Family-friendly Worship Spaces

Create Family-Friendly Worship Spaces

By Theresa Cho

More and more churches want to provide a comfortable and welcoming experience for families to worship together.

Worshipping with children in our midst can be a vital asset to a faith community—not solely because they need to learn something from us, but because we need to learn something from them as well. Having a faith community that loves children—their noises, outbursts, jittery movements, and all—is a wonderful gift to families as well as the whole community at large.

Having children in worship challenges us to examine how we engage in worship, our faith, and with each other. They remind us that there isn’t a right way or one way to worship. They remind us to be open to the spontaneity of the Holy Spirit. They remind us that God is present in the messiness of our lives. They give us opportunity to reexamine the meaning of sacred and holy. They provide us lots of opportunities to exercise patience, grace, love, forgiveness, and generosity. They remind us to worship with our hearts as well as our heads. They give us opportunity to broaden our acceptance of those who are different from us and challenge us.

Young families in particular have unique challenges in worship. Two things to consider:

  • Does the seating arrangement in the sanctuary accommodate and allow for stroller parking? Strollers

hold more than just babies. They hold the diaper bag, sippy cups, snacks, toys, sleeping babies, and

anything else you can squeeze in there.

  • Are there options for families with babies and toddlers to worship together if they aren’t ready or willing

to go to the nursery? Providing space for children to wander, a table to color on, pillows to read books, or

a basket of stuffed animals to play with can do wonders for a family’s worship experience.

These suggestions merely help make families feel more invited, but there are also plenty of opportunities to teach and theologically engage the young ones as well.

One thing my congregation did was to create interactive boards that helped teach theological concepts in tangible and concrete form. These boards were not only interactive, but they were also set in the corner of the sanctuary where toddlers could move freely and engage with their parents during worship.

Interestingly, most of the materials used to make these boards were old, unused items found in the storage closets and attic of the church. It’s amazing what you can find in a church that is over 100 years old. Also, if you can find an art store that reuses junk for art parts, you can find a lot of items for minimal cost. When I did have to purchase items,

I mostly went to Home Depot, Michael’s, and Oriental Trading Co.

The interactive boards focused on these four themes:

Board #1: God Created Me

A mirror to examine one’s face

A magnetic Doodle board to draw their own creation

Magnetic face parts to create their own face

Board #2: God Chose Me

Different symbols of baptism to feel and touch

Spinning beads with different Trinitarian names to explore

Board #3: God Loves Me

Different characteristics of love from 1 Corinthians 13 to explore

Crayon and paper to make their own love notes

Board #4: God Calls Me

Different characteristics of a disciple

A felt board to use their imagination playing with different characters in the Bible.

It’s not hard to make children and families feel more welcome at church. It just takes the commitment and a little bit of imagination. Trust me, if we did it, you can, too. (To view a slideshow with detailed pictures of how I made these four interactive boards, visit http://theresaecho.wordpress.com/2011/04/18/interactive-toddler-boards)

The Rev. Theresa Cho is an associate pastor at St. John’s Presbyterian Church in San Francisco. Her experience teaching children with special needs and working in a multi-racial urban congregation in Chicago and Seoul, Korea, contribute to her passion for child advocacy, creating intergenerational worship experiences, and urban ministry.

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