Family Friendly Worship

What is 'Family Friendly Worship'?

It's about the environment not the content, it's inclusive, welcoming and encompasses all caring relationships.

Family friendly worship is about making her feel welcome, as well as the children. It may in your congregation be about making a young adult with special needs, or the carer for that young adult, feel welcome. Family friendliness is about welcoming everybody, however they come and whatever their needs. It is challenging but should be part of the basic work of every church. Family friendly worship is not the same as intergenerational worship. All worship can be family friendly by thinking about the environment and resources available, intergenerational worship is by its nature family friendly, but it also goes a step further and tries to engage everyone in the worship as well as ensure everybody is at least comfortable for worship!

You can have 'pew bags' for kids, a kids' Corner/quiet room. It's good to provide baby changing facilities and pushchair access. You might offer a Sunday School programme or creche. Remember to have appropriate refreshments available after the service and think about having a specific 'Families Welcomer'.

Family friendly worship in practical terms means some adjustments. Most churches now have disabled access. Thinking in terms of the specific needs of families, there are some practical adjustments which can make a lot of difference to how welcoming a church feels. Having something for children to do, appropriate refreshments for children, and somebody who will make sure new families know where things are (like the baby changing facilities) will make everyone feel welcome. It isn't possible to make the physical changes unless the attitudinal changes have already been made!

What is 'Intergenerational Worship' and why bother?

It's high quality, respectful, challenging, stimulating, participative, engaged, hears everybody, promotes our Unitarian identity.

In order to plan good intergenerational worship it is necessary to have already addressed the issue of what you understand worship to be. Good intergenerational worship is simply good worship. The form and experience of intergenerational worship challenges us in ways other than the intellectual, which can be the main 'substance' of the sermon-centred service. All the expectations we have of good worship are the same for worship that includes people of all ages and abilities. It is not about making things simple, but about making them accessible. It is often, therefore, more intellectually demanding to plan! Good worship will emphasise participation - the opportunity for people to communicate with one another and/or be physically involved in worship. Intergenerational worship will rarely be passive - but that does not mean it can not be quiet and meditative. Even very young children respond amazingly well to stillness, but it is always necessary to have another option if it is not working well on any one occasion. Good worship will also appeal to the senses, allowing people to value, learn from and pray with, the whole of the human experience. It is, therefore, always respectful and does not belittle the apparently minor events which can trigger deep responses. Good worship leads to tears and to laughter, sometimes from something as apparently simple as the touch of a hand, the sharing of a simple prayer, the singing of a simple chant, or the receiving of a small stone or other token. Services involving people of all ages and abilities also give us the opportunity to go 'back to basics' with skills such as prayer. For example, adults may not care to admit that they do not know how to meditate but an intergenerational service using a meditation written for children (search online for examples) allows adults to try new ways of meditation and find a style that is right for them.

Hearing Children's Voices...

'I don't think our Minister is really a Unitarian!'  'it's mainly older people'  'we like pet days... when we get to bring animals in'  'I like acting out plays in services'  'I get to see family and friends'  'We like activities!'

It's worth listening to children, as these quotes demonstrate. Children enjoy participation, they focus on the community aspects of worship, and they need some clarity about what it means to be a Unitarian!

Music and hymn singing

Have a balance of lively and quiet. Use modern performers. Ask older children to help choose music. Use percussion or other ways to participate.

Singing is popular with people of all ages and abilities. Music for meditation is also an accessible way to engage with worship. Variety in hymn styles and forms of recorded music maintains interest and helps a greater number of people engage with worship. Children who are to young to follow the words of more complex hymns can be given percussion instruments so they can join in. NB. Some (but by no means all) hymns contain vocabulary that many adults would struggle to understand - it can be useful to use the presence of children as an excuse to explain the language to adults - as the adults may well not wish to admit that they do not know!

The challenges of intergenerational worship

Both intergenerational worship and family friendly worship require some thorny issues to be addressed. These are all comments which have been made to me. I do not have any easy answers except that, in my experience, good worship works for everyone and some of the best worship I have been a part of has been completely intergenerational and family friendly. Sometimes this is not even intentional, but simply because it is part of the ethos of a Unitarian community to think in advance about the needs of people who might come to services, or to try different approaches to worship that draw on all the senses and give everyone the opportunity to participate rather than remain passive.