Will preteens use hand motions? Originally, I was going to answer by writing a very short blog post:
“THREE WORDS: Whip…Nay-nay…Dab.”
And then leave it at that.
But it seemed more like a tweet than a blog post…so I’ll expand.
WILL PRETEENS USE HAND MOTIONS DURING WORSHIP
The short answer to “will preteens use hand motion” is “yes“. In my 20+ years of working with preteens, I have seen plenty of preteens – a vast majority – who LOVE to move, including during worship.
Movement is something we try to incorporate into everything we do. A lesson with hand motions to teach key points is more engaging and memorable. Games where the preteens get to move and DO stuff with their hands are some of their favorites. Worship where the preteens move is, likewise, more engaging and memorable.
…BUT IS IT OK?
There are Biblical grounds for incorporating motions into worship as well. Romans 12:1 is Paul’s appeal, “by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.” Not just our mouths, but our whole bodies. Psalm 95:6 tells us to worship and bow down. Psalm 134:2 tells us to lift our hands, as does 1 Timothy 2:8. David leapt and danced before the Lord, and we are encouraged to do the same in Psalm 149.
So, will preteens use hand motions? They will. (If right now, you are thinking “Mine won’t”, keep reading.)
Is it OK for preteens to use hand motions? It is. Scripture oozes with the idea of using our whole body in motion and dancing as appropriate worship.
SO WHAT’S THE REAL QUESTION?
I think when people ask about preteens and hand motions, they might really be asking about the age-appropriateness of it. Are hand motions too childish for preteens? And that, as well as the issue of “My preteens won’t” is resolved in some of the details about how you are incorporating motion in your worship time with preteens. In other words, the question isn’t “Are hand motions too childish for preteens?”, but more specifically “Are the hand motions WE ARE USING too childish for OUR PRETEENS?” And the answer to that is easy to ascertain – just watch if the preteens are participating or not. If they are not, then the answer is yes.
In Elevate, our preteen ministry, we’ve had lots of different groups of preteens move through. We’ve learned some guiding principles along the way that have helped to ensure that our hand motions are fitting for the current preteens in our group:
- The preteens create the motions. This is something that we purposefully do all the time. As the worship leader, I’m noticing what the preteens are doing, and seeing if they are doing anything that we can use in the song. And quite often, they do. Just last Sunday, for instance, we were singing Better than the Best Thing “Could ever separate me from YOU.” And on the word “you”, this blonde 5th grade boy did a sort of dab, and pointed toward the ceiling as he did it. If you don’t know what dabbing is, Google it. Your preteens all know what it is. 🙂 From the stage, we started doing the same motion every time we came to those words in the song. It caught on like wildfire. Preteens create some of the most innovative motions to songs I’ve ever seen, and if they are the ones doing it, and we’re just copying THEM, then it doesn’t feel childish to them at all.
- The preteens teach the motions. When doing a new song, or a song that we haven’t done in a while, we’ll invite a preteen to the stage to teach the motions to everybody else. Sometimes what is perceived as “that’s childish”, is really a preteen feeling awkward doing something that their peers may or may not also do. It isn’t so awkward to copy a peer who is standing in front of everybody.
- Movements over motions. The preteens in our ministry seem to participate more readily in motions that involve more of their body. Instead of little sign language type motions, we strive for movements like everybody jumping up and down, squatting down and “jumping” low until the big part of the song comes and we all jump high. On this song by Revolution Worship, you can, at the chorus, even see older youth participating in the left/right jumping movement during the chorus, and arm waving and a throwing their arm into the air on the tag (starting at 1:33). Bigger motions seem to be more inviting to preteens. Perhaps it’s because they feel less restrained doing these kinds of movements than they do with smaller “hand motions”. Maybe it’s because if they remain standing still when everybody around them is jumping to the left, they’ll get knocked down. Haha.
- Not a requirement; an invitation. As the worship leader, I’m doing movements that feel comfortable to me and help ME to engage more fully in the worship. If nobody else does them, that’s ok with me. I’m simply setting the example of using motions to more fully engage and find joy in worship, and inviting the preteens to do the same. Sometimes I don’t do any motions at all to a song that we “always” do the motions to. It’s not a requirement to move during worship in Elevate – it’s something that we do freely to worship God more fully.
More and more, I am seeing youth and adults engage in worship songs with their whole bodies. Check out videos from Hillsong Young and Free, like this Real Love video where they verbally invite people much older than preteen to jump up and down during worship (3:24).
I’m excited about the trend in youth and adult worship settings that I’m seeing to use whole bodies in worshipping God. Let’s do what we can to help preteens find ways to express themselves with their whole selves, too.