By Melinda Shunk

Children's Ministry Coordinator

Holy Week for Christians is a time to spiritually follow the journey of the disciples and Jesus through worship experiences so that we all can be reminded why we feel joy on Easter morning.

The tradition of Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Saturday Easter vigil is important. I would argue that without those services, can we really appreciate and pass down the stories to our children of why Easter Worship is a celebration?

However, over my time in ministry, I have seen these important worship services dwindle in attendance, and dare I say get dropped from the Holy Week worship schedule altogether due to lack of staffing and attendance. I am not judging. I was on staff at a mid-size church for 10 years. I understand the struggle in planning worship that people say they don’t have time or interest to attend.

Barna Group just published some research that tells us we can do better in creating inspired, encouraged, and forgiving worship experiences for our members.

Overall, churched adults say they leave worship services feeling inspired (37%), encouraged (37%), forgiven (34%), as though they have connected with God or experienced his presence (33%) and challenged to change something in their life (26%). A plurality of churched adults also express always feeling like attending service was the most important experience they had all week (29%) and that they learned something new (28%). (Barna Group, 2020)

To be clear, I am not putting blame on senior pastors, but I would rather like to encourage them to not feel the weight of their entire congregation’s spiritual needs being met by one pastor at every service. Because as we are all designed differently, we all learn differently.

A senior pastor also knows how to see spiritual gifts in others so create a worship team and use their gifts. You can’t possibly do it all every week and especially not a week with at least four services. Sticking with just one way of worship and not relying on the parish members to offer other forms of teaching keeps people at 37%, but if a pastor seeks out the gifts of others to help with the planning and leading of worship more of the congregation will be touched in multiple ways, thus guaranteeing that people leave worship with positive feelings.

During our first session of Beyond Conference 2020, speaker Rev. Dr. Leanne Hadley taught us that although we are called to minister to children, we are also called to let children minister to us!

You read that correctly. Children minister to adults. Every time I work with children, I have at least one experience when a child ministers to my soul. Children are part of the congregation; let them minister to adults during Holy Week.

The best way to learn something is to have to teach it. Challenging a group of fifth and sixth graders to lead service will help them learn parts of worship and the Gospel stories. Your congregation will be inspired and intrigued to see and hear the excitement of the message being taught to them through the voice of innocence. Parents will not miss an opportunity to be part of the worship that their child is helping to lead. It becomes an “everybody” worship instead of a “You” and “Them” worship. Here are some examples of Holy Week Everybody Worship that may inspire you:

The youth at Lakewood UMC lead worship with a Living Last Supper on Maundy Thursday in 2019. Having children or youth lead worship during Holy Week is a great way to take the pressure off of clergy. || Photo by Kat Caserta

1. All can feel part of Palm Sunday at the call to worship by starting in the Narthex handing out palms as the music plays. Don’t let them file into their pews as usual. Not allowing the normal entry and comfort seating interrupts the habit and rote worshipers creating a sense of alertness to the specialness of the day.

Create a special multi-age Palm Sunday choir that starts the procession into the sanctuary and have clergy bring up the end of the processional. The pastor can begin worship by explaining the importance of the Palm as each congregate holds it in their hand. Some churches already do this with a few members or just the choir, but I recommend making it all-inclusive as a symbolic way of “walking into Holy Week” as a congregation just as Jesus knew what he was walking into that day.

2. Take a look at a photo from Lakewood UMC’s Maundy Thursday service last year. Lakewood’s Youth Minister Kat Caserta had her junior high youth lead the worship with a Living Last Supper. They used costumes, set up a Seder meal, and washed feet. They learned Holy Communion, the Lord’s Prayer and learned why the washing of feet teaches us to serve others in a way that creates lasting understanding for the kids who lead. Kat reported to me, “This year, we’re doing it again in our sanctuary and making it more of a blended service with the rest of the congregation. The action will be a big part of the worship service. The youth and children will continue to be a big part of it.” It was so well received they are continuing to lead Holy Week worship.

3. Two years ago, the Rev. Bill Sardin and Children’s Minister Michelle Wilkins at FUMC Hot Springs incorporated multi-generational readers, shadow mimes, and object bags to tell the Good Friday story. All who attended worship could feel and touch the story because volunteers made small bags with a thorn, a die, a sponge, a cross and a nail that the congregation members could hold and look at as the scripture was being read. Church members had visuals, tactical objects, and the spoken word of the Gospel as they were taught the Good Friday story. It was the largest multi-generational Good Friday worship the church had experienced in several years.