We've recently come back from a fantastic church weekend with Haddon Hall Baptist, where we were asked to lead 3 out of 4 sessions in an All-Age format. Many pastors and worship leaders find these scenarios the most difficult to plan and lead (with good reason!) but we loved the experience and thought it was worth sharing some of our reflections on leading worship that genuinely connects children, youth, adults and older people with God, one another and the world around them. Thanks to our friends at Big Ministries for modelling a lot of this stuff to us!

Just as many Pixar films brilliantly engage adults, teenagers and children, All Age services can also make connections at multiple layers. One of the keys to this is choosing a single theme, which is both deep yet made understandable to everyone. This theme can be unpacked throughout the service in various ways. We tried really hard to keep every service element on-topic; so games, songs, prayers, craft, drama etc all serve the theme and help people connect with it on different levels. Sometimes you may want different age-appropriate activities going on at the same time, but they should remain on the same subject.

For example - our first session at the weekend was called 'What is Worship' - which we unpacked in three points - worship is Broadcasting, Bowing and Serving. Each point had a 2-4 minute talkie bit, with scripture references, a visual aid held by a member of the congregation (one adult and two children), in clear language but with enough depth to engage a mature believer. We then responded to each point in active and varied worship - singing, posture, action, writing/drawing, shouting out... Each person could connect with the theme at their own level, and relate it to their own life and worship.

Varied music
Some 'All Age' services consist only of children's action songs. Others will avoid these like the plague, and insist that children need to see adults 'really worshipping'. We tend to take a third way - using a wide variety of music, and considering how each age and stage might interact with it. Simpler, more active songs should engage both children and adults in their own right. However when we want to use some slightly deeper, more reflective or more wordy material we might engage children through other means - we took ribbons for them to wave and percussion instruments for them to make a joyful noise (we avoided bells and loud tambourines, and also tried to model how to play the instruments and wave the ribbons, valuing the children's contribution, not just distracting them). At other points we encouraged people to take postures as they sang - hands out, kneeling, standing with arms outstretched etc; or make specific things with play-doh.

Some of the songs we used over the weekend included:

  • Shackles (the chorus of the pop song, flowing into the verse of 'More love more power'. This fun, gospely song connects with most, including teenagers).
  • Words are not enough (a cringe-free actions song from the dudes at Big Ministries).
  • Alleluia (a simple, fun song from Nigeria that encourages dancing, clapping and movement).
  • Praise to the Lord (the hymn, with the Jubilate contemporary lyrics. This is a good point to engage children in ribbons, flags, or doing some drawing/writing around the theme of their favourite thing in God's creation).
  • Glory to God (a call-and-response song from Peru, which like 'I will worship' is good for children who can't read, because they just sing back what they've heard. Available in the book "World Praise").
  • Come you thankful people (an all age song with a repeated refrain, that welcomes all 'shapes and sizes' to come and worship)
  • We bow down (encouraging people to kneel or lie down as we sang).

Research has shown that around 40% of people are visual learners. Good visual worship will keep the attention of children and adults who need visual stimulus. At the weekend we used video Bible readings, props, images behind the songwords, visual art and drama to help people see the message.

The ideal with an All-Age time is to get as many people as possible helping to lead, from as many ages and stages as you can! We were fortunate to have an hour's workshop time on the Saturday, when we asked people to do art, write, learn songs and create drama around our theme. This meant that when it came to the final session, we had young and old involved reading prayers and poems, performing their drama and singing in a scratch choir. We put the art up on boards around the worship space, and involved the teenagers in the band and running the PA. Would it be possible for you to ask home groups, youth groups and children in Children's Church to prepare their own contributions for next week's All Age service in your church?

Even if people are not leading bits from the front, we believe that as much of your service as possible should remain interactive. Ask questions of the congregation, not just as a rhetorical device but because you actually think the answers will be richer than your wisdom alone! Get them thinking and contributing, by shouting out, writing down, texting, moving around...

We've done a whole post on Interactive/Unfinished worship, so you can look there for ideas. One newish idea we tried was after singing 'The Splendour of the King', asking people to think of one thing they were grateful to God for, and then if they were feeling brave to say it out-loud. Each time something was said we responded by singing 'How great, how great is our God.' It was a simple but effective way of involving people in shaping the worship.

We recently went to the theatre for a family show and at one point the performer stopped and asked: "Whose are all these cute kids running around at the front?" (woops and calls from the audience) "Do you know what parenting is? It's where you take responsibility!" Although that might be a tad harsh for a church service, sometimes parents come into church believing that they're somehow exempt from parenting and taking responsibility whilst inside.

During the weekend, we encouraged children to be with their parents and carers throughout the sessions, and for parents to help them through the service. It is important that there is space for younger ones to be able to ask parents to explain aspects that they don't understand, and that parents and children worship and learn alongside one another. Demonstrate that you value everyone's involvement in the service - when we came to praying for the world, we reminded the children that their prayers mattered to God too, and when we took Communion we asked people to sit in circles with family groups and friends, sharing equally in the bread and wine and then praying for one another.

We hope this might prove helpful for your situation - why not share your own thoughts and ideas below?