When Heather Boggs and other leaders noticed a drop in attendance of young families at Christ Church in Reading, they started asking questions. “We had noticed they had been baptizing their children, but not coming regularly. We wondered, ‘What’s the stumbling block?’”
The answer has led from sparse attendance from young families to a thriving new service attended by dozens of children and parents.
After speaking to parents, Boggs, the Director of Children, Youth and Family Ministries at Christ Church, found that there were three things getting in the way of families attending church: families had limited spare time, parents wanted to worship with their kids rather than putting them in the nursery, and parents felt guilty if their children were noisy or disruptive during worship. Boggs thought that if the church offered a service that was held early, kept short, and was friendly to children as well as adults, it would eliminate those problems. She reached out to other churches for ideas and eventually came up with the basic format for the Rise and Shine service.
Rise and Shine is a 30-minute service held every Sunday in the church’s chapel, a soft space with carpeted floors and stuffed animals that has no pews or other objects to get in the way of children seeing everything happening during worship. The service looks a lot like a standard Eucharist, but with some changes to allow for greater participation and understanding for children. Kids are given instruments to play during songs, the Prayers of the People are simplified, and a child-friendly Confession is used.
Boggs said that using objects to help children understand the different parts of the service, like passing out shells during the Confession, has helped keep kids engaged, as well as adults. “[During the Confession] we ask them to think about anything junky that happened that week—maybe unkind words, maybe difficulties in parenting—and pour it into the shell,” said Boggs. “Then we wash our week off and start with clean hearts.”
Now that Rise and Shine is approaching its sixth year, the children who attend the service are fully invested. “There is really a sense of ownership with the kids,” said Boggs. “By 18 months they’re getting their instruments, they’re getting their seashells, they’re fully participating. The older kids have taken leadership roles because they’re veterans.”
After the service, the children are able to go to Sunday School, while Boggs meets with the parents to talk about spirituality in children, rehash the gospel, or just spend time together.
“It’s really created a nice community with the parents. The kids are developing friendships, but the parents also develop friendships,” said Boggs. “You have parents talking about where they struggle with their faith. The comfort in asking questions, doubting out loud, asking for prayers—for many of them that was a new experience in sharing and something they weren’t used to talking about.”
Though the service is now well-established, Boggs emphasized the importance of being flexible and willing to make changes. She described how she noticed children losing interest during the Eucharistic Prayer, so she decided to find a way to help them stay engaged. The children now receive laminated pictures to hold up whenever they hear certain words during that portion of the service. They also each receive Sanctus bells to ring. “That means there are some kids ringing the bell 12 times,” said Boggs. “It’s very chaotic.”
Unlike traditional services where parents felt anxious about their children making noise, Rise and Shine allows parents to feel comfortable with their kids being boisterous. “Parents are relaxed because this is just how we do church,” said Boggs.
Boggs is glad that Rise and Shine has helped young families feel comfortable and excited to attend worship services in the midst of their busy schedules.
“I’m a parent. I have five kids. My kids are older now, but making church a priority is difficult. If you have soccer Saturday morning, when does your family just get to sit in their jammies and eat breakfast? If we can eliminate adding something to the to do list and making it something restorative, that really makes a difference,” said Boggs. “One of the things I think is so important is meeting people where they are, not where you think they should be. Rise and Shine has really been trying to give families what they need.”
If you would like to contact Heather Boggs, she can be reached via email