By: Christa Meland
Rev. Donna Draeger, who plans and leads Centennial UMC’s Kids 2 service, will lead a workshop at the 2015 SPLASH event on April 25, which features workshops and networking for those who work with children, youth, and families. Draeger’s session will explore how to design a worship service for children and families at your church.
For most of her life, Josie Lavell has sat in church with her brother and parents and listened. The fourth-grader now has the opportunity to actively participate in worship through Centennial United Methodist Church’s “Kids 2” worship service—and it’s helped her experience and appreciate church in a new way.
On the second Sunday of every month, Centennial in Roseville offers a worship service designed specifically for children and their families. Songs and prayers are interactive and upbeat. Kids are involved in the liturgy. Each segment of the 45-minute service is short. And one simple central theme that’s easy to understand is reinforced throughout the service.
Rev. Donna Draeger, a deacon and Centennial’s minister of disciple formation, learned about a similar program at First United Methodist Church in Fort Worth and launched Centennial’s own version in January 2014. Draeger plans and leads Kids 2 with the help of the children’s music director. Roughly 200 people of all ages attend the service each month.
“I feel really strongly that the church needs to be inter-generational, not just multi-generational,” said Draeger, who studied early childhood education and taught before going to seminary. “God’s worshipping family should be all ages.”
The hope behind Kids 2 is that worship will be such a positive experience for children that it will always be an important part of their lives.
Draeger explains it like this: “Children learn to worship by worshipping. Participation precedes understanding.”
She says if kids have an opportunity to practice worshipping at a young age and have positive experiences doing so, they are much more likely to remain engaged in church life during Confirmation, while in college, and as adults.
February’s Kids 2 service was about quiet time. After singing a couple of children’s songs related to the theme, kids were introduced to a verse from Psalm 46—“Be still, and know that I am God—and invited to try to remember that verse. At the end of the service, they were asked if they remembered it.
Every Kids 2 service is different, but there are a few consistent elements. For example, two puppets usually engage in dialogue around the theme, a Bible story is shared in an interactive way (in February, Draeger asked kids to make noises that related to certain parts of the story), and a few kids from the congregation walk through a large, handmade Bible at the front of the sanctuary and share experiences related to the theme.
In February, Josie was one of those kids. After walking through the large Bible, she was asked how she finds quiet time, and she told the congregation that her favorite quiet time place is at her cabin watching the fire.
Kids assist in other ways too: Josie’s second-grade brother loves to serve as an usher. Other kids lead prayers, demonstrate the American Sign Language sign for the day’s theme, and display a poster about the theme.
Josie says she likes being an active participant—and it’s helped her understand and remember what’s taught.
“You get to do things and watch some of your friends be on stage and sit up where the pastors sit,” she said. “I have learned [through Kids 2] that God is closer to us than we think and Jesus did great things to help others.”
Kids 2 has been extremely well received by the congregation. Josie’s mom, Danetta Lavell, said Josie and her brother learn a lot and retain what they learn through Kids 2.
“I will hear them singing the songs, doing the phrases when they’re leaving church,” she said.
When the family goes to traditional worship services, she has to interpret some things for her kids to be able to understand them—but that’s not the case at Kids 2.
“When there’s music and interaction and different things happening, and it’s not just adults but other kids doing it, they sit up and pay attention more and take notice,” she said.
At the end of the day, she knows the experience is helping them grow in their faith.
“They know there’s this bigger thing than just them,” Danetta said.
Christa Meland is director of communications for the Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church.
Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church