Kids need more from worship music than dance motions, silly lyrics, and singsong melodies. Musicians like Keith and Kristyn Getty and Shane & Shane are building a body of songs with theological depth and musical simplicity to help disciple young believers.

“Jesus Calms the Storm (Hymn for Anxious Little Hearts),” a recent single released by the Gettys in collaboration with Sandra McCracken and Joni Eareckson Tada, sets clear, profound words for moments of worry or uncertainty:

When my heart is filled with fear
Like a stormy sky
Jesus says, “Be not afraid”
He is at my side

There’s a rock where I can go
Keeps me safe and this I know
Deep within my troubled soul
Jesus calms the storm

For Keith Getty, who produced the single, the psalms offer children something that nothing else can: both the affirmation they long for and hope for what lies beyond the present.

“We can say what we feel, what we know about God, and move through to where we can look beyond our circumstances,” Getty told CT. “Not to resolve it like a Disney happy ending or a bumper sticker slogan but toward something hopeful.”

Kids’ mental health is front and center these days, with best-selling books by Jonathan Haidt and Abigail Shrier exploring contributing factors to childhood anxiety and emotional struggles on the rise among young people. Concerning trends like increased suicides and high rates of loneliness have many researchers scrambling to gather data about what might be contributing to this intensifying public mental health crisis.

Christian counselor and author Sissy Goff has written several books on the subject; her most recent, The Worry-Free Parent, confronts parental anxiety and its potential effects on children.

Haidt and others have pointed out that participation in religious communities seems to correlate with positive mental health outcomes for children. And with substantial research that links community music-making—particularly choral singing—to mental and physical health improvements, the local church is positioned to serve as a uniquely powerful space for children to express joy, find belonging and peace, and seek communion with God.

Keith Getty points out that songs of the faith, especially those we use in corporate worship, have to give voice to a range of experiences. Worshipers expect and need that variety as adults, and the church should offer the same to kids.

Children’s musician Yancy Wideman Richmond, who performs as “Yancy,” agrees.

Article continues below

“Just like you wouldn’t feed anyone you love a diet of only cotton candy and sweet treats, you can’t only lead kids in ‘Father Abraham’ or ‘Church Clap’ and expect that it’s the substance they are going to need when the going gets tough,” she recently wrote in an article titled “Helping Kids Exchange Anxiety for a Garment of Praise.”

Richmond is the author of Sweet Sound: The Power of Discipling Kids in Worship. She believes it’s important to acknowledge that kids go through “real life battles,” be it illness, a car accident, or other family trauma. And the financial, relational, and physical struggles of adults profoundly affect the children in their lives.

“Are you giving them prayers to sing as they war in the spirit over their self-esteem, friendships and family?” she asks.

Music therapists point out that music has observable positive effects for babies, young children, and adolescents. It can calm infants and help children identify and reflect on complex emotions. Children who learn to play instruments or to compose music seem to benefit from having an area of life in which they can develop creative control and mental focus. Musical ensembles provide community for older children and teenagers.

The church remains one of the few places where people habitually gather to engage in communal music-making, and children benefit from the musical and spiritual formation that happens in that setting.

With the end of the school year and the season of vacation Bible school around the corner, it’s a good time for leaders to consider their approach to kids’ worship music.

The impulse to offer children a simple resolution to a Bible story or problem often shows up in Christian music for children. Repetitive mantras like “My God is so big, so strong and so mighty” are words we want our children to learn, but they are capable of doing more than singing spiritual positive affirmations, says Lindsey Goetz, a master’s student in educational ministries and the resource director at the Center for Faith and Children at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School.

“Jesus is aware and present to children in a way that we can never be,” she said. “Children are capable of having real relationships and encounters with Jesus now.”

Goetz also warns against leaning too heavily on high-energy hype songs when looking for ways to welcome children into corporate worship. “Children can enjoy quiet. Children enjoy being taken seriously.”

Article continues below

The Gettys are in the process of compiling a hymnal in cooperation with Crossway (forthcoming in 2025); it will include a section of hymns written with children in mind.

Keith Getty says that the songs in the section are all intended to teach foundations of the faith, to be simple enough to sing at home, and to sound timeless enough to be usable and appealing in ten years.

“We want our kids to know great hymns that they can carry with them for their whole lives,” said Getty. “Singing is a wonderful opportunity to ground our joys, our memories, our faith.”

A father of four, Getty reflected on the special significance of the hymn “Be Thou My Vision” for his family and the script its verses provide for different phases of life—“be thou my wisdom,” “riches I heed not,” “High King of heaven.”

“To carry these words with you, what a gift,” said Getty.

Hymns and songs of praise can provide a vocabulary for kids in moments of crisis or struggle. Songs like Shane & Shane’s “Take Heart (John 16:33)” can teach kids to hold on to Scripture and the promises of God—“take heart … You have overcome the world”—when life feels overwhelming or scary.

By giving them music that takes their worries and hardships seriously, we point children toward a God who can handle their questions and doubts.

But taking a utilitarian view of the role of music for teaching and faith formation can also rob children of their spiritual autonomy, warns Goetz. “Are we looking for authentic engagement on the part of the child? Or are we looking for the child to produce something that makes us think we have accomplished what we set out to accomplish?”

When it comes to helping children who are struggling with anxiety, it may be that parents are projecting their own fears onto the music, books, and educational materials we offer rather than allowing young people to participate in music-making with curiosity and freedom.

“We don’t know what it’s like to grow up in a world where everyone has a cell phone in their hand all the time,” said Goetz, who sees that reality as a call to trust, not to seize more control of kids’ lives. And offering more agency and freedom in children’s participation in the life of the church is one significant way to lean into that trust.

Article continues below

“We need to get better at equipping parents. Not with more spiritual busywork, but with a peaceful assurance that Jesus is here, working now in us and in our children.”

Parents, perhaps even more than children, will benefit from the words of “Jesus Calms the Storm” as they work through their own fears about the world their children are facing as they grow. They can find comfort in knowing that they and their children look to the same source of peace in every storm.