Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Singing together in church

In most of our churches, children are present for the first part of the worship service, but we don't always consider them (along with others) when choosing songs and hymns.

Some churches include a children's song in their 'time with the children", but what about the other songs we sing? And if there's a ‘children’s song’ does that mean all the other songs are not for them? When we (Kids Friendly) are asked by churches: “Can you suggest some children’s songs?” We suggest choosing songs that ALL God's children love to sing when worshipping together.

While there is a place for upbeat children's songs with actions it may not be in the all age worshipping community. Children too enjoy hymns and even the ‘oldie but goodie’ songs that the congregation remember singing as children.

“Churches often choose music and worship forms according to the taste of the children in their midst – but their tastes are not yet biblically formed. That is like letting first graders choose what they want to learn in school,” says Marvin Dawn in her book "Is It A Lost Cause? Having the Heart of God for the Church’s Children". (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1997, p.71)

"A children's story that can only be enjoyed by children is not a good children's story in the slightest," said C.S. Lewis. Could the same be true for ‘a children’s song?’

Do adults cringe as they sing silly words? Are children asked to come up and ‘perform’ the actions? We think there's a better way to share the richness of our faith through words and tunes that inspire us and sustain us for life.

We encourage church worship teams to carefully consider their context and how all ages can better participate together in worship, including the sung worship. Children bring their special gifts to worship and grow in their faith through regular inclusion and participation in the worship of the congregation.

Mike Burn, in his book “Family Worship 3” says: “In the secular world, the generations tend to be polarised, but in the kingdom of heaven, we are called to unity across all of the divides: national, cultural, denominational, generational. Where the world tends towards enmity and separation, we are called towards love and reconciliation. Surely that should be reflected in our praise and worship together? There are bound to be musical tastes and preferences which differ in the church, but if we "prefer one another in love", then there should be something for everyone in our worship. Music is one of the most powerful communicators, and when we can sing with one voice, it does something powerful in the spiritual realm in demonstrating that we really are one body.

It can be a real challenge for worship leaders to include and satisfy all ages, but a key is to choose songs which cross the boundaries of different ages, and embrace an attitude that everyone matters and should be included in worship.

“In the same way that we want to value and include children and youth in our worship, we should value and include older generations too. It's not a question of compromising and trying to placate all the different ages and preferences we find in the church, but rather a question of saying that every single person is valuable and therefore should be included in what we do together,” says Mike Burn.

“Family worship can be compared to a family meal time, where there is something for everyone. There are times when adults will dine without children, for example at a dinner party and times when children celebrate with their peers like a kids' party. There's nothing wrong with these occasions - they're wonderful, but we need the family meal regularly to express our togetherness, and ensure a healthy diet for everyone. So too we need times when we worship together as the whole family of God.”

And remember that church worship is a public communal activity not a private devotion.

“Some churches seem to treat sung worship as an ‘insular’ experience. This is reinforced with a practice of closing eyes to indicate fervour and earnestness. But worship is first and foremost a communal activity. I often encourage people to engage in ‘eyes open’ worship, to make eye contact and acknowledge one another. In Isaiah 6, the Seraphs are singing ‘Holy, holy, holy’ not to God, but to one another. They are reminding each other of God’s truth. Our children are particularly vulnerable to this ‘insular’ way of worship, and can even be seen as an obstacle to it. My suggestion is that worship with children needs to be communal and relational, not individual and internal,” says Malcolm Gordon, PCANZ’s Worship, music and arts enabler.




This blog is a collaboration between Kids Friendly and Malcolm Gordon

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Raising Up Young “Transformer” Leaders

Jennie McCullough is the

Children, Youth and Families Ministry

Leader at Knox Presbyterian Church

in Waitara. She has extensive

experience in discipling and

raising up young leaders.

By Jennie McCullough

A leader is a person of influence and we as children and youth leaders can encourage and teach our young people Biblical leadership which is leading by serving.

This style of leadership is transformational in a world that is totally self-centred and it makes an incredible impact in our churches and communities.

Servant leadership is key to growing disciples, those who put their trust in Christ, and are indwelled and empowered by the Holy Spirit. Those who are established in faith are called to disciple and mentor those new in faith. While many understand the importance of this, they often resist doing it. They claim they don’t know how. But really all that is required is for the more mature person of faith to journey with the beginner Christian. As C.S. Lewis said when asked what a mentor is: ““Think of me as a fellow patient in the same hospital who having been admitted a little earlier, could give some advice.”

Servant Leadership can be developed at any age and is especially effective if you start with young Christian people who are transitioning from childhood at the age of 11 and 12 years. Learning to serve in practical ways helps young people find their strengths and gifts. It also helps them find purpose and drives them to go deeper in their faith. During the mentoring process they establish relationships with people who become “significant others” and influence and guide them at a time when they are starting to individuate and explore values apart from their families.

During this process being part of a peer community is absolutely vital as this age group (11 to 17) need to travel together, often working according to the SBT (Saul, Barnabus, Timothy) principle. And don’t be tempted to segregate your young people by age. Integrating all ages provides a stretch and grow environment - the more mature demonstrating faith, knowledge, character and skill that the less mature can aspire to, which in turn develops their esteem, sense of purpose and acceptance.

Transformers – Raising Up Young Leaders is an initiative of Kids Friendly that introduces servant leadership to children age 10 – 13 years at a weekend camp. Mentors accompany children to camp and continue the mentoring and discipleship process back in their churches. To find out more see

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Sunday School – to be or not to be. By Jill Kayser

There's a lot of talk in the church currently about the future of Sunday School.

Our longtime friend Rich Melheim of Faith Inkubators promotes cross generational learning and worship through his provocatively titled movement “Killing Sunday School” and his facebook page is one to follow if you’re interested in building an intergenerational church.

One argument for promoting the “death” of Sunday School is that children gain as much (and possibly more) Christian education by worshipping with all ages than they do in an age specific classroom. However we have to be careful not just to “kill” Sunday School without ensuring that our style and content of worship is inclusive of children. I love Rev Alison Sampson’s suggestion that we should intentionally “interrogate” our worship service to make it more inclusive for all (see our past blog “Interrogating Worship).

I’m not convinced we have to take the “all or nothing” approach, but I do believe that we do need to seriously consider the arguments and research findings that today’s young parents are more inclined to respond to an event that enables them to worship with their children, than “drop them off” or be segregated according to age.

I enjoyed Rev Rebecca Kirkpatrick’s recent blog “Planting the Seed” sharing her experience of worshipping with their young son when they lived overseas working for Presbyterian World Mission. She found there were many benefits to being a part of a diverse and eclectic community of faith despite the fact that there were few children and no Sunday school for her son. At first she was concerned that he would miss out on the thoughtfully designed Christian education programme that he had in the States that exposed him to some of the great stories of the Bible, but soon realised that by not leaving worship to attend Sunday school, he was hearing over 150 readings from scripture (both the Old and New Testaments) as well as 80 sermons on those texts.

“This meant he recited the Apostles’ Creed the same number of times, watched me put our family offering in the plate the same number of times, and prayed the Lord’s Prayer just as many times,” says Rebecca.

“It also meant that for the first time I felt a personal obligation to be his primary Christian educator. In our previous congregation I was his pastor and helped to shape the curriculum that was used in his Sunday school classes, but with the hectic schedule of a pastor on any given Sunday morning, I relied heavily on my colleagues and the volunteers in our classrooms to mentor my child in the faith.”

“For the first time we read the Bible together as a family. For the first time we had a chance to talk about what happened at church that morning (on our way back from church on the Cairo metro). Even the experience of choosing the church provided some good opportunities to talk as a family about what we value in a faith community.”

While in Egypt Rebecca was working on my book that has been released this month from Westminster/John Knox Press - 100 Things Every Child Should Know Before Confirmation. 

“Writing that book gave me motivation to talk one on one with our son about different parts of the Bible and the Christian faith, often using him as a guinea pig for the ideas outlined in the book.

Watch out for this book which we’ll order for our Kids Friendly catalogue in the Hewitson library.

To read Rebecca’s full blog see Planting the Seed.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

How To Really Rock This Christmas Season! by Kaila Pettigrove

Summer is coming…

Imagine lying on the ocean, in a boat or on your back, just letting the waves rock you back and forth…back and forth. From birth, we find rocking a soothing motion – hence the popularity of cradles and rocking chairs (used at each end of our life!). Back and forth, back and forth.

And yet, before we can truly enjoy summer; we must “get through” the Christmas season. Hardly a back and forth –with pageants and prizegivings, candlelight and Christmas Day services – we are racing to go STRAIGHT THROUGH!

BUT WAIT!  Advent is coming…literally. As you know, advent means “coming.” Rather than going STRAIGHT THROUGH, it denotes the beginning of our circular church calendar.

As the Rev. Jerome Berryman explains in his book Young Children and Worship, the Church “tells time by celebrating the events of Jesus’ birth, life, death, resurrection, and his ascension and the gift of the Holy Spirit.”* The cycles and traditions of Advent and Easter add meaning and accomplishment to our lives. Children especially love ritual and repetition, and so do we! Whether you follow an advent calendar, light candles, or complete a series of acts of kindness; marking the time leading up to Christmas enables us all to build anticipation to the ending of one part of the church year and beginning a new one. We are all “born anew” when we celebrate the coming of Christ and God’s ultimate act of love in our lives.

What ritual will you incorporate into your church and your private life this season? How will we acknowledge our innate sense of rhythm and need for that repetition and cyclical feeling? Take a moment, swing on a swing or rock on a rocking chair. Then make a commitment to your advent ritual.

For more ideas, visit:

Kaila Pettigrove is a Part Time Kids Friendly Coach based in Auckland. Every year, she tries and tries to make space to celebrate Advent with her family.

Monday, November 2, 2015

The people of God in the work of God

I was meeting with one our “Kids Friendly” churches recently to help them review their ministry to and with young people and their families. It’s a church with a real heart for serving its community and one that invests abundantly in children’s ministry.

When our discussion turned to worship, the minister asked me what I had observed. I don’t really like to be the official “critic”, but my 12 years as Kids Friendly coach means I just can’t stop myself reflecting on how children could be better engaged in the time they are in worship with all ages.

As I shared some of my reflections, the minister responded that their church is not very “liturgical” so can’t really embrace the Kids Friendly suggestions for including children in worship.

Of course I disagreed, as every church, no matter its style of worship, can and must include children in worship if we are to help children belong, believe and become disciples of Christ. Christian educators have long recognised that people come to faith primarily by engaging in the practices of faith. And worship is one of our key practices of faith.

Pastor Alison Sampson in her article “Welcome Children” suggests we need to interrogate our worship (specifically the time children are “in”) to identify what more we can do to engage children. And she reminds us that when children are engaged, invariably adults are too! “It’s not about “dumbing things down,” she says, “but rather finding ways to add movement and symbolic actions that are interesting to all ages.”

In his blog “The sermon for children”, Pastor Randy Engle suggests “There are a host of ways to involve children in worship that are only limited to the creativity and boldness of worship planners.”

This minister and I had a good chat about our faith practices and ideas for involving children in them. I challenged the absence of children in communion the day I participated and discovered children are not invited to participate in communion at this church, not because of any theological objections, but just because they never have….

Hopefully these Kids Friendly conversations will continue, that’s if they invite me back!

The comment about their church not being “liturgical” really got me pondering, so when I got back to the office I followed my teenage son’s solution to all life’s quandaries and “googled” it. And this is what Mr Google had to say: “In the Christian tradition liturgy means the participation of the people of God in the work of God.”

Let’s invite all God’s people to participate in the work of God!

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Practicing the Eucharist

Have you ever intentionally observed your congregation as they participate in the sacrament of communion.  Maybe you're too focused on the sacred act (which is what I'm meant to be too), but 12 years in the role as Kids Friendly coach has trained me to be a "fly on the wall" of worship services. I can't help but see everything from the view of an outsider, especially, but not only, when it involves children (or not).

So in some churches I notice a basket of tiny squares of white packaged bread being passed along, followed by a precariously balanced tray of wee glasses of red juice.  We don't use each others names or say anything to each other. We don't even look at at each other.

At other churches we stand in long lines, some more reflective than others.  (It's not unusual at our church for adults to be chatting about the rugby score as they wait their turn).  Once when I took the kids out to teach them about communion, I reminded them to talk with God in their hearts (not their friends) while waiting to receive communion. Later when we returned to participate in communion I noticed the kids telling their parents off when they heard them chatting in line!

So what does our practice of the Eucharist say about us as "people of the way" and the way we eat and live together?  In her blog "Why the Eucharist is useless (unless we put it into practice)", Kathleen encourages us "God's people" to gather around a table as equals, sharing our lives and stories and pieces of ourselves as we journey through faith together. She suggests that when communion was reduced to an "object lesson, we lost something huge, a central component of our faith expression, a core practice that changed us from isolated individuals into a connected family."

I remember a couple of years back attending a World Vision "Just Church" conference.  Our lunch was a feast for well over 100 seated guests and became communion.  At specific times during the meal we were invited to stop and give thanks for the food we enjoyed, engage with each other and remember Jesus and his place in and calling on our lives.  It was very powerful and I could just imagine how amazing it would be to have all ages involved in this expression of communion.

In her blog Kathleen shares ways some communities of faith are seeking to bring back the table into worship.  Read more....

And while on the subject of communion you might enjoy Tim Schenk's post Kids and Communion: 10 things to tell them.

And don't forget to check out the many resources and articles we have on our Kids Friendly website on welcoming children at the table. And please share your experiences and resources with us too.
Click here to explore

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Welcoming all God's children - Disability and our Church by Jill Kayser and Antonnia Hannah

Some years ago I took a call from a young mum whose young son had Down Syndrome.  She was looking for a church to attend with him and following some hurtful experiences during her “church shopping” phase, she decided it would be best to phone a church before arriving on the Sunday morning to ask if she and her son would be welcome!  Now you may find this hard to believe, but it’s what happened.

Normally the caller would have been directed to the minister, but as our minister Pauline Stewart was out of town at the time, the receptionist put her through to “Kids Friendly Jill”.  I listened to the mother’s stories of exclusion and intolerance and assured her that she and her son would be very welcome at our church and that I would look out for them and sit with them that Sunday. 

A few years before we had welcomed three year old Max, (who also has Down Syndrome), and his family into our church, St Heliers Presbyterian.  I remember the delight we experienced when Max’s family (including his two year old sister Charlotte) joined us on our church camp.  When parents Antonia and Leigh emerged from their tent on Saturday morning we knew we, their church family, needed to “step up”.  Immediately a second tent was found and erected to create extra sleeping space for the family on Saturday night.  It was wonderful to watch the church family rally around to give attention to and play with Max and his sister Charlotte, giving their parents a little reprieve from their 200% parenting duties!  What a blessing that time was to us, and we hope they were a little blessed too.  It certainly was a great way to welcome them into the faith community,
Antonia Hannah and son Max
church and preschool.

Being “Kids Friendly” means extending a warm welcome to all God’s children of all ages and abilities. To help our churches reflect on how effectively they welcome children (and adults) with disabilities, we asked Antonia to describe her experience of church and to advise us on what we could do to better support families who have a child with a disability.

“New Zealand is more “advanced” than many nations in their approach to and treatment of people with disabilities, but there is still a level of discomfort and fear amongst many when relating to people with disabilities,” says Antonia.  “And this societal attitude is reflected in many churches.  People with disabilities can come to church, but churches are not necessarily aware of the disabilities and sometimes don’t provide adequately for them or consider what it is like for disabled people. ” 

Some of the questions Antonia suggests we ask ourselves as church leaders are:
·        Do we know / are we aware of the congregation members who have disabilities?
·        Do we have ramps that cater for wheelchairs, Zimmer frames, and prams, say access to the altar?
·        Are the visually impaired able to follow a sermon that relies heavily on PowerPoint?
·        Are families of children with disabilities affirmed and acknowledged?
·        Are they welcomed at our playgroups and coffee mornings?
·        Are there opportunities for discussions about disability?
·        Are inclusive values and love for those with disability taught to the children of the church?

“St Heliers Presbyterian Church definitely is a part of my son’s life and a place he feels welcome and safe,” says Antonia.  Antonia has set up a disability network at her church so that people with disabilities or family members with disabilities can connect.  However she is concerned that many churches rely on a good and empathetic minister rather than a systematic awareness of the diversity of needs. “I think it would be really helpful if Churches ensured that the voices of disabled people were heard and that opportunities for consultations with congregational members with disabilities were made available” Antonia says “In that way if disabled people are struggling either physically or emotionally at Church they can share this. As good as it is New Zealand, for many families it can be difficult being ‘different’ and feeling the warmth and kindness of fellow Christians can make all the difference”.

In 2014 Antonia attended a Council for World Mission conference on disability in Kuala Lumpur.  One of the outcomes of this conference was the production of a booklet helping churches to engage with and reflect on disability more deeply.  It also includes some practical steps churches can take to ensure that the rights of people with disabilities are met and that they are included in their churches and the community.  Download the booklet from  You can also view a document on ‘Disability Etiquette’ with information on enabling positive interactions.