An Arch to Engage Young Children in the Divine Service

We can use Arch Books coordinated with the Lectionary to engage young children in the Divine Service. We can reap other significant benefits at the same time.

We have a problem with young children in the service. They are a handful. They can be a distraction. Often our tactic is to use distraction to keep them from being a distraction to us. We distract their attention to activities that merely keep them busy and quiet. Worse, we separate them out of the congregation.

We cannot keep their attention for the whole service. We don’t keep the attention of adults for the whole service. The attention of adults wanders.

But have we tried to draw their attention to the service instead of to distractions? Have we tried attraction rather than distraction?

Have we gone after what we could get? If we stand a chance of gaining only 5 minutes of engagement during the service, getting that much would be headway. It is a toe hold, a beginning, the first steps that can become a walk. The Word of God is living and active. The Word does not return void. The Word does stuff. The Holy Spirit has the power and the desire use just 5 minutes in the Word.

During Lent our congregation, Trinity Lutheran Church in Sidney, Montana, gave away to young children copies of the Arch Book, From Adam to Easter. On Palm Sunday and Easter Sunday, we gave them copies of the Arch Book, The Easter Surprise.

As parents and grandparents were reading these books to young children during Lent and Holy Week, that prepared children to recognize something they would hear during the Divine Service. When children hear something they know, they perk up for those moments.

The correspondence between those two Arch Books and the Lectionary texts that were read on those Sundays was somewhat loose. What would happen, though, if we tightened that up? What if we had a table of the 125 Arch Books that listed the texts each one covers? What if we added a second column that related the texts covered by each Arch Book with where those texts are in the Lectionary? What could we do then?

We could give away to all the children of our congregation this Sunday the Arch Book that covers one of the Lectionary texts for next Sunday. Parents could read that Arch Book to their children during the coming week, and then on that following Sunday, during the Divine Service, their children would hear something they know.

If we can bother ourselves for the moments it takes to distract our children to a coloring page or some other disengagement from the service, we could bother ourselves for the moment it would take to alert our children that a text about to be read is from this week’s Arch Book.

  • We gain a few moments of engagement in the Divine Service.
  • We train them that engagement, not distraction, is their goal.
  • We connect the home with the church.
  • We connect the parents with the Pastor.
  • We orient the home and parents as primary, and the church and Pastor as supporting the home and parents.
  • We make it embarrassingly easy for fathers to be spiritual leaders.
  • We condition fathers for later, for them to teach the Catechism in the home.

By giving away Arch Books, we preach, but we are not preachy in its negative connotation. We preach that fathers and mothers should teach the faith in the home, and we make it easy.

You know how kids are fastened to that DVD screen in the back seat of an SUV watching a kids’ movie. I have seen that same fastened attention to adults reading Arch Books to them. During Lent I had the experience of grandchildren spontaneously jumping up into my lap when they saw that I had brought an Arch Book to their house and had sat down on a couch to read it to them.

Arch Books are more interactive than a kids’ DVD. The children can and do interrupt to ask questions, to interject reactions to the story, to look at each other to see the reactions of their brothers and sisters, and to ask that we turn back a page and re-check something that happened earlier in the story. A DVD just plays on, but a book has pages that let you and the children control the reading on the basis of engagement.

So, as Christian Education Director of our congregation, after Easter, I set out to make a list of the Arch Books and the texts they cover. Soon it struck me. Most of this work already must have been done by the publisher. So I wrote to Dr. Bruce Kintz, CEO of Concordia Publishing House, and sure enough, he promptly had someone send me an Excel spread sheet with many of the blanks filled in showing which texts are covered by which Arch Books. The majority already were filled in. There still were an appreciable number that needed to be filled in, but CPH gave me a running start.

After finishing that listing, add one more fact and then, I have a dream.

Here is that one more fact. CPH has “The Family Arch Book Club Subscription Program.” In this program, a family can join the club and receive 80 of the best-selling and newest Arch Books. This is a 2-year subscription of 8 quarterly shipments of 10 books in each shipment. Children receive a total of 80 Arch Books to help them learn Bible stories. The commitment of subscribing earns a family a 25% discount on the price of the books. That brings the price down to $1.87 per book. That is cheap. That provides a lot of bang for the buck. Let’s not kid ourselves that we don’t throw away a lot more than $1.87 on things that stand practically no chance of doing our children as much good as an Arch Book can do.

Here is my dream. Suppose we correlate 40 of the Arch Books to Sundays according to the Lectionary. Suppose we have 15 young children who should have Arch Books each Sunday ahead of the correlated Sundays. Imagine a “Lectionary Arch Book Club Subscription Program.” The congregation subscribes for two years to 15 copies of the 40 Arch Books. CPH has just one address and one shipment for the equivalent of 15 Family Arch Book Club subscriptions. But, these are coordinated to the Lectionary, and begin engaging young children for precious moments with the Word during the Divine Service. These subscriptions connect home and parents with church and Pastor.

Sure, it is easy to become too euphoric over the possibilities, but it is also too easy to dismiss the gains if the program succeeds only fractionally in its aims. Even fractional gains are that, gains, and important ones.

Get a father in the swing of reading Arch Books – which are so short, simple, illustrated, and engaging that they easily can do it – to their children, and then it will become easy for both him and the children to graduate to Bible story resources like, A Child’s Garden of Bible Stories, One Hundred Bible Stories, or The Story Bible.

As a feasibility study, I developed the Arch Books to Lectionary Table (Historic 1-Year Lectionary). Download it by clicking here. I wanted to see whether Arch Books correlated to enough Sundays and Festivals of the year to make this idea seem feasible enough to be worth trying. This is a Version 1.0 effort. I am confident it has errors, and there is another list of more Arch Books that, when I get a look at them in hardcopy, also might fit into the table. But Version 1.0 convinces me, there are more than enough to establish plausibility for the proposal.

Even if CPH does not develop such a program itself, I doubt they would turn down your congregation’s order for 10 to 30 copies of 40 Arch Books for the year.

Let’s get in there and give it a try!

 

About T. R. Halvorson

T. R. Halvorson was born in Sidney, Montana on July 14, 1953, baptized at Pella Evangelical Lutheran Church in Sidney, Montana on November 8, 1953, and confirmed at First Lutheran Church in Williston, North Dakota in 1968. He and his wife, Marilyn, are members of Trinity Lutheran Church (LCMS) in Sidney, Montana. They have three sons and six grandchildren. T. R. farms at Wildrose, North Dakota, and is Deputy County Attorney in Sidney, Montana. He has been a computer programmer; and an author, conference speaker, instructor, and consultant to industry in online legal information. He is among the authors of the religion column in the Sidney Herald at Sidney, Montana. He is the Editor of LutheranCatechism.com.

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