0-5 | Toddler Church

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In this section:

Sunday Provision

Praise and Play

Fresh Expressions for Under 5's


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Evangelism (logo)
Discipleship (logo)
Discipleship (logo)

Young children are ready to worship!

  • Rebecca Nye (2009) suggests Children are born as spiritual beings, not empty vessels to be filled with knowledge[1].
  • Young children make sense of their experiences through their senses and spirit before they can often articulate this. They often understand more than they can express.
  • Young children are open to moments of awe and wonder.
  • Children are not as inhibited in their emotions as adults and can easily express joy, sadness, excitement, care and enthusiasm.
  • They love stories and enjoy actions and joining in.
  • Young children are born into relationships. Loving relationships form the basis for building a relationship with God.
  • Children love to celebrate and naturally want to participate.
  • They love play and drama.
  • They enjoy familiar patterns, rhymes, rituals and symbols.

[1] Nye, R (2009) Childrens Spirituality. London: Church Publishing House).

[1] Nye, R (2009) Childrens Spirituality. London: Church Publishing House).

Sunday provision

It is important that under 5s are valued and included in the main congregation and church family, in addition to any time spent in groups. Often young families can feel nervous or worried about their child making noise or running around. It is important for the church family to value everyone including our young families. Smiling, chatting and reassuring can go a long way to make them feel welcome. It is important and special for the main congregation to pray for the children and find out what they will be doing, equally for the children to be given an opportunity to show anything they have created or talk about what they have learned. Childrens groups can be organised within the service so children can be back in church to experience communion or witness special events such as baptisms. If a church has no or few young children some toys or books could be purchased to be provided in a safe space within the Church to make young families feel welcome if they were to attend. For churches with few or no children pew resources such as childrens bags or baskets of toys could be provided for occasions when children do come along.

Some churches have space and resources for under 5s to have a small session of their own during the service. Babies and children are never too young to learn about and experience God. Having provision for them to have their own special time or space during a service can be the start of their journey of faith. A short simple structure can work very well with the inclusion of a short story, songs, prayer, play, crafts and snacks. Click here for an example structure. Activities and play opportunities can be based on the story, enabling children to connect in their own unique way. It is useful to plan themes that tie in with the older childrens work or the theme of the service, meaning siblings and families can discuss what they have learned. Developing age appropriate materials for a Sunday toddler group may feel challenging, often children have a limited attention span and cannot makes crafts without the help of a grown up. Thinking simply can help and knowing that children learn through play and experiencing things for themselves. Young children dont necessarily have to leave the group with a piece of artwork, often they are happy with messy play or using their senses to explore.

Praise and Play

Many Churches have a mid-week gathering for carers and their young children. A growing alternative to traditional toddler groups are Praise and Play services. These groups provide a safe, special time for children and carers, a means for parents to begin to fulfil baptism promises, and an environment that will help nurture faith in both children and their carers with tools for bringing faith into their homes.

More importantly Praise and Play can be intentionally developed as shared worship which can mirror the pattern of worship widely used in the Christian community and can be developed to reflect the worship style with the church set.

Structure of session

The whole session needs to allow at least an hour with 20-25 minutes for the worship. A format could include children coming into free play whilst waiting for everyone to arrive, the worship could then take place followed by an activity, more play and refreshments and fellowship.

Young children enjoy routine and repetition so it is helpful to follow the same pattern each time.

Praise and Play should take place in the Church if possible. Children and their carers gather around in a semi-circle on chairs or cushions to begin a time of worship together.


This could include:

  • A focus table small table or box which displays visual objects such a cross, a candle and a bible, giving a sense of a special sacred place.
  • A welcome song
  • A gathering prayer

Ministry of the word

  • Telling the story
  • An activity linked with the story


  • A conversation about the story
  • A song relating the story
  • A prayer
  • A craft activity


Bringing the worship to a close. May include:

  • A song
  • A prayer
  • Actions or rituals ending worship

Fresh Expressions for Under 5s

Creating a Fresh Expression for families with children under 5 could be a great way of engaging with families within the local community, providing a link to church for baptism families and further discipling for existing young church families. Fresh expressions for under 5s may be smaller in number than other congregations and timings will need to be thought out, taking into account younger childrens attention spans.

Focus on Early Years 

It is important to ensure that the environment and materials are accessible for young children. Repetition and routine are key for young children, so a structure to the session will help children to know what is coming next. Young children will all develop and connect with God in different ways. Young children learn and connect through their senses, any sensory equipment or messy play will enhance the experience for children.

Consider Families today

Find a time that fits in well with demands of busy family life. Consider keeping activities running during school holidays when parents and children often need interaction with others.

Relationship building

Ensure that new families are made welcome. Christian hospitality can make a real difference in the lives of young families and will often mean they return to activities. It can often be the first demonstration for some of Gods love. Nurturing volunteers who may be particularly skilled in welcoming and making conversation with families can help develop this.


Give careful thought on how discipleship of both adults and children will be responded to. Providing support and ideas for parents to develop faith in the home and answer questions can help. Think about other opportunities to engage with the families (this may not be in reality on a Sunday Morning).

Food and Fellowship 

Provide a time for food to be shared and for fellowship between the families

Next Steps

Thinking around what could be next for families, both on their journey of discipleship and also as their children move on to School and outgrow sessions is needed. Having opportunities for families to move on to can prevent them dropping through the gaps.

Wider Church

How the leadership and congregation of the church understand and see the Fresh Expression is important. Considering how the wider congregation and the Toddler church could link or be bought together could enhance both.

Mission-shaped Children: Moving towards a child-centred church
Margaret Withers, CHP, 2006, 978-071514081-7

Pretty Much Everything You Need to Know About... Working with Under 5s
Judith Wigley, Scripture Union, 2005, 978-184427114-6

The Spirit of the Child
David Hay, Rebecca Nye, Jessica Kingsley, 2006, 978-184310371-4

Scripture Union resources for children and spirituality, and resources for under 5s

Children Matter: online resources for Christians working with children

Mothers' Union resources for children

The Child-friendly Church Award

Godly Play a way to share the Bible and engage childrens spirituality

Messy Church: Fresh ideas for building a Christ-centred community (2nd edition)
Lucy Moore, Messy Church, 2011, 978-085746145-2

Messy Church 2: Ideas for discipling a Christ-centred community (2nd edition)
Lucy Moore, Messy Church, 2012, 978-085746230-5

Diddy Disciples Website: worship and storytelling resources for babies, toddlers and young children

The 1277 Project: a national network supporting churches with ministry to under 5s. WebsiteFacebook.

Page last updated: Tuesday 9th July 2019 9:06 PM
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