Someone asked this today: ” At what age do you believe children should be participants in the morning worship service? Our church is exploring options for extended session and are thinking through the theology on this as well as researching what other churches are doing.
I feel that there needs to be some kind of transition period where children are taught about worship experientially . . . . Thoughts?”
My response: Good question, and an important one. Here are some comments for pondering:
I think you’re starting at the right place, asking, “What’s our theology about this?” You should also consider developmental issues along with your theology of children, church, and worship.
Depending on the size of the church and the culture of the church, five-year-olds can handle “adult” worship. (MOST ethnic congregations do NOT take their children—of whatever age—out of the “adult” (read: community) worship experience. Are anglo children too stupid to do the same?).
First graders (around 6 or 7 years old) are emerging “readers”. They can handle the adult worship service, especially if the church accomodates them, and if parents take responsibility for teaching and modeling worship. (Some kindergarteners are emerging readers if they go to a good school system. But regardless, five-year-olds’ greatest need is “socialization” into the larger world. What better place for that than communal worship?).
Most churches take transition and rites-of-passage events (if they have any) from outside sources, like the school system. There are some pragmatic advantages to this, but often no theological ones. So, one option is to help your children make the transition into adult (community) worship halfway through their first grade year. This seems natural in many ways: their reading skills have developed by then, and the school’s “Spring break” can be re-claimed as the church’s “Easter break”. Older children (I HOPE OLDER!) are making a transition during that time through catechism and baptisms, why not a transition for the younger children? Wouldn’t it be neat for a family to mark the nodal events provided by these rites in their family? The older child getting baptized (the issue of the age for that is a topic for another discussion) and a passage into “community worship” for the younger one?
I like your emphasis on learning this “experientially.” As you know, “you learn to do what you do and not something else.” In this case, that thought suggest that while there may be some vaule in providing “pretend worship” for children, they will never REALLY learn to worship untill they participate fully in the community corporate worship experience. (That’s the reason I think attenpts to provide adolescents with “their own” worship service apart from the corporate worship is misguided. “What’s the theology behind that?”).
10-year-olds make excellent acolytes and can participate in being “worship leaders” in meaningful and significant ways—-with intentional and informed training.
I think there’s a handout on the CD I shared with the GRACE group, the “Teaching Handouts” CD, that contains teaching points to introducing young children to adult worship.
Any thoughts from other GRACE members?