We decided several years ago while evaluating our worship experience that we would be a local church which worships as a family. We plan nothing else and no other programming takes place during the two worship experiences. This way our kids can see their parents sing, give, pray, learn to engage and participate in the worship experiences of our faith tradition. This meant we would bring back the order of worship in the front of our hymnal which puts the sermon in the middle, add more visual elements through art, video, and space, and offer more music/liturgy with repetition. This was fine as our Ministry Insights reported we had no little-littles, and most of our kids were 2nd-5th graders.

Today there are more families moving into the area with little-littles. To offer a Sunday morning worship experience where the littles (and mamas) aren’t experiencing separation anxiety, when their little is too heavy to ‘wear’ anymore, and guest parents wish to get to know the congregation better through worship, we started talking.

We talked at Worship committee. We talked with our current mamas of littles. We talked with trustees. We talked with grandparents who wanted to worship with their adult children and grandchildren. We talked with the Lord in prayer.

The name “prayground” comes from Rev. Catherine Renken, pastor of Kirkwood Presbyterian Church in Kennesaw, GA who brainstormed with others when the prayground at Grace in Apple Valley, MN was being built. The name has caught on.

Though different churches have put it into practice in different ways, a prayground is a place in the front of the sanctuary where young children can experience worship through age-appropriate worship materials and tools that will help keep them engaged in worship. (Traci Smith)

We put together a packet of colored photos of what praygrounds looked like in other churches. We talked in every small group gathering. Even with the small group of ladies who prepare the Sanctuary and fold bulletins each Thursday afternoon. I wore it like a sandwich board and made it a topic of every single conversation at every table. We posted on social media every blog post or article we could find that would keep it at the forefront of our family’s minds and hearts.

A grandparent proposed preparing a prayground at the Administrative Council. Lots of discussion took place. A motion was made and approved unanimously for us to give it a try and re-evaluate come September. There are several intentional preschool entry events happening this summer so trying it out now would be a great next step to invite our community to worship as a family. Though the Ad Council meeting closed in prayer in the meeting room, everyone gathered for more conversation at the proposed space to get a ‘picture’ of what it might look like before heading home. The Staff-Parish Relations Committee Chairperson took the point of public champion and spoke about it at every service fielding all the questions for three weeks.

Promoted in person, bulletin and newsletter announcements, social media posts, and a sermon series on attitudes including the attitudes of gratitude and compassion kept the conversations going. Our pastor and trustees removed the pews, grandparents steam cleaned the floor space, rugs were ordered from Amazon, the senior pastor painted the wall, a trustee performed a safety inventory and made adjustments, other grandparents provided board books, foam blocks, receiving blankets, a bouncy seat, and a few small machine-washable stuffed animals.

We opened on the best day possible: Mother’s Day. The prayground space was used in both services, by two families, three generations each. A daughter-in-law led the first family when 20 minutes in, her preschooler was stacking foam blocks with his suited-up grandfather. A grandmother led the second family to the prayground when 20 minutes in, a toddler was engaged with his daddy in the front row and his grandfather in the pew behind. He bolted at one point and the youth corralled him before he ran up the steps of the chancel area. No one missed a beat. This endeavor was and is so worth the tension. We are worshiping as a family of faith. Prayers and praises for the champions who waved the banner!

“Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.” Mark 10:14