Can you keep whole families together in church?

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The normal practice of churches is to have a period of time together at the start when everyone is in the same room for singing and prayers. It’s normal then to send kids and sometimes teens out to their own activities whilst adults listen to a talk pitched at their needs.  Whilst there is a lot of debate about at what age teens should stay in for the sermon, it is the consensus that children should go out for Sunday School.

Now, at every church I’ve been to, it has been the norm for kids to have separate groups and that’s the case at our current church with the exception of a monthly all age service. I don’t expect that to change soon.  However, we have made some variations at a previous church when we added new congregations. It was the practice at our 930 service at Bearwood to keep the children in for much longer in the early days. They did go either to the back of the room for craft and colouring or out to a back room during the 20 minute talk as numbers grew but our aim initially was that the service would have an all age feel to it and we would be taught all together. We did this by actively including children in the sung worship time and by following the same teaching programme for all age groups so that we told the Bible story for the day to the kids in the main gathering.

However, I think it is possible to go further than that.  I don’t think it’s something you have to do but it may be helpful for some church plants, especially those starting with smaller numbers and meeting in houses to know is possible. This also means that if you hold all age services then these do not have to suffer from the reputation of being shallow and in reality children’s events. Instead, an all age service can be rich and meaningful. Here’s how I would do it.

The main difference, if you are bringing all ages together for everything is that I think you cannot put all the weight of teaching and proclaiming God’s Word onto a 40 minute traditional style sermon. This doesn’t mean that you cannot have points in the gathering where there is that type of teaching or that everyone has to be able to take in everything said to the same depth. It’s okay for children to know that there might be bits where it feels like what is said is a bit over their head, just as in a normal family, there’ll be times in the conversation where the focus is on communicating specifically to them and times when the conversation between adults will happen around them as they play or eat.

So, I would encourage you to think about different ways that you can keep coming back to the main teaching points throughout a service through different methods including using games, craft and the sung worship to reinforce things.  This means being careful to choose songs that fit well with the theme.

At a recent all-age service, we followed this pattern and you might find this helpful.  We were looking at the day of Pentecost from Acts 2 and had titled the service “The birth of the church”. It was part of a “Big Story” series of family services giving an overview of the whole Bible.

We began with a simple game, getting the children and some of their parents to order themselves by when their birthdays fall in the year.  We then talked about the key ingredients that go into celebrating a birthday.  Sarah then read the Bible passage from Acts 2 so all could hear it.  We then had singing.   After that, we got the kids together at the front and I sat and told them the story again.  I explained that we were going to get around tables in smaller groups and their parents would need some help to answer some questions about the Bible story.

We then gave people a set of questions about the first half of the passage. These were basic comprehension questions that most people could answer. There were a couple of questions at the end encouraging them to think deeper about issues in the passage and how it applies to our lives today.

After Sarah had gone through the comprehension answers with everyone, I then spoke for just 5 minutes on the second part of the chapter where Peter explains what is going on.  This enabled us to move to application.  Finally, we shared communion and during that time we picked up on some of the themes and application again, tying them in to communion.  We also followed up on Sunday’s subject with discussion at our midweek life group. 

What this meant was that there were multiple opportunities for people to hear and re-hear the main points of the Bible passage.  There were lots of points when children were engaging with their families. At the same time, we were also able to go in deeper and ensure there was practical application for all ages.

Whether or not you go all the way and make every service all-age (we won’t be doing at our church, though some who begin to plant: smaller, swifter, faster may go down this route), you may find some helpful ideas here for how you can include everyone in occasional or monthly all age services.

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