It’s a centuries old question – what in the world do we do with children in worship? And the Church is, and always has been, all over the map when it comes to involving children in its worship. I know that in some churches children are always present. In other churches children have their own space while their parents attend “big church” unhindered by the trials and cares of parenthood.

For the sake of this article, though,  let’s assume that your church is one of those that has decided that having children present in worship is something of value, but that infants and toddlers will have a full-service nursery, that older preschoolers will attend part of the worship service then move to an extended session in the children’s area, and that elementary children will be full participants in worship.

The challenge for the church then becomes to offer something to children that will be truly engaging, going beyond coloring quietly and behavior modification, enabling its youngest worship participants to take something away that… Share on X

Many churches like yours attempt to engage their children through a children’s time, presented by either a pastor or a children’s worker. Often it is a summary of the scriptural theme for the day or a retelling of the story or a reference to the Christian calendar. But let’s face it - usually the effectiveness of the children’s time (at least measured by its children) is gauged by the quality of the suckers or candy at the end. Share on X

We need to make this time into something more! We need to make sure that we are giving children something that is uniquely their own and that the Gospel is coming alive for them.

What’s in the Box?

As a pastor I truly valued the children in my church. I wanted to know their names. I wanted them to know that their pastor cared about them and that I thought they were important. I was doing a children’s time but was frankly disappointed that the children were not more engaged… at least until the candy at the end.

I shared that with a close lifelong pastor friend one day when we had escaped the church office and stumbled upon a golf course. It was a beautiful day, just the kind of day when the clouds would part and heaven break forth with a new idea.

“You should give what I’m doing a try. Have you ever tried ‘the box?’” he said, and then he began to describe an idea that would bring new life into my church.

Basically it goes like this:

  • The first Sunday you introduce the box and give it to a child. (In order to make sure that every child eventually gets a chance, you can pass it along alphabetically by first or last name or by birthday order of those present.)
  • The child gets to pick what to bring back in the box the next week. (Encourage parents to be involved, but it’s important that the child picks the item.)
  • The child brings the box back the next week and gets to sit by the pastor as the box is opened. They are SO excited to share whatever they’ve brought!
  • Then YOU get to come up with a children’s message ON THE SPOT! Some of those will be better than others, but that was always the case anyway.

Of course, I started with a cardboard box, but within a month one of the church grandpas had constructed a magnificent wooden version.

The objects started pretty simple, but by the end of the first year I had …

  • Caught fuzzy balls with a velcro skull cap on my head,
  • Jumped up and down on spring loaded shoes,
  • Been a “snake handler” in church,
  • Opened a box of golden retriever puppies!

… all while wearing my liturgical robe!

Okay, so yes you’ve got to be a good sport. But if you’re willing to take a little risk, your church’s children will never forget their days of box time and how engaged they were with what happened there.

If “The Box” Sounds Too Scary …

For some folks the box sounds just too terrifying. Well, it’s true – you are indeed “on the spot.” So here are a few ideas to ease the pain if this just sounds too scary:

  • Occasionally, the box will not return, for one reason or another. You’ll want to have a backup object lesson stored in the pulpit just in case the box gets “lost.” And then make sure to follow up during the coming week.
  • Sure, there will come that day (or those days) when you really struggle to think of something creative to go with the day’s object. But not to worry – the children and the congregation will love that you tried, and they will have a golden lesson on how to extend grace, even if it is a little at your expense.
  • There is the off chance that a child could bring something you consider inappropriate. That is why parent involvement is so important. If that prospect is just too scary, you might consider having a preview of the box prior to worship each Sunday. (I consider that to be cheating!)


I love the story of the little four-year-old who became too boisterous in church. His parents (and surrounding worshippers) had finally had enough, and his father had snatched him up and headed up the aisle for a sure reckoning of some sort in the church foyer. But before they reached the door the little boy pleaded, “Pray for me! Pray for me!”

We want our children to get more than a reckoning when they share in our worship experiences. We want them to experience the love and grace of God in ways that are real, truly engaging them in ways that are uniquely theirs. Share on X Maybe THE BOX might give you a way to do just that.

If you want to hear more about “the box” or to get a little encouragement to take the risk, contact me at It’s even more fun than it sounds!!!

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