Every once in a while, a child hits us with a profound thought that comes out of their innocent point of view. It causes us to rethink our preconceived notions, brings us back to reality, or merely simplifies our outlook. Then we lovingly and a bit sarcastically quote, “And a little child shall lead them.” It’s true that kids can point out the obvious and teach us a thing or two, but, as Tina Houser asks, what if we intentionally taught them to lead? What if we encouraged them to lead? And—are you ready for this?—what if we encouraged them to lead adults?

Small and medium-size churches, sit up and take notice of what I’m going to say here because you’ve got an advantage over megachurches. Because of the intimacy and the small community atmosphere of your congregation, you have an incredible opportunity to make something wonderful happen, not just with the children in your care, but also with the entire church. You’re at the advantage because of your size! 

As part of your programme, children can learn about leading worship, and I’m not talking about leading other children. Children, when given direction and supervision, can be a remarkable addition to the leadership of the corporate worship service. 

In megachurches, there are so many talented and capable adults who can lead, but it’s not always the case at the more common size local congregation with its three-digit attendance. It’s a perfect environment to introduce children to what it means to lead in worship and to have instilled in them that they truly are important to this particular body of believers. 

The benefits of child-led worship to the congregation are numerous. These include:

1. Enthusiasm

When children are included in worship leadership, they bring with them a certain enthusiasm and light‑heartedness, and that’s something everybody needs to be reminded of. After all, the scriptures tell us, “The joy of the Lord is your strength” (Nehemiah 8:10). Children bring a smile, either to our faces or to our hearts, but really what they bring is strength. 

One of the most difficult things for anyone to do when they come into worship is to leave their worries of everyday life at the door and give God their undivided attention. Children have a blessed way of breaking down barriers, refocusing our attention, and moving us physically into a more relaxed state. With that accomplished, everyone is definitely more ready to worship. 

I heard a lady say one day, “When I walk in the door on Sunday and see that the children will be singing, I know it’s going to be a good morning. They always set the tone for praising.” They change an atmosphere of quiet and tradition and stoic faces to one of celebration and praise!

2. Hope

When children are involved in the corporate worship leadership, it gives adults hope. It’s easy to feel hopeless when every form of electronic communication delivers news of disasters and moral failures. The trap of hopelessness snatches people when they’re in the middle of a personal crisis. But when we witness children ‘getting it’ and really leading with their hearts, it fills that empty tank with fresh hope. They realise that what we’re doing here does matter. We are making a difference. 

Our commitment to the Lord with our time, money and dedication will change tomorrows because of these children. As attorney and author John Whitehead is often attributed as saying, “Children are the living messages we send to a time we will never see.” Hopelessness makes us fear the message that children might take into the future, but witnessing children truly worshipping revives the hope that the living message we send to that time we will never see is a message full of God’s promise.

3. Inspiration

Children can also be an inspiration and motivator for adults. When adults witness children reciting passages of Scripture by memory, they can’t run from that moment when they are challenged to rethink what they’ve personally done to engrave God’s Word on their own hearts. 

Families who know how much time and rehearsal have gone into being able to give God their best can’t help but re-evaluate how they prepare for being part of worship. It breaks my heart when adults get up to share a solo, and they start off by saying, “I didn’t know what to sing, and this song came to me this morning in the shower.” What a terrible attitude for anyone to admit and an awful message to send to kids. 

Children, in contrast, take the part they play in worship seriously and will work for months in order to participate. That kind of commitment will raise the bar for adults as they contemplate their part in the service.

4. Growth

Another delightful benefit of including children in worship leadership is that it leads to numerical and spiritual growth. Grandparents who have not attended church in years have been known to start coming because their grandchildren were regularly part of the worship leadership. That led to those grandparents offering their hearts to the Lord and families being changed. School teachers invited to see one of their students in a musical led to devoted and hungry disciples of Christ. 

Children have enormous influence over what adults do and are anxious to share what they are doing in worship with the special people in their lives. The inhibitions of asking someone to join you at church that seem to be part of getting older aren’t yet present in kids. They are anxious to invite others to anything that is exciting to them, and leading worship is just that. When was the last time you really sensed that an adult was excited about leading worship? Oh, yes, a little child will lead them.

5. Children’s ministry

As the children get more and more involved in worship, it will benefit your local children’s ministry efforts in unexpected ways. The adults who make decisions at the church will have a more positive attitude about other things that are going on with the kids. They will be more likely to allocate funds and lend their support and encouragement because they witness something powerful going on. 

In a smaller church, pastors are often not as hesitant to give children that initial opportunity to lead in worship, and maybe that’s because there’s a common atmosphere that “we’re all family here.” Those opportunities lead to lifelong commitment to worship leadership and accepting the call into full-time ministry. What pastor wouldn’t love to look back in retirement and know that they were part of that?

Child-led worship fundamentals

There are some key elements to keep in mind, though, which keep children’s leadership from having a ‘show and tell’ performance characteristic and move it toward actually getting all ages to focus their hearts and minds on worshipping God.

First of all, monitor the vocabulary you use. Drop the words performance, show, recital and act from anything you might say to the children when referring to the part they will play in the worship service. It is critical to teach a humble attitude of offering yourself to the Lord, an attitude that is expected of anyone who leads in worship. 

This attitude has to be the focal point of everything you do with the kids as they prepare. If the children approach what they are doing in the worship service the same as they would their part in a music recital or school play, then there’s no reason to do it. Their mindset must be to bring God glory, not to get any kind of applause themselves. Waving to parents and bowing for applause have no place, because they don’t fit into the purpose of pointing others to God.

By watching adults, children may get locked into thinking that leading worship means singing. Singing is a great way, but kids can introduce adults to other ways. Individually or in small groups, kids can share memorised passages of Scripture, be included on the worship team, share an offertory on the instrument they play, learn sign language to a song, ring bells, be included in a skit, or make a video representing the theme of the service. You might just find the adults swiping a few ideas for themselves.

Leading in worship is the perfect place to teach children to serve the Lord with excellence. God deserves the best we have to give. He doesn’t ask us to be perfect, but he does ask for our best. We can do that by being totally prepared. As the children work toward the day when they will share in worship, help them understand that if they’re not completely ready, then their part will have to take place at a later time. Our serving should never be half-hearted or make-do. It’s not uncommon for children to work for months preparing for one service. What a great example!

First steps

If you’re in a small or medium-size church and are wondering what kind of impact children’s ministry could have on your congregation and community, make one of your first steps to find ways that kids can share in worship. Be ready for a transformation because your church will love it! 

Story: Tina Houser

After 40 incredible years in children’s ministry within the local church, Tina thrives on being able to train those who share her passion for reaching kids for the Kingdom. She is a member of the Kidmin Academy faculty, and a faculty member of Kidmin Academy Next, which focuses on next-level leadership.

Tina has authored 19 books, the latest one being Fascinating Preschoolers, and a book to help grandparents be a spiritual influence on their grandchildren will come out July 2019.

She loves—really loves—spending time with her three grandkids who give her tons of ideas to use in Kidmin and refer to her as Silly Grandma. Check out tinahouser.net.

This article appears on ChurchLeaders.com and is used with the author’s permission.