The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America


Tuning out during worship

How can I get my child to particpate?

Q: How can I encourage my son, age 10, to tune in during worship? He's always trying to nap in the pew and never follows along with the community. It's like pulling teeth to get him to participate in the smallest of ways, and I find myself getting angry with him.

A: If you're tapping your son's shoulder to cue him to stand for hymns or nudging your daughter awake for the community's prayers, you're certainly not alone. Many parents feel their patience slipping as they teach their children to participate in worship.

designpicsSet a healthy bedtime routine on Saturday nights and offer a nutritious breakfast before Sunday worship. Some parents find sitting up front rather than in the back pews helps their children remain engaged.

Other moms or dads find that explaining the "whys" behind worship customs — from standing at the Gospel reading to sharing the peace — helps their children gain an understanding of what's happening around them.

When children learn about these traditions, they're more likely to want to participate rather than sit out.


Chris Duckworth

Chris Duckworth

Posted at 11:29 am (U.S. Eastern) 3/17/2011

Great ideas, above.

Of course, it's not only the kids. As a pastor who looks out on the congregation every Sunday, I note many adults whose attention wanders. ;-)

I think it helps to when congregations have services where things happen that involve our bodies, and not just our minds, for faith resides in our whole being and not only in our intellect. Music that inspires movement. Ritual action - such as the raising of hands, kneeling, and walking about to share the peace or walking forward for a blessing, communion, or annointing - that calls the body to embody faith. People of all ages can respond faithfully, respectfully, and reverently to such an experience of prayer and worship.

Also, are appropriately-trained young people involved in worship leadership, serving as ushers, lectors, crucifers, acolytes, communion ministers? Perhaps these aren't all roles for 10 year-olds, but if a 10 year-old sees a 15 year-old reading a lesson or raising her hands in prayer to lead the prayers of the church, I bet the 10 year-old will be watching and perhaps even asking when he can do that ...

But even a more reserved, traditional congregation has ritual action that children could be encouraged to enact - standing, sitting, singing, receiving, giving. Parents should play these up and invite their children to do these things.

Finally, pew-activities are often necessary, and should be church-related - a Bible coloring book, a children's Bible, something of that sort. The new Spark bulletin inserts are quite good, too.

Patty A. Smith

Patty A. Smith

Posted at 12:03 pm (U.S. Eastern) 8/27/2011

Pastor Chris,

As a Music Director, I totally agree with you about giving children ways to keep their minds focused on the service.  Some congregations provide scripture appropriate "activity bags" for children, use bulletin inserts based on the lessons, childrens' sermons....  It does work!

But now that we've solved the problems of the children; what do we do about the adults?  There are congregations that do not realize that the service starts with the prelude, but continue to talk.  The pastors have even shouted to stop the talking.  I've tried various things, at the several congregations where this happens, but to no avail.

Most are respectful, but what do you do when people no longer feel it's important to be in conversation with God, instead of their pew neighbors?  I try to set a mood for worship, but there are days when even I can't hear myself playing the music!!

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