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Engaging in Worship at an Early Age

May 20th, 2015 by Beth A. Lewis

Major league baseball players don’t just show up on the field as pros at 21 years old. They have a passion for the game. That passion is nurtured by parents and grandparents who sit on hard wooden benches in the heat for countless hours of practice, who pay for uniforms quickly outgrown, and who cheer when they win and encourage when they don’t. Those skills that become second nature are honed with the help of coaches who love the game and give of their expertise.


The same could be said for musicians, for dancers, for hockey and basketball players, for those who love to read and write. While there may be innate interest and talent, most of us don’t polish our talents in isolation. We have to show up again and again. We have to be taught. We have to experience the skill set in order to improve it and to come to love it.

If we are going to raise children and youth to love Jesus and to become active members of the community of faith, they need to be a part of the worshiping community. There are many congregations that do this well. Alas, there are many who don’t.

Several months ago, Ashley Dahl posted this photo on a Facebook group to which I belong, Child Loving Church. She noted that it is a picture of their Kid’s Corner at Calvary Lutheran Church in Willmar, MN. Included are activity bags, prayer cards for kids, Spark Story Bibles, copies of the Spark Family quarterly magazine and kid-friendly offering envelopes, all for use during worship.


I love the idea of kids sitting with their families or special friends reading in the Spark Story Bible the lectionary lesson being preached on that day in worship!

And, more recently, I learned of an innovative way to engage young children and their families in worship as practiced by Trinity Lutheran Church in Appleton, WI. They have installed several kid-sized tables and chairs in the very front of their sanctuary!

I contacted Pastor Brian Bankert to learn more about this and he graciously responded to my query with the explanation below of their creative inclusion of kids front and center!

Trinity Appleton WI sanctuary with kids tables

“I have been at Trinity for less than two years, so I can take no credit for this ministry.

However, Sue Ruppel was instrumental in making this happen. She has provided the following information/background to help answer your questions:

Yes, this is our set up.  We took out three pews on each side in order to make the front of the church more child-friendly.  We purchased a carpet remnant that matched the other carpeting in the sanctuary and had members install it.  Several of us had heard about this idea at the 2008 Children & Youth Summit we attended at Luther Seminary.  We were so excited about it that we figured out the configuration and implementation plan in the van ride back to Appleton.  We started with the ideas from the Conference:

Children are gifts and blessings from God that understand faith (don’t look at children as helpless and worthless; use the gifts they bring to worship)

  • Children can deepen that faith in the congregational community during worship (communion, sharing of the peace, intergenerational activities)
  • Children learn by engaging in the social aspects of worship (developing cross generational relationships)
  • Children learn and build leadership skills by actively engaging in the ritual and liturgical practices of worship (read lessons, greet, usher, write prayers, lead hymns/songs, learn call & response of liturgy)
  • Children learn that church/Sunday school/worship/etc. are safe places for them to share, build relationships, express their faith and welcome other children
  • It takes a child to make a congregation

A member volunteered to build the tables for us, we had the chairs from the Sunday School rooms and, each Sunday, different coloring pages and Children’s Bulletins are set out with the crayons for the children to use.  We’ve encouraged parents to sit in the front pews and the behavior of the children has not been an issue at all.  There are some simple books in the hymnal rack for them to read and, at certain services; we have rhythm instruments that the children play during the Opening Song of the service.  An adult would supervise the playing of the instruments, but after that, there wasn’t any ‘structured’ adult supervision — except that they were surrounded by adults.  It’s been very successful because the children can see what’s happening when the rest of the congregation stands up.  No one is blocking their view of the service. 

This was implemented with our Pastors Kurt and Mary Beth Kovanen (who now serve a 4 point parish in the UP) and emphasized again by our current pastor, Pastor Brian Bankert.  Pastor Brian felt it was a wonderful way to build a relationship with the children as they participated in the experience of worship while expressing their faith.”

Trinity Appleton WI 3Trinity Appleton WI 2

If you were a parent with young children who had just moved into the neighborhood and were looking for a church home for your family, I can only imagine that Trinity would quickly jump to the top of your list! And, I’ll bet baptisms at Trinity are a blast! I know where I’ll be worshiping whenever I visit Appleton!

Thanks, Ashley, Pastor Brian and Sue, for sharing your inspiring stories and photos!

Do you have a creative way to include kids as active, engaged members of your congregation, in worship and other activities? I’d love to hear about them!




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Beth A. Lewis, President & CEO Augsburg Fortress

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