Combine a squirrely child with an hour-plus church service and it's no wonder the child (and the parent) can have a hard time paying attention. You've probably tried distracting your child with toys, bribing him with snacks, even threatening him with a look that says "Be quiet right now, or you'll spend the rest of your life in your room."
But helping your child enjoy church doesn't have to be difficult. With a few creative worship-related activities, you can encourage your wiggly one to pay attention to the service and even understand what's happening.
Try using a couple of these suggestions each week.
1. Go to the head of the class.
To limit distractions, help your child choose a seat near the front of the church, with a good view of the altar and pulpit. This allows him to watch the musicians and feel "up close and personal" with the pastor. Before the service starts, talk about the difference parts of the churchthe altar, the pulpit, the baptismal area, the communion rail, or anything else that might be interesting to your child. Encourage your child to notice how the pastor uses these different parts of the church during the service.
Bonus Points: During the week, take a field trip to the church. Introduce your child to the pastor and other members of the worship team. Let him explore the equipment and different vantage points in the sanctuary. This cuts down on the squirming involved in a visual exploration of the sanctuary during the service itself.
2. Win, lose, or draw.
Bring a sheet of paper and a crayon or marker to help your child take "notes" during the service. She can start with simple pictures of what she sees and hears, moving to words as she gets older.
If your child is very young and needs help drawing, take some time before the service to draw stick figures to represent the pastor and any other players in the service. If the Scripture readings are based on a Bible story your child knows, such as Daniel or Noah, draw the people and animals from the story.
After church, ask your child to tell you about her pictures and write down what she says. You might even save these "worship notes" in a special scrapbook.
Bonus Points: During the week, prepare listening guides with your child. Find pictures of words he'll probably hear during the service: church, cross, Bible, Jesus. You can find these kinds of pictures in computer clip art, church-related publications, and stickers from a Christian bookstore.
Words and concepts used in church are almost a foreign language to many of us (especially children). Allow your child to whisper to you when he hears an unfamiliar word. After a quick explanation, write down the word to talk about later. When the pastor talks about something your child is familiar with, point it out to him. For example, if your family likes VeggieTales and the minister talks about facing problems, you might whisper, "That's just like 'Dave and the Giant Pickle.' "
After church, praise him if he listened well, and talk with him about ways to apply what he has heard to his own life.
Bonus Points: During the week, encourage your child and his friends to play church. Let them be in charge as you take the role of parishioner. This is a great way to see what your child thinks church is all about and clear up any misconceptions he might have. Your conversations become a natural extension of the sermon.
Look over the bulletin together. Ask your child to help you find and circle activities that might involve your whole family, such as songs, prayers, or readings. Underline unfamiliar words you can discuss later. If the order of service is listed, draw an up arrow for when to stand and a down arrow for when to sit.
Star the songs she knows or have her look them up in the hymnal before the service starts. If there's a song sheet, discuss words she may not know. Teach her the refrain of any new songs, so she can participate.
Write out a list of words the minister might use during the service and have your child listen for them, putting a star by the ones she hears. If your child can't read yet, use pictures instead. To make this a competitive activity, put the pictures or words on a bingo-like grid and let your kids race to fill in their lists. But remind them not to yell "Bingo!" during the service.
Bonus Points: During the week, help your child make her own word lists. Help her think about words she usually hears in church and write them down or draw pictures on a small sheet of paper. Increase the number and complexity of the words as her understanding grows.
5. The ungame.
Buy a notebook for every family member. Let everyone personalize and take his or her own notebook to church. Tell your kids they can use their notebooks to record sermon notes, write word lists, and note questions they might have about the service or sermon. Before your family leaves for church, have your children write out one question you'd like them to answer in their notebooks:
"How does the music make you feel?"
"What are three things you enjoy about church?"
"If you could ask the pastor one question about today's sermon, what would it be?"
Bonus Points: During the week, use everyone's notes to review the message. Talk about ways you can apply what you've learned and discuss questions or misconceptions.
And the winner is.
Everyone! These games will do more than simply help your children make it through the service. They'll allow you to integrate church into daily life. And you'll enjoy a wonderful closeness with your child in this special aspect of life.
Barb Jenista and Sue Miholer can be contacted at JENISTAB@hotmail.com for more ideas.
Reprinted from Christian Parenting Today (November/December 2000), © 2000 Barb Jenista and Sue Miholer.
Yes, Jesus Loves Her
When visiting missionaries got to the end of their presentation at our church and extended the invitation to accept Jesus Christ as personal Savior, I felt a tap on my shoulder.
"Lori wants to go to the altar." I ignored the tap and the comment.
The tapper persisted. "Lori wants to go to the altar!"
My 38-year-old sister Lori was born with Down Syndrome. The doctor predicted that she wouldn't walk, talk, or eat on her own. Lori proved them wrong.
Still I had grown up being teased and embarrassed at having a "different" sibling. It took me a long time to appreciate Lori's gifts of purity and simple trust.
Now my sister, with the mental capacity of a six-year-old, walked slowly to the front of the church on my arm. I asked her why she wanted to do this.
"I love God, I love Jesus."
After the missionary prayed that God would show his love to Lori in a way she could understand, we returned to our seats. I noticed a visible change in her.
Just then she pumped her arms in the air and proclaimed, "I love Jesus! I love Jesus!" At that moment, she understood better than I did the transforming power of God's grace.