Story Sharing in Worship: Children, Easter, and the Miracle of Mirror Neurons

Dear Ones:

Quick plea. Keep reading even if your congregation doesn’t have any children. Plan for them anyway. Insist that your congregation imagine-anticipate-practice their presence anyway. And scan the 12/13/21 blog for more whys and hows. 

During the Easter Season, try this great idea for including children in worship. It’s the Story Sharing model for children’s sermons. 

More instructions are included below. But here’s a quick overview. Before worship, set out overflowing baskets of soft blankets and snuggly pillows in the chancel area. 

During worship, invite the children to come forward and choose what they need to make their own snuggle nest around the altar. Then share a book or scripture story with them. Create that precious you’re-safe-and-loved bedtime story experience practiced in many homes. Only practice it in worship. Because that snuggled-in feeling belongs there, too. In God’s presence, we know we are safe and loved. 

And here’s the fun, that’s-just-like-God part. With this Story Sharing model, children actually become worship leaders for everyone else. 

Here’s how. Humans are created with these miraculous things called mirror neurons. These neurons send sensory signals when we act. But they also send signals when we watch someone else act. With these neurons, our bodies can somehow mirror what someone else is experiencing. We can feel something of what another is feeling. Imagine that! We are image-of-God-hardwired for empathetic connection.

Mirror neurons help explain why laughter is contagious. And why we cringe in horror movies watching the teen go back into the old mansion alone. 

And mirror neurons turn children into magnificent worship leaders. 

As we allow children to genuinely encounter a story, they take us with them. We can hear things anew as they hear them. We can experience their sense of wonder, surprise, outrage, comfort . . . or snuggliness.  

Ready to try Story Sharing in worship?

Start with some Easter book ideas? Check out the Snuggle Time series by Glenys Nellist (illustrated by Cee Biscoe). She offers stories that are both developmentally appropriate and good God-talk. The Snuggle Time Easter Stories board book could be a good Easter gift for each child. (Download your free Activity Guide.)

Or for older kiddos, look for This is the Mystery of Easter by Amelia Richarsdson Dress (illustrated by Lilly J. Moore). Great stuff for worshipers hearing the story for the first time or the four hundredth time: “Once there was a man who loved big enough to change the world. . .” The author’s website offers a free download of the book.

Instructions for Story Sharing Children’s Model

Invite the children to get snuggle-comfortable in the chancel area with blankets and pillows.  Then read the children a story.  

Why?  Children should feel a sense of belonging and sanctuary in worship.  Children who feel these will naturally convey them to the rest of the congregation.

    • Best used as a special, occasional treat, perhaps quarterly.
    • Gather a big basket with soft pillows, blankets, and stuffed animals. Make the basket look abundant and inviting!
    • Consider drying the items with a pleasant scent.  
    • Place the big basket in front of the altar or table before worship.
    • There should be enough for each child to have a blanket and pillow.
    • The story can be a scripture or other book.  For scripture, look up the passage in a children’s bible or craft your own. Practice it with a child.
    • Consider how many copies of the book to use. Additional helpers can display each page or pass them around. 
    • For special occasions (like Easter), consider giving each child a copy of the book to read along then keep.
    • Consider allowing the children to take the snuggle items back to their seats and returning them together just before the benediction:  “It’s time for God’s people to rise and shine and return to the world! Would you return the snuggle stuff to the chancel area?”
    • Consider adding a simple “bedtime snack” handed out by another helper.
    • Go to your library to find picture books that could be shared with your scripture story. 
    • Consider turning down the lights and bringing down the Christ candle to sit among the group. 
    • At the end, extend the experience to all worshipers.  Use a whisper prompt to have the children repeat something to everyone. Like “Remember. You can get comfortable, too.  You’re safe here.  The good news is for you, too!”  Then include a short, simple phrase from the story.
    • Wash the pillows and blankets afterwards. Tell all the worshipers to watch for them again.

Let me know what you try and what you learn with your miraculous mirror neurons.

Thank you for your ministry,