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Kids’ Worship: Where We Are

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You’re going to laugh when you see what inspired this series of posts.

But, that’s something I’ll share on Monday.

Today, I want to give you a glimpse into where we’re at with kids’ worship at our church and the impact our shift has made on our camp experience as well as the massive VBS that we run in the summer.

Sunday Mornings: Keeping it Simple

One of the best things about killing off music on Sunday mornings was that it allowed us to rebuild intentionally.  We were able to make singing fun again and slowly begin to shape what worship looked like for our kids because of that.  On a typical Sunday, the music time our kids experience doesn’t look incredibly different from the back of the room than most kids’ program out there.  But, the view I get from up front every weekend is amazing – our kids actually worship Jesus through singing.  It rocks.

A typical Sunday looks like this:

I do a typical welcome from the front of the room, introduce myself and give any quick announcements we might have.  This allows kids to transition from coming into the room to finding a seat and looking forward.  It also gives our small group leaders time to find a seat in the midst of the kids.

We then launch into singing with two fast/fun songs.  One of those songs always has a teaching element to it – whether that’s because it’s a Bible verse set to song, has a theme that ties into the morning, or anything else I can leverage to make that song mean something to the kids.  The other fast song is simply joyful.  We reinforce two ideas with this set up – a) the words to songs matter and b) singing songs at church can be FUN and even feel like a mini rock concert.

We always wrap up our time of worship with a song that our kids might hear if they went to church w/ their parents or if their family listens to CCM around the house.  As an introduction, I always talk about thinking through the words to the song and I’ll teach through any tough words that might be in the lyircs (God of Wonders, for example, is a favorite for our kids… but the word “Tabernacle” means nothing to a second grade girl.  So, I talk through the words we’re about to sing before we sing them).  I’ll tell you something – it took a year of teaching kids that singing songs at church can be fun and that the words to the songs we sing matter before I even started adding a third song to our rotation.

Nothing I just wrote should be revolutionary by any means.  However, being intentional about the songs we sing and the way we made our transition has changed the way our kids worship in song.  Our kids are just as likely to sing along to Fee’s “Glory to God, Forever” when it plays on our Sunday morning mix as they will to “Fireflies” by Owl City (that’s right, Owl City is on our Sunday morning mix… I’d hope you’re not offended by that).  What’s even cooler is the impact this shift has had on worship in other settings.

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Leading the pack at VBS

Our VBS is abnormally large.  The picture about is a picture of about 1/5 of the room we host our worship time in.  But, that’s not the point of this aside.  Rather, the atmosphere of worship at VBS has changed dramatically since we overhauled our Sunday morning worship.  VBS at our church was once a place where kids just sang along to songs.  If a kid was engaged in the music, they probably were from a different church in town.  In fact, kids visiting church for the first time at VBS would have assumed that our kids were visitors too – they took no ownership over that time and really only enjoyed the fact that they could be loud in the church’s sanctuary without getting in trouble.

We live in a different reality now.  Half the songs we sing at VBS are songs you’d hear if you visited our church’s modern worship service on a Sunday morning – and our kids LOVE the time they get to spend in worship.  We run one of the most visitor-friendly VBS programs I know of (over half of the 1200 kids and students in attendance this last year have no church home on Sunday mornings), and yet our kids create such a cool environment by singing their hearts out during the song portion of the morning that their friends join right in.

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Living it out “up the mountain”

Twice a year, our kids make the trip up the mountain to camp at Forest Home (www.foresthome.org).  I circle back to talking about camp because this is the place where I first got the sense that our kids didn’t understand worshiping God in song.  And, by “got the sense”, I mean to say that our kids napped and cracked jokes during worship the first time I took our kids there 4 years ago.

As you can see in the picture above, our kids aren’t those kids anymore.  Instead, we’re the obnoxious church that jumps up on stage to lead everyone in crazy camp songs.  Our leaders (each cabin has an adult leader, assisted by a high energy high school or college age assistant) struggle to sing louder than our campers.  One of the things I love about Forest Home is that I get a set list of songs they’ll be singing at camp that I can teach our kids before we head up – our kids already have the songs in their heads by the time we get up there so that everything that happens is an expression of their hearts.  For us, what happens at camp is an amplified version of what happens on Sunday mornings – I’m thrilled to say that it’s amplified enthusiasm rather than what was once amplified boredom.

Where we’re heading

I’m excited to say that I’m happy with where we’re at these days in the arena of kids’ worship.  However, I still know we have areas we can grow in.  Monday’s post will talk through my hopes and dreams for the future of kids’ worship at our church.  I’ll actually lead in with a bit of a Fail that recently happened as we continue to try to make our worship experience more interactive and kid-lead.

Here’s a recap of this series so far:

Our Journey” gave some scope to the series:

https://westcoastcm.wordpress.com/2010/11/14/kids-worship-our-journey/

Karaoke Worship” took a look at where our journey started, with kids totally disengaged by the video worship we were providing:

https://westcoastcm.wordpress.com/2010/11/16/kids-worship-the-church-of-karaoke/

Nothing is Better than Something” talked through the at-first-unpopular choice we made to stop singing altogether on Sunday mornings:

https://westcoastcm.wordpress.com/2010/11/17/kids-worship-nothing-is-better-than-something/

Starting Simple” talked about the first steps in our process in re-teaching kids how to worship God through singing… and kind of hinted at how Video Curriculum can hurt your ministry if your team isn’t actually facilitating what’s going on in the room:

https://westcoastcm.wordpress.com/2010/11/18/kids-worship-starting-simple/

 
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Posted by on November 20, 2010 in Kidmin

 

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Kids’ Worship: Starting Simple

Let me set up the videos above. As in, if you watch them first, you’ll be watching them out of context.

For those of you unfamiliar with video curriculum, many ministries in the last decade have moved to leveraging multimedia when it comes to the Sunday school arena.  Video curriculum gives you lots of options – many even come with pre-packaged worship sets that you and your kids can sing along with… no music skills required.  A little over 4 years ago, that was an attractive selling point to our church – a church in a leadership transition with a history of good kids’ programs.  So, imagine you’re a 4th grade boy visiting our church for the first time on a Sunday because your friend invited you.  You walk into the large group space a few minutes late and see a bunch of kids staring at a giant screen in a dark room and the above video is going.

Now… go ahead, watch the videos.

There are churches that have a group of kids’ ministry leaders who can pull off singing along to songs like what you see above.  The team sells it, they teach the songs beforehand to the kids and they pull it off.  We didn’t have that team of leaders.

And so… our kids sat there.  Staring at the screen while my heart was breaking.

If you’ve been following along with this series, you know that a few years ago, the kids in the elementary ministry programs at our church were having a hard time engaging in the time of the morning we would spend singing songs.  So, we killed singing on Sunday mornings in an effort to re-teach our kids about worship.

It wasn’t a popular move, but sometimes deciding to do nothing is better than just doing something out of habit.

Now, fast-forward a bunch of months and you’d find us at a point where I was ready to bring music back to the kids on Sundays… I just had to figure out where to start.

Worship should be joyful

The first thing I felt like we needed to teach the kids at our church was that singing songs at church can be fun.  For many, this isn’t a new concept.  But, for kids who had experienced karaoke worship to songs that they had never heard before, making worship a joyful experience was a priority.  Understanding that there’s a difference between joyful songs and silly songs was an important thing for our team to understand during this transition.

Having only served in ministry on the West Coast, I can’t make an assumption about kids in the rest of the country… but, I can tell you this – if I would have stood in front of our kids and started singing “Father Abraham”, “He’s got the whole world”, or “Kumbaya” on a Sunday morning, my kids would have stormed the stage and punched me in the throat.  We’re talking about 4th and 5th graders who already think that singing at church is lame – if I reinforce the stereotype, we’re doomed.  In the same way, if I simply found a “better” video curriculum to sing along with, our kids might have flashbacks to the experiences I was trying to distance them from.  Again, this isn’t to say that certain songs are bad or that video curriculum is deficient – we just needed to go a different direction.

Doing what isn’t easy

While I was on staff at Lake Avenue Church in Pasadena, CA, I worked with a guy named Tim Scheidler.  The way I lead large group teaching is a result of working alongside Tim for years.  I remember a Sunday sometime around Thanksgiving that Tim was out of town and it was my job to lead worship for the morning.  I bombed.  It was then and there that I decided that I needed to learn an instrument well enough to lead worship.  However, I didn’t put the time and effort in until years later when I realized that the ministry I was leading needed to make a shift in worship and that I was going to need to lead our team through it.
(If I could go back and coach myself on one thing, this might be the thing that I’d make myself work on… having the ability to play an instrument in your ministry tool belt is pretty invaluable)

So, I learned how to play a guitar.  I wasn’t great overnight – it took a ton of time to figure out what I was doing.  But, I decided to put in the effort to do what was important for the future of our ministry.  Down the road, I fully planned on passing off worship leading to others in our ministry.  But, at the time, I felt like I needed to be able to model for them where we were going.

Starting Simple

So, the Sunday came when I was ready to bring music back.  We were beginning a series on the Fruit of the Spirit (I used the natural transition of a series to introduce something “new”) and I wanted to pick a sort of “theme song” that would carry us through the next 5 weeks.  I also wanted to pick a song that was joyful and that was newish to the majority of our kids (remember, I wanted to distance myself from the idea that music at church was a) only for little kids and/or b) lame).
So, I picked this song… or at least my own version of it that I picked up from my buddy, Tim, while at Lake Ave.

The Fruit of the Spirit song is goofy enough to be fun, interactive (we let the kids “pick” the next fruit we’re going to sing about… and we only do 3 fruits to keep the song shortish), our kids didn’t already know it, it elevated the main teaching during the series, and it’s a song that I could play on my guitar.  I had slides on the big screen that listed out the words and, because I wasn’t singing along to a recording, I could take pauses to teach kids the next part of the song before we just threw it at them.

After that series, I began to work a second song into the morning.  I tried to choose one song that would elevate the morning’s message and another song that would be fun to rock out to (think “Every Move I Make” or my buddy Eric Shouse’s version of “Superhero“.

We did a whole year of just two songs, reinforcing the idea that worship in song can be a joyful experience.  Tomorrow’s post will catch us up to speed with where we’re at today, with Friday’s post wrapping things up with some thoughts on where we’re heading.

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During this blog series, I continue to receive comments, facebook messages, DMs on twitter and emails from others in kids’ ministry who have found themselves in similar situations.  Part of why I wanted to blog this transition is because I think a lot of us have faced this very problem – especially in terms of elementary programs and ministries.

I’m also hearing that the ideas behind our transition are bigger than just kids’ worship on Sunday mornings.  I totally agree!  If your ministry has been through transitions that you’ve written about, feel free to post links in the comments section.  We only learn from each other when we stop lurking in the shadows of blogs and start actually sharing ideas and dreams with each other.

 
6 Comments

Posted by on November 18, 2010 in Kidmin

 

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Kids’ Worship: Nothing is Better than Something

Have you ever had to change something, but didn’t know where to start?

That’s where I found myself a few years ago when the kids at the church I began working at didn’t know how to worship God in song.  They knew how to sing along to stuff they liked… but watching them try to sing along to songs at church was kind of like bad karaoke.

So… my solution: don’t sing.  Seriously, for a few months, we just stopped singing on Sundays.  That might sound a little harsh, so let me explain the 3 core values that led me to that decision.

Value # 1: Relationships matter more than programs

I didn’t inherit a program without volunteers already in place, so I knew that any changes I brought about could result in massive amounts of hurt feelings if those decisions seemed like personal attacks.  With that in mind, I knew that any large changes might hurt future relationships with my volunteer team.  In fact, just writing out this process is taking me hours longer than I initially thought it would because I don’t think that the team that was in place was doing anything wrong.  They were doing the best job they knew how to do… and I didn’t want to be the young guy who came in with guns blazing, hitting their hearts in the crossfire.  With that value guiding my process, I knew that I’d have to make this transition carefully and that there’d have to be a few extra steps involved.

Value # 2: Singing is not the same as Worship

Worship in song is one way that we express our hearts to God… but it’s not the only way we worship God.  So, when we decided to get rid of singing on Sunday mornings for a season, we made sure to talk with our kids about other ways that we worship Jesus – through prayer, through service, through caring for others.  By doing this, we were able to distance our kids from thinking that singing at church meant pseudo-singing along to dvd’s and we used the transition as a teaching moment.  Our team wasn’t taking away our kids’ ability to worship… we were actually teaching them about worship in the midst of the transition.

Value # 3: Nothing is better than something

This isn’t a rule, it’s a value of mine.  Values influence decisions, but they don’t force them.  There are plenty of times when other values overrule this one – for example, running youth programs for the last few months has taught me a thing or two about learning as I go along.  There are times when you start something before it’s where you want it to be and you shape it as you go along.  However, in this case, I decided that not singing on Sundays was better than teaching the kids that going through the motions is okay.  When navigating transitions in a new place, I always try to use baby steps.  Our first baby step was getting rid of singing on Sundays.  Our next baby step was making singing fun again… but, that’s a post for tomorrow.

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During this blog series, I’ve already received comments, facebook messages, DMs on twitter and emails from others in kids’ ministry who have found themselves in similar situations.  Part of why I wanted to blog this transition is because I think a lot of us have faced this very problem – especially in terms of elementary programs and ministries.

If you are currently in a spot where the kids in your ministry don’t know how to worship in song, please know that you’re not alone.  There is a kidmin community that exists to support you and speak into your world – don’t be afraid to send a message to me or others in our field to ask for advice.  Though your situation has unique aspects to it, it’s always good to bounce ideas off of friends who’ve been down similar paths – at the end of the day, we need to be about building the Kingdom not just our own little castles.

 
5 Comments

Posted by on November 17, 2010 in Kidmin

 

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Kids’ Worship: The Church of Karaoke

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(These are not our kids… but their expressions are pretty similar to the faces ours were making during the Karaoke Worship era)

Karaoke Worship

It feels like it was just yesterday that I walked into our church’s Elementary ministries program for the first time… and I still remember how odd the music time felt.  The church had shifted to a video curriculum and the kids simply stood there during the music time and watched music videos to songs that they had never heard of.  After a couple weeks of observing the program, I had the opportunity to join a group of our kids and parents on a trip to a nearby Christian winter camp.

I wasn’t shocked at what I watched: our church kids had no idea how to engage in live worship.  In fact, what shocked me was that they took naps, laughed at other kids, and basically boycotted the entire idea of singing along with the rest of the group.

I want to take a moment to say that I don’t think video curriculum led to this behavior.  I also want to say, for the sake of my friendship with Staci Travisano (@stacitrav), that I don’t think that Karaoke is all that bad.  What I think led to this behavior was the thought that something was better than nothing.

Our church made a move toward video curriculum during a time of transition.  The neat thing about video curriculum is that it can give you a ton of options for your programming.  The not-so-neat thing is that you can sometimes feel like you have to use everything you pay for… so, you just push play and let the dvd player do the ministry.

The result of a push-play ministry, for us, was a misunderstanding of worship.

We didn’t have someone on our volunteer team that had a heart for leading worship, and so we outsourced our music to a dvd player.  Our kids learned that worship was watching music videos and singing along if they felt like it.  It was like watching bad karaoke… like when you’re at a karaoke bar and you hear your name called, even though you didn’t put your name on this list.  You pretend to try to sing along because you feel like you have to… but everyone knows that you’d rather be anywhere else.  On Sundays, our kids would rather be anywhere else while music was playing.  And it broke my heart.

So… once I felt like I’d earned enough capital with our volunteer team and the key parents in our church, I killed off singing in our Elementary ministries on Sunday morning.  Tomorrow’s post will dive into that mess head first.

During this series, I’ll be covering our journey and will be open to opening up discussions as they arise.  Remember, you can always add your voice to the conversation by posting comments below, sending me a message on facebook (www.facebook.com/anthonyprince) or contacting me via twitter (twitter.com/anthony_prince).

 
7 Comments

Posted by on November 16, 2010 in Uncategorized

 

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