On Thanksgiving Sunday, I preached in the Presbyterian congregation where I grew up and my parents are still members. My daughters chose to attend service. Their godmother who lives in Miami was going to be there, and she’s too fun to miss. So, they sat in the pew surrounded by their godmother, her parents, their grandmother and great-aunt.
Tool #1: Help your kids build a community. My kids were happy to sit through their mother’s sermon if it meant spending time with people they enjoyed. Who do your kids enjoy seeing? Who do YOU enjoy seeing? Remember to include people of all ages. It takes time, energy, and persistence to build these relationships, but the reward is invaluable. Plus, it’s good for you too.
As we were driving home that Sunday, I asked my kids what they thought of the service.
My 9 year old: “Well, it was shorter than OUR services.”
I replied, “It was actually 30 minutes longer.”
9 year old: “What?! Well, it felt shorter.”
My 12 year old: “Mom, it was good.”
I know better than to ask a dumb question. Responses generally range from “boring” to “good” to dumb questions. I often get that response about a lot of things in their lives. But it’s no different than the “busy” response I get from adults when inquiring how they are. Amy Krause Rosenthal once wrote on such questions and responses: “How you been? Busy. How’s work? Busy. How was your week? Good. Busy. You name the question, “Busy” is the answer. Yes, yes, I know we are all terribly busy doing terribly important things. But I think more often than not, “Busy” is simply the most acceptable knee-jerk response. Certainly there are more interesting, more original, and more accurate ways to answer the question how are you? How about: I’m hungry for a waffle; I’m envious of my best friend; I’m annoyed by everything that’s broken in my house; I’m itchy.”
Read the rest here. It’s worth the read. Especially her response to the typical youth reply of “nothing.” Apologies, I digress.
Tool #2: Don’t ask dumb questions. If you want to know what your kids really got out of the service, you have to practice the Art of Asking Meaningful Questions. A general question never gets you anywhere. Go deeper.
Here are some examples, but you can do better based on the context:
- What one word did you hear the most? What words didn’t you understand?
- What song did you enjoy singing? Why? (Or what song did the congregation sing well?)
- Who would you light a candle for this week?
- Did you hear a message that helped you with what you are dealing with this week?
- When did you laugh today?
- Whose name did you learn?
Don’t ask a long series of questions. Just 1-3 questions; see where each one takes you. Don’t be afraid of pauses or rolled eyes or groans. If they make a joke out of it, laugh with them. (Remember, it makes a lasting memory later in life. “Dad always asked the weirdest questions after services….”)
You can also make it into a game. If you can answer two questions without rolling your eyes, you can have a mint from the welcome desk (or whatever treat you want).
When we ask meaningful questions, our children learn how to listen. Not only to sermons but to life in general. As they get better at listening, your questions can become deeper.
Don’t think you won’t have to answer a few questions yourself. Kids are the true Masters of piercing questions. They’ll ask the meaning of words and of stories. It’s okay to tell them you don’t know. I urge you to share how you experienced the service and how it matters in your life.
Tool #3: Go analog.
Children enjoy authentic conversations with their parents because they enjoy time with you. Whether they let you know or not, your full and undivided attention is the best gift you can give them. It’s rare these days. It’s become synonymous with “going analog.” So make family time together a priority after the service. Whether it’s making lunch together or going to brunch or taking a walk. Whatever your family enjoys that allows you to pay attention to one another and have meaningful conversations. [Warning: This may mean that you say no to other things.]
As always, let us know how it’s going! Share your joys and concerns with me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Next week, we’ll talk about children participating in and leading worship.
Don’t miss this Sunday: Our 5th Grade Rite of Passage at 9:30 am/11 am. People love this service. They can’t believe that 10 year olds are this thoughtful, hilarious, or committed. Rest assured, they’ll tell it to you straight.
Dates to Remember:
Sunday, December 9, 9:30 am/11 am: 5th Grade Rite of Passage
Sunday, December 16: Junior Youth Group Snowflake BBQ
Sunday, January 13, 9:30 am/11 am: Family Breakfast
Sunday, January 20, 9:30 am/11 am: SpiritLab returns
Sunday, February 24th through Sunday, April 7th: Spring Series of Children’s Small Groups
Saturday, April 27th evening: Passover Seder
Sunday, May 5, 9:30 am/11 am: Coming of Age (9th grade) Sunday
Sunday, June 2nd: Flower Communion Sunday