Every other month, our church celebrates a Family Sunday where we keep the kids, youth and adults together all morning. If you’re from a liturgical/sacramental church, such as the Catholic, Orthodox, Anglican, Lutheran churches, etc. then this may sound very normal to you. The rest of us are more accustomed to running separate programs for different age groups: “main church” for the adults, “kids church” or “Sunday School” for the kids, and youth for… youth. There are some benefits to this approach, such as being able to tailor the content to the age and stage of the people present, but there are also a few significant drawbacks:
It makes it more difficult for children and youth to observe their parents worshiping God, hearing scripture and praying with the church community.
It can reinforce the lie that “real church” isn’t something that children or youth are welcome at or will benefit from.
It imposes a roadblock for parents in the process of spiritually training their children and youth.
It robs the elderly of the joy of children and young people.
It reinforces the assumption that all of your adults are already being offered the best kind of instruction / learning method / celebration style and that it couldn’t be improved upon.
There are multiple ways to address these issues of course, especially if you also have groups meeting in homes—something that I think is absolutely critical—but Family Sundays provide a few amazing benefits:
They let us hit reset if we’re trending towards any of the negative things above.
They remind us of Jesus’ words, “The kingdom belongs to such as these [children],” and let us put it into practice.
Powerful stuff happens when generations come together to worship God. We see incredible things every Family Sunday: God encountered, lives impacted, families healed and changed.
There are many ways to accomplish this and you’ll want to adapt it to your own context as appropriate, but here are some tips for getting started with a multi-generational, all-member-participating, family church meeting:
1. Change up the room
Church-goers are predictable. We usually sit in the same spot and talk to the same people. To force a change in mindset, change the seating arrangements. We meet in a gym at a community centre so it’s easy for us to change the layout of chairs. For Family Sundays, we set up long tables with chairs around them, encouraging people to talk to one another and not fall into the mindset of passive church consumerism. That includes having the MC/host, teacher, pastors, etc. walking throughout and around the people rather than just standing at the “front.” This obviously requires a wireless mic but if you’re reading a blog to improve your church service, you’re probably already good to go.
2. Participation / Interaction
The New Testament church was typified by the participation of every member. If your church looks and sounds more like a lecture—with a concert at the beginning—there’s room to encourage more participation. We try to foster this through intentional activities (more below) and also simply leaving room for people to organically interact and engage. That means not filling every ounce of their morning with “program” but leaving room for discussion, contemplation, eating, etc.
Nothing fosters discussion and community like food. On any given Sunday, we have fruit, crackers & cheese, cold cuts and tea & coffee available on a side table; on Family Sundays we put it out across all the tables. It helps to relax the atmosphere which invites friendship and promotes engagement. It’s also especially helpful when newcomers arrive on a Family Sunday and are a little bewildered: “Here, eat a donut… everything will be fine.”
Our worship leaders tailor their song choices to a morning with family participation in mind. That usually means fewer “intimate” worship songs unless we know our kids are up for it. It often means singing songs that the kids have been singing in Kids Church, and it also means the worship leaders can’t introduce their new favourite song that week (there are plenty of other Sundays for that). Worship at our church is very expressive: you’ll see people dancing, waving flags, laughing, crying, and jumping up and down. It’s our understanding that God is more than happy with us offering him the full range of our emotions. We make flags available for people to dance with and encourage children to join in.
5. Fun and games
I once heard a preacher bellow from the front of the stage, “Quiet those children down! This is the house of the Lord, not a playpen!” I categorically disagree, and I wager Jesus does too. Our community likes to have fun when we gather and you’ll hear plenty of jokes being cracked any time. On Family Sundays, we play games and do skits. Sometimes we’ll plan the games to intentionally reinforce the teaching theme for that day but we also just like to goof around. Laughter—and a little bit of adrenaline—helps people open up and encourages vulnerability.
My grandfather taught me that if a 12-year-old can’t understand your sermon, half the adults won’t either. He encouraged me to always preach to the 12-year-old in the room. On Family Sundays we loosen the typical structure of our meetings somewhat and flip back and forth between activity, teaching, game, teaching, skit, activity, teaching, etc. This means very brief, bite-sized teaching moments. We have plenty of kids younger than 12 present so I basically try to ensure about 60% of what I’m saying would make sense to a 6 year old and 90% of what I’m saying would make sense to a 12-year-old. It’s fine if a little bit goes over some people’s heads. Reality check: plenty of things you’ve said probably went over your people’s heads already.
7. Activities and practice
Skits and hands-on activities help cater to different learning styles. We cover all the tables with paper and put markers and crayons out. This helps more than just the kids, trust me. Our last Family Service was on the subject of prophecy (hearing God’s voice for other people), and we put out Bible character flash cards, as well as animal flash cards, for a simple exercise. Everyone was invited to partner up and quickly ask God which animal or character their friend was like and then encourage them with that. Simple activities like this encourage interactivity and you’d be surprised how touched many people were touched by this activity in particular.
8. Ministry Time
Part of our normal gathering is offering prayer to people at the end of a meeting. We encourage folk to come forward and our prayer team prays for anyone who wants it. That sometimes includes prophecy and even very light spiritual healing ministry, if the moment seems to warrant it. For Family Sundays, we often do this ministry at tables and invite everyone to take part. No special training required, just pray for your brothers and sisters. There’s nothing else in the world like watching a 5-year-old child lay their hand on an elderly person and ask for God to bring them peace and healing.
Quite often, we’ll provide some direction for this related to the topic at hand. Last time, I led people in a simple meditation, such as the following: “Put your hand on your heart and remember what you looked like when you were 5 years old. Now imagine that 5-year-old sitting in the lap of your current self. Ask Jesus what words of encouragement he would like you to say to yourself.” The tears were flowing in no time as people connected with God through a simple exercise that disarmed their rational, self-critical minds.
That’s it! If you give this a try (or if you already do things like this), I’d love to hear about it.
Here’s my final tip: don’t limit what God can do in your midst. He is able and willing to invade your gathering, transform your lives and take your community to new places. Don’t limit him. He is good and he is trustworthy. It’s his church anyway, so just let Jesus be the head of this body and see what he does with it. It’s worth the risk.