I work at a church that is firmly committed to keeping children in worship. For us the question is, how do we keep children engaged in worship? This is an especially important question as we look at current trends in Sunday school attendance.
Something we’ve introduced to aid children during the sermon portion of worship is Pew Projects. It goes something like this: just before the the primary Scripture text for the sermon the children are invited forward. I give them something to listen for in the reading and a project they can work on in their pew.
Here are some examples
-We had children act out the parable in place of the traditional Gospel reading of the wheat and the weeds. I gave the children a blank cartoon (with words for each block supplied by me) so that they could draw their own cartoon of what they saw and heard.
-For Peter walking on the water I asked the children to draw something they feared on a coffee filter with a blue marker. We sprayed our filters with water and saw that they looked like water. During the Scripture we listened for why Peter was afraid of water. Our coffee filters reminded us that God was with us, even when we are afraid.
-When we did the Great Commission we actually “made disciples” out of peg people, scraps of cloth, markers, and glue sticks. They then decorated a bowl with blue tissue paper and were asked to listen for what they were supposed to do with their disciples and the bowl. The answer: baptize them!
-On a Sunday when there were five parables I made an eye spy with items mentioned in each story. They re-read the parables and searched and circled each item along the way.
I hand out Pew Projects in canvas bags just before the sermon and try to have something that will only last that amount of time. I want the children to be able to enter into the other parts of the service – hymns, prayers, Scripture lessons – with their families/friends instead of focusing on a craft for the whole hour.
What is most interesting about Pew Projects is that on three different occasions I’ve had adults tell me half-jokingly that they want a Pew Project, too. These conversations have been good reminders of how often we forget that not everyone is an auditory learner, and how powerful it can be for people of all ages to take in God’s Word through your other senses.
I had a personal experience with this last week. I was working on my example coffee filter and doodling to try and get a fear (I have so many!) that would be accessible and understandable to our children. After I was done I took the spray bottle and watched these fears slowly melt into watery blue waves. I felt the wet paper in my hand and I thought about Peter, looking down at those waves, maybe hoping that Jesus would say, “no, just stay in the boat.” I prayed that God would help me with my fears, that they wouldn’t overwhelm me as I sought to follow Jesus wherever he led me.
There is a long way to go in making our worship accessible to people of all ages, but Pew Projects are one way that we’re making space for children to engage in holy, creative, vibrant worship.