This week Jenna Kuykendall—singer, songwriter, and worship leader based in Birmingham, Alabama—joins hosts Mike, Gina, and Kellen to share her experiences engaging kids of all ages in worship.
LET’S GET IN TO THE EPISODE
Our team is on theme today with their musical game. Kellen produces some impressive vibrato, and Mike admits to being a pretty good beat boxer for a 45-year-old white male.
It’s all in preparation for today’s topic: How do you engage kids well in the worship aspect of your experience?
We all know the scene. The lights are dim, the Spirit’s moving—and so are your second grade boys, who have turned the space into a running track. Not to mention all the kids who instantly have to go to the bathroom during worship time.
Gina, who oversees multiple campuses, acknowledges that the one place volunteers feel least like they are winning is during worship time.
That’s why we’ve invited Jenna Kuykendall to share with us from her wealth of practical experience!
Before we can move on to spiritual matters, we need a primer for pronouncing Jenna’s last name.
Jenna claims the guy who gave her the name is well worth the hassle.
Gina reveals her maiden name is Moneypenny. So Bond of her!
Gina: When I walk into a worship environment, I’m probably going to see a second grader running laps or a fifth grader checked out because they’re “too cool.”
1. How can a worship leader engage older kids in the worship experience?
Jenna: I’ve been doing this for 20 years, and that never changes. It’s so easy to say “that fifth-grade boy, but it’s any preteen. My three kids have all gone through that “too cool for school” phase in worship.
My first rule of engagement: My job as a worship leader does not begin with the first beat of the first song. My job as a worship leader begins when the first kid walks in the room.
It’s important for me not to just stand back at the tech booth struggling to get my mic on. I prepare in advance. Then I can greet kids at the door, high five, and connect with the kids as they come in.
Make it personal. The more I’m engaged with the kids one-on-one and face-to-face before the first song starts, the more likely they’re going to be engaged with me when I’m leading worship.
Gina: At camp one year, there were dynamic changes when the worship leaders engaged with the kids in activities outside worship time. We got a completely different response from those kids in the evening when the leaders were back up on stage. The kids were more invested and connected.
Jenna: When we meet for a prayer huddle before large group starts, we end at least five minutes before large group starts. Our leaders are high school and middle schoolers, even fourth and fifth graders. I tell them, now is the time for you to go and get face-to-face with as many kids as you can, especially kindergarteners and first graders who might be in the room for the first time.
Your connection with them as a worship leader can make all the difference. Make that one-on-one connection. Get to know the kids and their names—even if it takes weeks. Taking the time to do that makes a world of difference.
Gina: I love how that sets the tone from the beginning that you care about their experience. When you build that connection, they’ll follow you into worship. And using your middle and high schoolers as leaders to connect with the younger kids, that’s huge.
Jenna: My son is now in ninth grade. When he was in fifth grade, he was way too cool for it all—plus it was his mom leading!
MOM! WHY ARE YOU WEARING PIGTAILS TODAY?!
But when his small group leader, who was in college, went over and said, “hey man, during this next song, let’s see if you can jump higher than I can,”—that was all he needed to engage.
Second rule of engagement: As a worship leader, I’m a team with those small group leaders. I need them. It would be easy for small group leaders to check out once the song starts. But they have such an opportunity to set the tone because the kids cue off of them.
Leave your pride at the door.
In 2 Samuel 6, king David dances before the Lord with all his might. His wife was mocking him. He said, “Who cares? I’ll become even more undignified than this.”
I might be the one with the microphone, but small group leaders—you are worship leaders, too.
Gina: At one of the campuses I oversee, the ministry leader asked me to observe host/worship leader on the platform. When worship began, the small group leaders felt like they were “off” and gravitated to the back. The college student leader had to not only lead worship, but to wrangle the kids. It turned into discipline. The small group leaders didn’t know what their role is—to participate with their students and demonstrate what behavior they want the kids to model.
Jenna: That can be a feeling of helplessness as worship leader, when the small group leaders are disengaged. You’re thinking about so many things from lyrics to choreography, and you’ve lost the kids. There needs to be a lot of training and vision casting on the front end with small group leaders. At the same time, if there’s a kid who doesn’t connect after prompting, let it go. Your job is to point kids to Jesus. It’s the Holy Spirit’s job to do the work. Don’t force a kid to do what he may not able to do.
We had a situation with a second-grade girl whose mom was in the hospital. She was not in the mood to jump and clap. She sat and took it in. Her small group leader just sat there with an arm around her. That small group leader was helping lead her in worship.
2. How do you keep kids engaged in worship when you are using video and don’t have a separate worship leader?
Jenna: Don’t get discouraged. It’s easy to see what other churches are doing and get discouraged. Comparison is the thief of joy.
Even if you don’t have all the bells and whistles, you can plug and play. You can have your host stand up and say, “We’re going to sing along with them!” It’s okay if you’re not a fantastic singer. You can leader worship if you’re just up there just doing the moves
You can Milli Vanilli it and lip sync! Jenna prefers to sing on top of her own vocal track so she doesn’t have to worry about carrying the vocals along with everything else.
Gina: So we’ve heard that worship engagement begins when the doors open—and how vital it is to train small group leaders to model for their kids during worship.
3. Talk about how music selection helps to engage kids in worship.
Mike points out that while kids may be listening to Christian radio in the car with their parents, that’s not necessarily their choice of music.
Jenna: Know your kids! Know what they’re listening to and enjoy. Get with the heartbeat of what kids love and are listening to. This summer our kids’ favorite song was Every Beat on the Power Up album [https://open.spotify.com/album/3P0JQvlH37Gw4bc3EMDaGe]. We actually started doing it in big church.
Orange Kids Music does a phenomenal job of getting with the heartbeat of what kids love and are listening to.
We did not pay her to say that, people. But you can find Orange Kids Music HERE.
There are a lot of options out there. During the summer, I lead music for a church that uses a live band. There are so many great resources”
You can get live lyrics and dance videos as well as the songs.
Pro Tip! I send out dance moves videos to my team with two cameras—in front and behind so they get a split screen.
If every kid in your large group loves hip hop, do hip hop worship. If they love Steven Curtis Chapman… saddle up your horses! Pull out some KLUV.
Gina: The double-angle dance moves are a fantastic resource.
If you visit Jenna’s site (Jenna Kuykendall.com), you can purchase two-angle videos for things she has written.
4. How can a leader with little or no budget create a strong worship culture?
Jenna: Don’t be afraid to plug and play. You don’t have to have the room with thousands of dollars or lighting and set. I’ve been on mission trips where we’ve just got a guitar and a couple singers. We’re just dancing and pointing the kids to Jesus. We can do that with zero dollars.
Gina: Even if you don’t have access to paid resources, use public domain. Lean in to volunteers with a willing heart and a good voice.
Jenna: I think sometimes we use the bells and whistles and awesome tracks as a crutch and lose focus on why we’re there.
Gina: Nothing replaces your eye contact and encouragement from the stage. Video and sound tracks can add to it, but they don’t replace you.
Jenna: Cast that vision constantly. I’ve been doing this for 20 years, but in the last eight to ten years have developed a passion for training up the next generation of worship leaders. Nothing gives me greater joy than handing the mic to a middle school or high schooler who has great stage presence and wants to do well. There’s no greater joy than stepping back and watching them. They’re the ones who are going to be up here in ten years.
5. We’ve been talking mostly about elementary-age kids, but what do you say about preschoolers worshiping?
Jenna: I love preschool worship because it’s like herding cats. You think: “are they hearing a word I’m saying?” They’re picking their nose and rolling around on floor. That’s where you let go and trust the Holy Spirit is planting the seed.
Preschoolers like repetition. It’s okay if we are bored with a song. They learn by singing it over and over and over again. Keep the songs simple.
First Look songs focus on: God made me. God loves me. Jesus wants to be my friend forever.
Preschoolers can worship. They get it. They’re taking it in.
Gina: What size and structure works best for preschool worship?
Jenna: In my experience, it’s two or three songs at the top and one song at the end. The size of the group really depends on how many adult leaders you have involved.
Choose songs that are high energy and get them jumping and moving.
Gina: Make it a work out for you and energy expense for them.
Jenna: It’s completely okay to stop and have a moment where it’s quiet—for both elementary and preschool. Start with two to three songs that are high energy and involve dancing. But then pull it down. One person. Use it as a teaching moment. “We’re going to sing the word ‘surrender,’ and here’s what it means.” It’s just you talking. That can engage them the most.
Gina: I love that. There’s trust there. “I trust you to treat this moment well.” It’s an opportunity.
Stick around for Kellen’s musical outro, which is so amazing that Jenna gets saved again!
Set aside a short time this week to think through/talk through what worship looks like in your large group environment(s). If you don’t already do these two things:
- Encourage your worship leader(s) and/or host to prepare/pray in advance and take the five minutes as kids enter the room to connect with them one on one.
- Encourage your small group leaders to model fully engaging in worship for the kids in their groups during worship time.