Journeying with Children in worship

Posted by Doug Horley on 10 June 2014

Over the years I’ve been thinking a lot about the importance of “Journeying with children”. There is something exciting about going on a journey. The anticipation of visiting a new place, the fun of meeting new people and hearing their stories, the joys of airplane food! (Ok, maybe not the last one!)

But here’s the thing. If you want to go on a journey with someone, you won’t go anywhere with them unless they “come on board”.

My heart is simply to be good news to children and families and to reach out to them in a way that’s relevant to them. And the great thing about kids work is that you get to have a bunch of fun along the way!

But I’ve been in many services where the children really haven’t “come on board” with the worship – often because it’s been an “adult” worship time that hasn’t made it easy for them to join in with and I just think that’s so sad. Children growing up disconnected and bored in worship is unhelpful and avoidable. I really think kids can connect in worship and go deep in God, but I don’t think you get there in one go. It takes time and we need to journey with them. But we won’t journey anywhere with children unless they get on board in the first place. For me, it’s vital to have the kids on-board and “with us”.

That’s why I think that if we make the start of that journey fun and exciting and something the children want to take part in then there is much more chance they will join in and come on board. And if they are with us, then we stand a chance of journeying somewhere deeper with them.

And it’s hard, particularly as children’s attention spans are so short. In fact educational thinking is that the attention span of a child is that child’s age in minutes - plus or minus a minute or two, depending on the capability of the child. So that means you only get about five minutes teaching a group of five year olds using one teaching style, before you need to vary your teaching style or you’ll lose their attention. It’s also been said that whatever age you are (adults included), your attention span never goes beyond 10 minutes, before the teaching style needs to be varied. So to grab the kid’s attention and to have them “on board” in our worship times, we use all kinds of ideas including everything from air guitars to puppets and some really fun actions. We try and make it multi-media as well using colourful images, graphics and words on a screen. We use a lot of sign language too which has helped enormously with ensuring the children (and grownups) stay engaged with quieter songs. I just think that if we make the start of the journey fun and involving then the kids are much more likely to come on board. Then we have the opportunity to journey somewhere deeper.

I also think that children spend very little time in our churches and kids clubs, particularly if they’re not from a Christian home. They spend most of their time at home or school. And there’s a lot of music out there – on TV, computer games, phones, iTunes, cds etc. My question is this. When children come from their world into a church service or kids club, how different is the kind of music we expect them to sing there, compared to what they are listening to and enjoying out there? I would suggest that the bigger the difference, the harder it will be for them to relate to what’s going on. And a number of older children are listening to some really unhelpful secular music – often full of swearing and sexual references. The parental advisory labels are there for good reason! And then we wonder why these children find it hard to relate to the music we use in church.

When I’m song writing I spend a lot of time listening to a whole bunch of secular music cds – just to research what children might be listening to. I then try and write songs in styles that hopefully kids can relate to, but with Godly lyrics and content. It’s all designed to help kids come on board for the journey. Not everyone understands that and I’ve had some very interesting emails over the years as people have taken offence at some of the words I’ve used in songs. But I guess that songs with titles like “Flabbergasted”, “Whoopah Wahey” and “Fandabidozzie” are probably going to get someone’s goat! But I’m not out to cause offence, I’m just trying to reach children in a way that’s relevant to their culture and to communicate Jesus in a language that they understand. I know we’re called to be in the world but not of it – but I also believe we are called to communicate in a way that’s relevant to culture. It’s all about helping children “come on board”.

And ultimately I hope we teach children that actually worship is not really about the songs we sing, it’s much more about our heart attitude and about us finding ways to express our love for God in musical and non-musical ways. I’m keen that we teach kids that worship is not just singing songs in a church on a Sunday – it’s all about expressing that heart of thankfulness any time and anywhere. I tell children that singing is a great way to tell God we love him – but it’s not the only way. We can use our bodies in dance, we can play instruments, we can write, draw – there are so many ways to express our gratitude and love for our amazing God. I often say this to children. “If you are walking along one morning and see the sun breaking through the clouds in an awesome way, then saying thank you to God for the beauty of that moment is just as much part of your worship as singing a song on a Sunday.” And as we journey with children we can help them understand what worship is all about and give them some tools to help them worship – anywhere, anytime. We need to journey with them and gradually take them deeper. There have been many times when I’ve been so moved to see a hall full of kids lost in worship and hearing clearly from God in amazing ways. But we didn’t get there in one step! It takes time and effort.

Overall I just think that if we make the start of the journey fun and involving then the kids are much more likely to come on board. Then we have the opportunity to journey somewhere deeper. And let’s face it, if they’re not with us then we’re never going to journey anywhere!

I have to say that the pinnacle of achievement for me is not seeing every child join in with an action song. Action songs are certainly not the "be all and end all" of children’s worship, but they are a helpful way of getting children engaged in worship – particularly at the start of their journey. My end goal is that children grasp the heart of worship and go deep with God. But to achieve that it’s absolutely vital they get on board in the first place. Otherwise we’ll go nowhere.

So for me that’s where we began. A place of fun and excitement where they want to join in and take part. And then we journey with them deeper.

Here are a few pointers to help you to help them come on board…

1. Use songs with actions at the start of your journey with them. It gives them something that will enable them join in and participate in the song.
2. If you’re not a musician put on a cd or DVD and sing over the top of it.
3. If you are a musician then get one of the children’s team to do the actions as you play.
4. Make sure that whoever is doing the actions or sign language learns it well. The Bible encourages us to see worship leading as a skill and skill develops through practice. My DVD’s have a “learn the song actions” section for each song which will help with this.
5. Do fewer songs, but do them more often. When children are learning a new song with actions they often don’t sing – as it takes all their concentration to do the actions. But if you keep doing the songs over a few weeks then once they’ve learnt the actions they’ll start to sing. Doing fewer songs more often really gives them a chance to learn the songs.
6. As you hear them singing then gently encourage them to sing louder – it really makes a difference.

Here are a few suggested songs to get you started.

“Nothing’s too big” – a simple action song featured on the Doug Horley “Okey Dokey” CD – available from itunes. It’s also on the “Funky Action Songs Volume 4” DVD which gives the actions for it and is available from
"Okey Dokey" - a fun action song featured on the Doug Horley “Okey Dokey” CD – available from itunes. It’s also on the “Funky Action Songs Volume 4” DVD which gives the actions for it and is available from
Okey Dokey
“Glory and Honour” – also from the “Okey Dokey” CD and available from itunes. This is a quieter sign language song that I’ve used lots with children and in all age services as it works really well with adults as well. It’s also on the “Funky Action Songs Volume 4” DVD which gives the sign language/actions for it and is available from -
“Wonderful Lord” – from the Doug Horley “Lovely Jubbly” CD – available from itunes. Again it’s a quieter song that works well with children and adults. It’s also on the “Funky Action Songs Volume 3 DVD which gives the sign language/actions for it and is available from -

I pray that as you journey with your children you will see them connect with our incredible God in amazing ways. And I hope you have a bunch of fun along the way!


Check out Doug’s web site for other teaching materials, songs, resources and a diary with his concert dates –

© Doug Horley 2013

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