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Our children are visual learners, but so much in our worship and church programming is word-based. What's a parent to do?

You’re right that much of worship is word-based, especially in Protestant churches. Historically, in contrast to the Orthodox or Roman Catholic traditions, Protestant churches have been reluctant to include many visual elements in our churches because of a fear that they might lead to graven images. But that iconoclasm has diminished somewhat over the past 50 years. The visual arts are once again being celebrated, and artwork is being displayed in churches.

Yet Protestant worship is still word-heavy. Are visual learners just at a disadvantage? Not necessarily. Decades of studies show little or no connection between teaching to a child’s preferred learning style and their achievement. So the good news is that “visual learners” can still get a lot out of word-based services.

Unfortunately, the words used in worship services are often not very child friendly. But there are a few things parents can do to help. 

Educational research notes that we remember things we actually engage with. So become a “church whisperer.” Explain to your children what is happening before and during the service. Give children an opportunity to reflect on the things that occur. This can help your child learn how to engage more in worship. 

You could also allow your children to create pictures about what they are hearing. Use paper and colored pencils to illustrate the sermon. Suggest using a set of panels, like a comic strip, to draw their ideas. This will help them note and organize what they’re hearing. When you get home, ask your children to share their pictures with you and your family. Even if it looks like they’re not paying attention, they might be very engaged. 

Finally, talk to your pastor or worship committee about how to make the language used in worship more accessible for children, for those for whom English is not a first language, and for those who visit your church. Ask them to think about how your worship can be more visually interesting. All worshipers will benefit from receiving the message in multiple ways.


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