A couple years ago, a nearby church had a new pastor. My neighbors attended there and had some unsettled questions about whether the new guy was working out. But their daughter was celebrating first communion on Maundy Thursday, so they were looking forward to that milestone.
After Easter, I asked how first communion went and got an earful. To a packed church and several pews full of fresh-faced children wearing white dresses and button-down shirts, the new pastor spent half an hour talking about the gruesome details of crucifixion. With slides. Younger siblings cried. Grandmas gasped.
Well-played, clergy colleague. Sorry I didn’t get a chance to know you before you moved. Thanks for the reminder on how not to do a Holy Week service for families. Or anyone. Ever.
So how do you make Holy Week services family-friendly? Here’s a few tips that have worked for me:
- To celebrate the Passover, Jesus gathered around food. Go and do likewise. As both pastor and parent, I’ve found it helpful when the church has meals before any Lenten worship. It says to our church families that we know you are busy and stressed; come, sit on a folding chair and delight in not having to cook or clean up. And if there are three kinds of desserts, you are speaking the international language of love and welcome.
- Involve kids! Not only does it get families there, but it gives kids ownership in worship. Consider asking kids to bake bread, distribute communion, usher, prepare a message through a skit, read lessons or prayers, and so on. At my little church, we regularly have communion servers who couldn’t make the height requirement on the water slide. They fight over who gets to help. That’s biblical and beautiful.
- Keep it succinct! It may be a school night. It’s bedtime for the babies. Find ways to keep the service concise. My grandfather told me when I started preaching if I couldn’t say what I needed to say in ten minutes, sit down and let someone else try.
- Keep the reminders coming. Include details about dinner and how long the service will be. Send a text, email, or social media blast. Invite families directly.
- Staff the nursery if possible. Print non-cheesy activity pages for readers. Always, always have the coolest pew bag for kids around.
Hopefully it goes without saying to save the gritty details about crucifixion for confirmation Q&A time when your teens are trying to avoid the lesson. If your congregation’s kids come away knowing that Jesus loves them, then you have done your job.