For those who haven’t heard about Worship For Everyone, can you explain a bit about what it is and what the inspiration was behind it?
Worship for Everyone is our vision to truly see people of all ages and stages of life worshipping together. It’s a commitment to unify in our worship, to persevere even when it’s tough and to apply the same vision and values for worship when children are present, as when we worship just as adults: values of encounter, intimacy, valuing God’s presence, etc. The inspiration came initially when we arrived at our church, St Paul’s Hammersmith 10 years ago, and felt that much of our ‘all-age’ worship time was a little tokenistic, aimed primarily at little children and wasn’t helping adults to engage. So, we started to write songs that aimed to bridge this gap. Since then God has put on our hearts a deeper, wider vision to expect more from these times together, and to build a community of churches that have the same vision and desire and can encourage one another towards this goal.
You’ve recently released UNIQUE, a worship album as part of the Worship For Everyone project. Can you give us an insight into the vision and the creative process behind the album?
We wanted Unique to be an album of songs that lyrically would be really singable for all ages, but with themes that adults could connect with as much as the children. We have always wanted the music to be on a par with other contemporary Christian albums – not cutting corners purely because children are part of the target audience! So we had a high value on quality and creativity. The Weeks brothers, who produced Unique, are amazingly imaginative and creative and helped us to shape the songs to sound current and pop. We feel we’ve achieved our aim with this album when parents tell us they’ve dropped the kids off at school and carried on listening to the album themselves!
Do you have a favourite song on the album? And why?
My (Becky) favourite song is ‘He is Here’. I love the overall feel of the song. It speaks of the stories in scripture when God reveals himself to his people and reminds us that even now, ‘He is here, the presence of God.’ Whoever we are leading worship for, I would say that for Nick and I our chief goal is always that we would encounter God’s presence and lead others to meet with him face to face. That sentiment is at the heart of this song. I love the melody too – and the chorus itself really took shape in the studio, together with producer Matt weeks, so it leaves me with special memories of that recording session!
Have you got any tips for writing worship songs that all ages can engage with without them sounding trite or silly?
Finding themes and lyrics that everyone can engage with is key – we all need to know we’re loved and fathered (we don’t all want to woof like a dog as we praise! Nor can we all fathom what it means to ‘cast down our golden crowns around the glassy sea’). Melodies need to be simple (ish) but not so basic that they don’t move our hearts and emotions. Music is key and often where ‘kids songs’ don’t cross the divide into ‘Worship for everyone songs’. We also try in our all-age songs to ensure that we sing ‘to’ God and not just ‘about’ him. A lot of our verses teach scripture or rehearse stories, but our choruses release praise, so that we’re inviting our children to relate to God and open their hearts to him rather than simply learning truths about Him.
What advice would you give parents of small children (toddlers) so that they can help their little ones engage with corporate worship in a church context?
More than anything I really believe there’s power in toddlers simply enjoying the experience of church. At their age if church is fun and they are free to dance and giggle, it will set them in good stead to feel comfortable in worship as they grow. I do think toddlers engage at a spiritual level too. I have sometimes whispered in my little ones ears ‘let’s open our hands out to say hello to Jesus’. Or I dance with them and allow their spirits to feel joy and praise. I think they learn from us more than anything so I would encourage parents to model worship to their children. Get thoroughly stuck in with actions, and don’t be afraid to interpret for them and explain quietly what is going on if they look lost. We have lots of worship music playing at home which helps them to feel a sense of familiarity when the songs are played on Sunday. But I would also say to parents at this stage to go easy on themselves! It’s a hard age! It’s often about survival with tired, hungry little ones – I think every parent of toddlers that gets through Sunday without tears and tantrums deserves a medal!
And alongside that, how can parents still engage with worship themselves when having small children in a Sunday gathering can be distracting, noisy and messy?
I don’t know! I’m at that stage. It’s a desert time for many parents of pre-schoolers. For me, I depend a lot on worshipping at home. I play worship albums all day long at home and don’t rely on church to be my main worship experience. But I have also known many moments of immense grace as God has met me in a time of Worship for everyone, with 3 children on my knee! I guess we need to remain expectant that in every season God longs to meet with us even through the mess and noise. I also call on my single friends to hold my baby, or help me throughout the service so that I can sometimes worship hands free! And on those Sundays when I feel I’ve barely got anything from the service I take some comfort in knowing that the children are growing spiritually and that parenting through this tough season is my ministry.
How did you go about breaking down the barriers between “kids worship” and “adult worship” in your church?
Above all else we found the right songs. We discarded many of the previous generation’s ‘kids songs’ and wrote songs that everyone could engage with. We also started to smile more, chat more, relax more and tried to enjoy the time together rather than endure it! More recently we are trying to include more traditionally ‘adult’ choruses and excerpts from contemporary worship songs so that it feels even more inclusive. Long term we are looking at more ways of getting children leading and ministering. We feel there’s further to go! Our core scripture through this is Romans 12, v 10: ‘Honour one another above yourselves’. this is the culture we’re trying to build in Worship for everyone. No matter what your worshipping preference is, let’s consider the other before ourselves.
Are there any specific challenges that you’ve faced, and what is the fruit that you’ve seen from trying to enable all generations to worship together?
It’s always a challenge! Some people want more hymns, some want every service to be entirely all-age! The fruit is that we have a church where children are generally happy and feel included and the joy of that is two-way. We did an experiment 5 years ago: we took the children out of the service for 6 weeks to teach them separately on worship. It was a great course for them and they had some powerful times of encounter with God. The feedback from those of us left in church was that the services felt flat and lacked energy. We realised that the presence of our children and our all-age worship brought us freedom and helped us to praise. Without them we were less. We’ve learnt this past decade that we gain as much from the children as they do from us. Our buzz word is ‘togetherness’. We don’t do this ‘to’ them – we do it ‘with’ them.
How can families that aren’t a part of your church engage with the Worship For Everyone vision in their own churches?
Anyone can be a pioneer! There needs to be a shared vision across the leadership team. Without vision it’s likely that Worship for everyone will become tokenistic and lifeless. But with vision and the help of the Holy Spirit it isn’t rocket science! Start by teaching a few songs and actions and encourage everyone to participate. Pray together. Be confident. Persevere. It can work! Our website might offer some resources that can help: www.worshipforeveryone.com has chord sheets, action videos and a community area where we have many helpful articles by practitioners in this area. Our 3 albums are Big Family of God, God is Here and Unique, which may give you some song ideas. We want to build a place where people can virtually meet, learn together and encourage one. We’d also love to connect with you via Facebook.com/worshipforeveryone and Twitter: @w4e1 so do look us up!