Those Who Stay: 3 Reasons for NOT Leaving The Church
On Children Experiencing the Full Church Service
Our kids and teens need to know they belong in the greater Body NOW, not just when they turn 18. To do that, we need at least some aspects of our church life to be intergenerational.
As parents, you an I have the choice to let our faith become intergenerational. We can continue having our own church services, OR we can do something different…something revolutionary.
We can worship TOGETHER.
But since your kids might be a lot like mine, I’m going to share 3 easy steps you can take to help your kids engage in online or Livestream church services (even without a kids program).
Intergenerational church doesn’t need to be exhausting!
1. Be all there.
Be all there. For real.
I mean us, as parents. It’s tempting to answer texts during the service since the pastor won’t notice the white glow on your face. ? But you know who will notice? Your kids.
If you’re not fully there, they won’t be either. (This article goes more deeply into preparing your own heart for online worship.)
2. Manage Expectations
Sitting through a whole sermon can be hard for kids, especially if they’re not used to sitting through sermons. Or maybe your kids ARE used to sitting through sermons, but they need the expectations (and mild peer pressure) of the church family to help them focus. In the safety of your home, they won’t sit still.
As parents, we need to recognize that it can be weird to sing out loud at home or to sit quietly on the couch watching the pastor speak from the computer.
We need to decide what we will expect from our kids.
- Do we want them to sing?
- Do we want them to take notes during the sermon?
- Do we just want them to stop begging for snacks?
It helps to know our kids. If you have a child with ADHD, expecting him to sit through the sermon is unfair. If your preschooler is always hungry at that time of day, make sure she has a snack. Thankfully, you’ve been stuck at home with these kids for a couple of months now, so you should know what they can and cannot do!
(PS Would you believe there are actually some BENEFITS to online church? Read more about the benefits of online worship here!)
3. Encourage Active Listening
I started homeschooling this year (in September, before it was mandatory ?) and here’s one thing I’ve learned:
My kids can sit and listen for a VERY long time when they’re listening to something engaging AND their hands are busy. I keep a bin of Lego in my living room for read-aloud time, and my 6, 8, and 11-year-old boys will happily create while I read for an hour, and still beg for more when my voice is exhausted.
I know my kids are not alone in this. In fact, I got the idea for “active listening” from other homeschool moms.
Friends, active listening WORKS.
So here’s what you do:
- Set out some supplies on the floor or table. (See my list below for ideas. )
- Instead of begging your kids to sit-down-and-listen-already, simply ask them to create something that reminds them of the service.
For example, if your pastor is preaching on the parable of the sower, ask your child to create something that reminds them of the parable. A young child might glue pompoms to a page as seeds, or scribble a picture of dirt. Older kids might draw or paint the story or set up a re-enactment with building blocks. Teens who might normally be disengaged might enjoy journaling in their Bibles or drawing out the Scripture text in funky lettering.
As they create, your children will be listening better AND they’ll have something concrete to remind them of what they learned. (Also, you’ll get to listen to the sermon for once). Win-win-win!
You may find that you get drawn into the activity as well, and connect more with the service than ever before!
There are MANY ways you could encourage active listening, which I’ll list below. Just know that you can change the type of toy/art supplies each week or just use the one type that works best.
If you like to have a visual reminder that it’s okay to worship God through crafting and journalling, you can print this poster of all the ways kids can engage in Scripture.
8 Types of Supplies To Encourage Active Listening During Church
Here’s a list of possible supplies you could set out:
1. PAPER AND PENCILS.
Young children can draw pictures, and older kids can draw or write out the text in fancy lettering. Throw in some markers and some kids will be sad when the sermon is over!
Allow your kids to pound and roll and sculpt while they’re listening. This little gem was created by my 8-year-old in response to the Easter lessons at church.
These ingenious little craft supplies are perfect for keeping hands busy on long drives, and it turns out they’re also perfect for church! Turn them into glasses so you can see the world through God’s eyes, shape them into little people or animals, or make buildings. WikkiStix are easy for kids of any age to shape, which actually makes them better than playdough, in my opinion.
4. RANDOM CRAFT SUPPLIES
Set out scissors and glue, then add whatever you can easily access: popsicle sticks, string, beads, pipe cleaners, rubber bands, etc.
5. BLOCKS OR LEGO
Kids can use blocks to spell words, create scenery, or re-enact Bible stories. My own kids have used blocks to create a lion’s den and to finish the phrase, “God, you are amazing because…”
6. ART SUPPLIES.
Set out a cup of water, washable paint, brushes, and paper and ask your child to create a piece of art that reflects the service.
7. NATURE SUPPLIES.
One sunny autumn day, my preschooler rushed into the house demanding that we come outside to see his altar. My husband and I were a little shocked at first (I mean, an ALTAR??) but it turns out that he had set up the scene of Elijah on Mount Carmel. He built the altar out of sticks and was throwing colorful autumn leaves onto it to depict the fire coming from heaven.
If you can watch your online church outside, why not let your kids use what’s around them to respond to the service?
8. JOURNALING BIBLES
One of my boys loves to read a portion of text and then draw his interpretation right in his Bible. I let him color the entire page because he has a second Bible. I love that he will have this journaling Bible as a keepsake, and it is also a great learning tool!
So that’s it! If you’re a parent who wants to deepen your family’s connection to Christ but isn’t sure how to start, or already know you stink at being consistent? Check out my printable “Start LITTLE” resource to stop being overwhelmed and get started with making a deep spiritual impact!
Thanks for helping us navigate these crazy times of online church with our kiddos – great suggestions to keep wiggly bums engaged in their own way.
Christie Thomas says
You’re so welcome! I do hope other parents find it helpful. We all need to navigate this new thing in our own way.
I love the active listening idea! We’ve tried this at times. A question: do you have any advice if my kids simply won’t engage with the story, sermon, etc. and insist on building/drawing bad guys and super heroes all the time instead?
Christie Thomas says
That sounds like a lot of kids I know! Have you ever connected their passion for superheroes to stories or characters in the Bible? Perhaps during church you can let them entertain themselves quietly in their own way, but outside of the service you can find ways to connect their passions to the gospel. Really, Jesus IS the quintessential superhero – I think if they can see that what they’re doing has spiritual significance, they’ll become more excited. Everything in life is connected to God in some way – not just a sermon topic or the songs we sing in church. If you’re unsure how to make those connections, pray about it! God has shown himself SO faithful to give me specific parenting ideas exactly when I most need them.
Bobbi Schaben says
Thank you for these amazing tips! Our church is now back to live service, but I still know many who still watch the service from home. This post will be fantastic to share with them.
Christie Thomas says
You’re very welcome! I’m glad it was helpful.
Kjirsten Davies says
This is a great article! Could I share it with the parents in my ministry, with appropriate credit to you? I am the Early Life director at our church in Washington. Thank you!
Christie Thomas says
You’re so welcome! You can absolutely share it with the parents in your ministry. Thanks for reading 🙂