Are all age services any use?

The All Age Family service is sometimes treated with a bit of suspicion, tolerated at best.  I’ve heard two objections to them. The first is that All Age worship excludes single people and those without children.  The second is that they prevent you engaging deeply with God’s Word.  Now, both of those things can be true, depending on what happens.  I’ve found myself cringing at times as I’m sure you have too.  However, I don’t think it needs to be that way.

First, and briefly, I don’t think that an all age family service has to exclude single or childless people.  At their best, they can function as a reminder that it is “family” because it is the whole church family and this includes all the different people present, parents and grandparents, singles and married without kids and it includes children too.

Secondly, I thought it might be helpful to offer a case study of an all age family service we recently did.  I’m not making any claims here about where we managed to get it right but if we missed any opportunities it’s because we booted the ball wide in front of an open goal.

A case study:  Christ’s gifts from the cross (1) Justification

We are following a series in our all age services this year looking at justification, sanctification, redemption, reconciliation and adoption.  In other words, we are tackling the Doctrine of Salvation with our whole church family.

We began with Sarah welcoming people, introducing the theme and signposting for visitors what would happen during the service. She explained that we’d provided some activities for younger children such as colouring and wordsearches but we wanted them to spend most of the time engaging with the corporate worship with their families.

The worship group then led us in sung worship with opportunity for people to pray, share testimony, prophecy etc as is our practice.  The musicians had chosen songs based around the theme. Sometimes they include a song that has been written with children more in mind, though this time they did not.

We then learnt Romans 5:1 as a memory verse. 

Therefore, since we have been made right in God’s sight by faith, we have peace with God because of what Jesus Christ our Lord has done for us. 

Romans 5:1 (NLT)

After this, I got the children to come and sit at the front for story time.  I told the parable of the man who turns up at the wedding without wedding garments.  This parable exemplifies an aspect of the doctrine of justification as we begin to think about what imputed righteousness is (I did not use that specific term) and being clothed in Christ’s righteousness.  This certainly exercised the children’s minds.  Why was the king so insistent on the change of clothes?  Was that fair.  We were going against the grain of today’s culture with that one.  This created opportunity for conversations afterwards about what the different clothes represent.

Then we read Romans 4:1-8 along with 5:1-2.  In small groups around tables we encouraged discussion. This involved all ages and groups included families and singles. Here are the questions we asked.

  1. Which two characters from the Old Testament does Paul use as examples when describing justification? (4:1, 4:6) Can we describe them as perfect/blameless? Do we know anything which they did which was far from ‘perfect’?
  2. Why does Paul insist that Abraham was not made right with God by his good works? (4:2)
  3. How was Abraham made right with God? (4:3)
  4. What is the difference between a gift and a wage? (4:4.)
  5. How are we made right with God? (4:5)
  6. What are the benefits of justification/being made right with God? (4:7-8, 5:1-2.)
  7. How do the things we have read in the Bible today apply to our lives? How will knowing what we have talked about have an impact on you in the week ahead?

You will notice that the questions are designed to encourage detailed exegesis of the text.

Sarah led a discussion, altogether after this, enabling key points to be drawn out. Then we sang again, to help further reflection on the last question, “Before the Throne of God above.”

After this, it was almost time to wrap up.  I highlighted a few of the things that we were beginning to see about justification, that it is to do with grace, a gift and  that this stops us boasting, it humbles us. I then talked about how it is a legal term and the difference between justification and excuse.  Finally, I told Martyn Luther’s story of the prince and his bride to show the great exchange that we see between Christ and us. 


I want to suggest that following this kind of approach enables you to engage the whole church family including children and also people who are new to the Gospel.  It doesn’t need to exclude those without children and nor does it have to be the enemy of going deep.  We were able to dig deep into the Bible and begin to understand better an amazing Gospel truth. 

Personally I’m a convert to the all age service.  I think there is an important place for gathering all ages together, the whole family to worship God and to hear him speak to us.

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