Here at Poplar Creek Church, we have two worship gatherings at 9 AM and 11 AM. When I came on staff, we changed our Children’s Ministries format and centralized our efforts at 11 AM, which meant removing the option of 9 AM Children’s Worship. We did this for a number of reasons, and though it was hard, it was the right decision for where we were at the time. So we invited children ages 3-12 to worship with their families upstairs, which I believe is meaningful in itself. But I wondered, how else can we encourage the children to engage in the worship service and have a time of learning and exploration?
I had seen other churches put out coloring pages or toys for the children, and we did the same for a time, though I didn’t exactly love it, as it seemed to be simply a distraction for the children during the worship gathering. How could we provide opportunities for the kids to pay attention to what was going on around them as well as provide activities for them to learn and enjoy the gathering at their own pace?
Partially inspired by other churches, I purchased some bags from Oriental Trading and went to work on preparing Activity Bags for our families. Each bag should contain a bag of crayons, a pencil or pen, some blank paper, a Bible, and an Activity Pack. (More on that later.)
At times we will include flyers about church events or programs, coloring pages, stickers or other gifts. Sometimes it’s hard to make sure the bags always have the right materials, so at the bare minimum I make sure each bag has a Bible, some paper, and some sort of writing utensil.
The Bibles we have here are NLT Hands-On Bibles and Jesus Storybook Bibles. We use both in our Sunday gatherings at different times, though we tend to use the Hands-On Bible with our Elementary children and the Jesus Storybook Bible with our Preschool children.
I created these Activity Packs, which are in no way perfect, so that children can be engaged at multiple levels.
The first page welcomes them and personalizes the pack with their name and the people they came to church with that day.
The second page encourages them to settle in to the worship service, listening to the songs or reading the church bulletin (which we have called the Interface).
The third page provides an interesting diversion that still teaches for kids to use whenever they are so interested.
The fourth page encourages them to read the Bible, but even if they don’t they learn truth and can participate in creativity.
The fifth page is for kids like me when I was younger– I just liked doodling!– so they can have some free space as well as enjoy a maze that also encourages them to look in the Bible.
The sixth page brings them back into the worship gathering, so hopefully if they remember the person up front they can recall what they taught.
Also on this page is a checklist to remind kids that many things can help us worship God– hopefully it encourages participation on an accessible level– “Look at all I did!”
The seventh page is also very simple but very profound– having a child draw a picture of God lets them process many questions: “Who is God? What does He look like? How should I draw Jesus?”
Finally, the eighth and last page is simply important info and a final message to the children and families.
I hope to make changes from time to time so it’s not a static object, but it’s also something that can be 75% different every time a child comes to church.
We first implemented the Activity Bags and Activity Packs on Easter Sunday 2014. We originally would place them near the entrance with these signs. Ideally we’d leave them upstairs for both gatherings so even if children didn’t feel interested in joining us at Children’s Worship, they’d have something to do. Unfortunately, in our church, the entrance is very small and quick, so I often tried to brainstorm better placement.
In Fall of 2014, we began offering a 9 AM children’s gathering, and we still utilize these bags. When families arrive at 9 am, a volunteer will welcome them and welcome the children. We will check them off for attendance and make sure we have their info, and if it is their first time, we inform them of our 9 AM format. Families stay together for the call to worship, for music, and for announcements and other special elements. Then towards the end of announcements, the morning host will invite the children to go downstairs with our Greenhouse Ministries volunteers. The kids head to the back of the room, line up, and we head downstairs. Sometimes we use the bags downstairs, sometimes not, and sometimes we allow the kids to just use their bags on their own.
It’s been an interesting project over time and I’ve certainly enjoyed providing these little bags and booklets for kids and families at Poplar Creek Church. Here are some pictures of how some of the kids have used the packs!
Feel free to contact me if you would like to know more! And click below for a pdf of the Activity Pack!