As a Children’s Director at one of The Austin Stone’s campuses, I have had the privilege of leading volunteers to lead our children to worship God each and every Sunday. Our church values worship as one of its core values. After all, that was God’s purpose in creating us– to glorify and worship him in all we do. This doctrine is so valued by our Kids Ministry, that we incorporate a ‘Big Group Worship’ time – even with our preschoolers. One role that I play is to help develop and train our leaders on how to lead 2, 3 and 4 year olds in a meaningful worship time. Now, before I continue, you may be asking yourself – “what is the point of bringing a bunch of toddlers and preschoolers together in one room to try and worship God? That sounds like a disaster!” Well, to be honest – it’s not necessarily the most orderly time, but with good planning and implementation – it can be a beautiful time of little ones glorifying the Lord. How sweet their worship must be to him? I’d love to share some things that have worked for us in hopes that you can try some of them with your youngest worshippers! Let’s get started.
1. Create an environment
Three of our campuses are mobile. Therefore, simplicity is our number one goal! Our solution is to use foam color “puzzle pieces” that fit together to form a large mat (you can make it as large or small as you need!) Other materials that could work for this purpose are carpet squares, rugs, or even blankets. The point is, create a place where they always know that this is the place where we worship at church! The great thing about this age group is that they can sit on the floor!
2. Use simple management techniques for ‘crowd control’
Some of our favorites are: criss-cross applesauce to get them to sit with their legs crossed; “open shut-them”, a quick little hand chant that ends with them placing their hands in their lap; and “catch a bubble in your mouth”, to keep them quiet while the leader is talking! Little ones want and need structure – personalize your own methods, but have several options in mind to keep them all in place!
3. Explain why we worship
For example, tell them “friends, we are going to sing some songs today to worship God! Did you know that God loves for us to praise him by singing and dancing before him? It makes Him so happy!
4. Sing, Sing, Sing!!
Psalm 47:1 “Clap your hands, all you nations. Shout to God with cries of joy!” While there are exceptions, for the most part, this age group loves to sing – and they aren’t old enough to be embarrassed yet! So, sing a variety of songs with motions and dancing. Consider using instruments such as maracas or tambourines, or simply wave colorful scarves while you sing. They love to move and the teachers need them to get their wiggles out before coming back to class! Choose songs that are theologically correct, age appropriate, and politically/culturally appropriate. For example, many of us grew up singing, “Jesus loves the little children, all the children of the world.” However, in today’s world the color descriptions “red, yellow, black and white” are dated and may be offensive. The best songs are the ones that sing something TO Jesus, not just ABOUT Jesus.
5. End your time with prayer
Let your last song be a quiet song with them sitting down. After you sing, tell them to bow their heads and close their eyes because it’s time to talk to God. Remind them that this is another way we worship – by praying. Say a brief prayer for them.
6. Dismiss the group in an organized way
After you pray, allow one class at a time to leave. We do this by singing a simple little song that says, “good-bye Skipping Stones, good-bye Skipping Stones, good-bye Skipping Stones, it’s time for you to go!” Repeat for each class name until they are all gone.
The above suggestions can be done a zillion different ways and it’s important to note that there will be exceptions in the group in terms of how each child responds. If a child has certain special needs, they may not feel comfortable with large group environments or loud instruments. Be sensitive to these children and have a volunteer ready to either help them engage, or spend some quiet time doing alternate activities that reflect worship. The important part is to remember that we are modeling and teaching what worship is and how God loves us to worship him. For many of us, these early years are our first taste of what it means to worship Christ. What an honor and privilege it is to lead a child to understand the glory of the living God more fully.
“All the nations you have made will come and worship before you, Lord; they will bring glory to your name.”- Psalm 86:9