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What’s the Point of All-Age Worship? Part 1

Abby Guinness

I once had the pleasure of speaking at a holiday week at Le Pas Opton, the Spring Harvest Holidays campsite in France. It was a special ‘Toddler Friendly’ week, and also advertised for adults with learning disabilities and their families to have extra content with the wonderful team from Count Everyone In. I was asked to provide a worship gathering each evening, suitable for everyone. Every evening, a beautiful and diverse bunch of people gathered in a tent to worship God and learn together. We sang, we joined in with stories, we shared testimonies, we shared fruit, we laughed and cried. In one embarrassing moment, I was almost unable to continue leading the gathering due to emotion…

I have found training from Parenting for Faith invaluable in many ways, but particularly around engaging young children in prayer. (It’s just as revolutionary for adults, by the way.) Rachel Turner encourages thinking about prayer as ‘Chat’ and ‘Catch’ with God. Inspired by her method, each night we asked God a question and listened for his answer. We were exploring the fruits of the Spirit, so we chatted to God about what brings us joy and then asked him, “What brings you joy?” followed up with, “Why?” I have rarely heard God quickly or easily, but straight away I heard him say, “This does!” and “Because this is my family.” Cue my emotional moment. Gathering as God’s family brings him joy.

Should it bring us joy, too? So why does it so often seem painful?! We’ve probably all been in an all-age church service and wished we were somewhere else. I’ve heard more than one vicar say, ‘They voted with their feet,’ when an all-age service drew a small crowd. And how often have you heard, ‘I just don’t get anything out of it.’ But since when did church become all about me and what I get out of it? I think our consumer culture has a lot to answer for. What if we went to church for what we can offer to the wider family just by being present and by being a part of it? When some gain, we all gain. At least monthly, if not more, I think we should be together just to be the body of Christ in all its glory. Sometimes we will give, sometimes gain, sometimes both. And it’s all ok.

After we had been ‘catching’ from God at Le Pas Opton, some shared it with the room as I ran around with a microphone. All ages contributed. There were things that made us all smile, things that challenged us, things that encouraged and taught us. I don’t think anyone left feeling like it hadn’t been worth their while or that they hadn’t had a chance to connect with God and each other. When God is speaking through us, we can all learn from each other, regardless of age, ability or experience. I still count it one of the most beautiful weeks of my life with a whole ton of joy and a little bit of chaos.

If you’re not convinced yet, let me add that intergenerational worship is profoundly evangelistic. I have found it’s not brilliantly seeker-friendly to invite a family to church and tell them they have to send their kids out to another room or building to be looked after by a bunch of people they’ve never met who will tell them things you will never hear… it’s not an easy sell!

Is there a secret to doing it well? Puppet skills are not essential. I love a puppet as much as the next person but I’ve never donned one myself. One thing I have found is that intergenerational worship tends to work better when it is planned by those who work creatively rather than those who routinely work with children (that’s not to say the two can’t be mixed and they often are.) It may surprise you to know that much of the output of CBeebies is written by moonlighting comedians. Or think of the Disney Pixar and DreamWorks films you have enjoyed. Why not give your kids and youth worker a well-deserved Sunday off and find someone else who loves God and loves telling stories? Having a designated team to deliver something intergenerational will help it fly. 

There are all kinds of resources that could help you. The creatives in your congregation have probably already got their eye on books to read, things to watch and places to go that would inspire them. But more than anything, find people who are doing it well and consider how to copy them with your own flavour. Nick and Becky Drake are the perfect place to start with loads of easily accessible materials, not least their recent book: Worship for Everyone - unlocking the transforming power of all-age worship.


And of course you can join us at Spring Harvest. Helen Alford did and she wrote this on Facebook:

“I came as a tired, worn out children's leader who went to the seminar by Nick and Becky Drake to be re-inspired as to how on earth to successfully run an all-age worship service in a small country church, then went to the service last night to see it in practice. God totally broke my heart afresh for the children, I spent most of the service in tears seeing children and adults fully engaged in worship, praying for others, it was amazing!! I shall be taking back so many new ideas and practices but most importantly, I have felt afresh God's heart and love for children. Thank you!”


Free and high quality childcare is something the church does really well, particularly for those parents desperate for the respite in their week. But there are also working parents who quite enjoy the company of their children and would rather be together at weekends instead of separated for worship. Perhaps you’ll say one size doesn’t fit all – but there is just one God, and we are his one family. 

There’s more to come on this topic next month as Martha Shrimpton unpacks some of the heart behind Big Start. You can also find a ton of creative ideas in her book: Wow, Jesus – creatively explore stories in the Bible


Abby Guinness has a background in theatre and loves communicating the Bible creatively to those of any age. She performed to children and adults with Riding Lights and Lacey Theatre Company and taught dance and drama to all ages, too. She spent a few years curating all-age worship at Holy Trinity Brompton. It’s over twenty years since her first Spring Harvest, and now heading up the Spring Harvest team, Big Start is still Abby’s favourite bit. 


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