Gen Con, North America’s biggest tabletop gaming convention, recently took place in Indianapolis, Indiana. At the con dozens and dozens of games made their debut. One of the most widely anticipated and bestselling releases was My Little Scythe. This is a reworking of a popular and complex strategy game called Scythe made more accessible to younger children. In the growing hobby game market this is a common tactic. Many of the most popular modern board games have a child focused version.
These junior versions of the game tend to present a simplified and much more accessible rule set, but they also seek to preserve the core mechanisms of the game. For instance in My First Carcassone, the primary activity players do on their turn is lay tiles to build the board. This is exactly like the central mechanism of the regular game. In the same way, Catan Junior preserves the resource collection and trading that make up regular Catan. However, Catan Junior smartly and subtly limits the player options so it is easier for children to find and pursue a winning strategy.
Intentionally creating versions of their games for children is a forward looking and winning move for these companies. Gamer parents want to share their hobby with their children and playing these games lays the foundation for the children to be future gamers. As an example, my own son has played many games of Catan Junior. He is familiar with the basic mechanisms, and at this point he would have little problem making the jump to a regular game of Catan.
The most successful junior versions of games are both fun kids’ games in their own right and they prepare the child to advance to a more mature experience. I wonder if that is a lesson we can learn in churches.
Many churches give a heartfelt and earnest attempt at teaching children, but I think sometimes we miss the bridge to maturity. A good example of this are the stories we teach children. For instance, Daniel and the Lion’s Den is a common Sunday school story. For a lot of faithful believers the elementary storybook presentation is their only real encounter with this story. It seems that this story has been relegated to children because it has animals in it, and it is not one that many adult believers wrestle with or invest theological discourse into.
There are some other areas where the ball is dropped a bit more. There are some areas of the Christian experience where providing a more child friendly is essential. Just like the best junior versions of games lay the ground work for future understanding, churches should be doing the same thing for their children. A critical area this is the case is around the sacrament of communion. This is an important aspect of Christian worship that children do not have the cognitive development to understand. This issue transcends theology. It does not matter if one individually sees communion as a symbolic act that functions as a means of grace of if one believes the elements transubstantiate. Children are not at a place where they can properly process those abstract concepts.
This is an especially critical factor in denominations that practice open communion. If we are going to invite children to participate then just like the junior versions of board games we have to accommodate them and put it on their level.
A few years ago I worked with a church pastor to do this and we developed a communion liturgy for children. In this particular setting, the children were in children’s church so the consecrated elements would be taken to them and each month the “junior version” was used. If you think something similar might be helpful in your context, the full liturgy we used follows.
Even if it is not for you and your setting, may you take seriously the task of teaching children and may you seek to present the Christian faith in a way that helps bring the children to full maturity.
A Communion Liturgy for Young Children
This liturgy is intended to be used with pre-school aged children in a Children’s church setting. This liturgy assumes that the elements being used have already been consecrated for consumption in a regular time of worship.
We are going to do something special called Communion. As we get ready for communion, here is what I want you to do. Every time I say “Jesus loves you” I want you to respond with “Yes, Jesus loves me.” Let’s practice. Jesus loves you.
Yes Jesus loves me.
It is because of love that Jesus lived. Jesus was born as a baby and helped us learn how we can know God better, because Jesus loves you.
Yes Jesus loves me.
It is because of love that Jesus forgives us. When we are bad and make God sad, we can tell Jesus we are sorry, and God will forgive us. This happens because Jesus loves you.
Yes Jesus loves me.
Jesus knew he would not always be here, so he gave us something to help remember him. Once when Jesus was eating with his friends he told them to take bread and dip it into their juice. He told them to do this together so that, when Jesus was gone they would still remember that Jesus loves them. This was the first communion and it is where communion comes from.
Today we celebrate communion for the same reason. We celebrate communion to remind ourselves that Jesus loves you.
Yes Jesus loves me.
Yes, he does. Here is what I want you to do: please form a line. When it is your turn, come up with hands open, and we will hand you a piece of bread. Take the bread and gently dip it into the grape juice, eat the bread, and the quietly go back to your seat.
(It is important that during these instructions the servers use motions to show what is expected of the children.)
As the children receive communion the servers should tell them “Remember Jesus loves you.”
CLOSE IN PRAYER