Does your ELCA congregation have a family Christmas Eve service, a Christmas program or pageant, or a Youth Sunday at Christmas? If you haven’t tried it before, maybe this is the year to try to incorporate some child- or youth-led elements into your holiday services.
During the planning of this service, it helps to think about whether you are seeking to have a child-led or child-friendly service.
A child-led service (or portion of a service) may be child-friendly, but it could also be part of a wider worship service meant for the full intergenerational congregation but led by children or youth.
It is fairly easy to incorporate children’s leadership into a segment of a holiday worship service, even if your congregation does not have a large number of children or youth.
If you choose to have children or youth leading worship, be sure someone practices with or coaches them. This isn’t to make sure their performance is perfect but rather to help apprentice them into a role they haven’t held before.
Very few elementary schools and middle schools teach public speaking or drama today, and most children won’t have had practice in it either. Be sure to highlight the idea that leading worship comes with responsibilities to the worshiping community to do our best.
Developing youth worship leaders is the first step toward developing adult worship leaders. Many adults get anxious about even reading a prayer in worship. When we invest time to train and apprentice young worship leaders, the adults benefit as well.
Contrary to popular opinion, child-friendly worship services do not need to be fast-paced and highly entertaining. They can have slower, quieter portions, but adults’ expectations must be adjusted a bit and help needs to be provided to children as they make the transition into the quieter portions. Always watch the vocabulary used and the difficulty of the words in the service if you are seeking to make it more child-friendly.
Most congregations have some element of their Christmas Eve or Christmas Day services that is either child-friendly or child-led. Some congregations include children in decorating, music or telling the Christmas story. Others invite a child to bring the Christ child into the nativity or a children’s choir to sing some Christmas carols or children to perform in the Christmas pageant.
- Don’t treat a child like a token — value them as a full participant.
- Don’t expect too much — they should be encouraged to prepare, but you must also know what you will do if the child cannot eventually do it.
- Don’t neglect to publicize this service — you won’t necessarily get families with young children to show up just because you say it’ll be child-friendly, but they’ll never show up if they don’t hear about it.
Some other ideas for further participation from and with children at Advent, Christmas or Epiphany:
- Invite a family with young children to light the Advent wreath each week.
- Tell the Christmas story using an unbreakable nativity set. Encourage kids to help you fill in the characters.
- Invite a young musician to play a simple prelude or anthem; many of them will be learning simple carols for holiday recitals. Your church musician may be able to help them with a simple melody to play on their instrument. Invite a small group of five to seven young singers to sing a Christmas carol.
- Invite an older youth or teen to write a narration re-telling the Christmas story.
- Plan a participatory part of the worship service — invite the children to ring bells during a certain hymn or ask the children to wave pennants or bandannas during a certain hymn or encourage them to process with the nativity characters.
- Epiphany’s focus on the magi (three kings) lends itself well to a child-oriented celebration worship service, perhaps with a procession or even crowns.
May your celebrations of the coming of the Christ-child be enriched by the presence and involvement of children in your life.
Carla Thompson Powell is an ordained pastor of the ELCA. Carla and her husband, Darryl, who is also a pastor, live in Chicago with their three children.