In an integrated way, our worship should involve all God’s children: people of all ages, people from various cultures, those who speak various languages, those with various physical or mental abilities, seekers, members of many generations…everyone. We celebrate our differences! As a way to include people as both givers and receivers, consider some of the following:
Allow for emerging worship skills.
- Use a children’s, youth, or modern-language Bible or paraphrase scriptures for easier understanding. This not only addresses the needs of children, youth, and seekers, but also some people with mental impairments.
- Make sure everyone can see, hear, or be engaged in worship in some way.
- Provide children’s bulletins to reinforce the theme and scriptures of the day. Use graphics to identify common worship elements. For example, next to each prayer in the service, print praying hands; next to a song, print musical notes; and so on. Children and youth might design the bulletin cover.
- Guide with your finger the reading of words and notes in the hymnal or bulletin for young children; show them how musical notes go up and down.
- Practice new hymns and music with the congregation or in classes before worship.
- Sing songs relevant to youth experiences or camp experiences; invite children and youth to share meaningful contemporary music.
- Allow for a time of discovery and a sense of awe; give time for meditation, contemplation, and exploring physical expressions of abstract concepts.
- Use examples from the lives of the ages and experiences represented—for example, children, youth, people from the inner city, or people who live in rural areas—in sermons. (Jesus’ parables are an example of this.)
Allow for emerging leadership skills.
- Match giftedness with the worship element. Some people naturally tell stories; some are more comfortable reading; some draw well. Look for opportunities to include a variety of gifts and expressions in the worship service.
- Provide plenty of practice time in the sanctuary. Show people where and how they will sit and stand. Adjust microphones and lecterns to the height needed. Practice with the microphones on.
- Teach and sharpen worship skills in church school or other venues. Provide opportunities for people to share testimonies and pray aloud.
- Help participants write out prayers or testimonies to give.
- Encourage students to share their developing skills. Have beginning music students play or sing an offertory or prelude. Have language students read a non-English poem and then translate it for the congregation. Drama students can share in a reading or vignette.
- Provide training so the ministry of children, youth, new, or inexperienced members represents their best offering.
- Enter into a lesson covenant between students and the congregation. Pay for music or artistic training, with the student agreeing to share that gift with the congregation on a regular basis.
- Include children and youth on worship planning committees and integrate their ministry into the congregation’s worship on a frequent basis so it does not become a once-in-a-while oddity.
Allow for various developmental and spiritual levels.
- Use visuals, drama, videos, and objects to offer insight into abstract concepts. Children may “illustrate” the worship theme or scripture with drawings, drama, dance, rap, or music. Add sensory input to stories: use fish-shaped crackers when telling the loaves and fishes story, show video of a storm at sea, enter with dirty sandals during a story of foot washing.
- Use hymns and stories with imagery that draws on experiences (animals, water, weather). Use recordings of nature sounds rather than music.
- Associate clearly special events with symbolic objects (Communion with bread and juice, baptism with water).
- Explore the church when it’s empty. Take tours of the entire sanctuary—let people play the organ, dip their fingers in the baptismal water, smell and touch the flowers, explore the rostrum and choir loft, check out the public address system and preparation rooms, and talk into the microphones. Explain the furniture and the symbols.
Allow for the mix of global/ethnic congregants or multiethnic communities.
- Intentionally schedule musical styles and instruments from different cultures.
- Share readings or testimonies in more than one language.
- Share sacred traditions such as dance, poetry, and food from other cultures.
- Sing alternate languages in hymn verses.
- Celebrate sacred festivals; mutually exchange and support cultures.
- Learn and enjoy a new repertoire of sacred music with an indigenous style.
Allow for accessibility for exceptional needs.
- The church, sanctuary, and rostrum should be accessible for those in wheelchairs or using walkers. If this is not possible, bring worship leaders to the same level as those in wheelchairs or using walkers.
- Provide hearing assistance devices for the hard of hearing, and consistently use microphones so the devices pick up all sound.
- If reinforced sound is not available, encourage people who are hard of hearing to sit in the front rows. Speak and sing directly toward them.
- Include the sharing of gifts of those with exceptional needs; for instance, someone who is hearing impaired and uses sign language can teach the congregation sign language to accompany the reading of scripture or the singing of hymns.