Children in Church (part 4)

One of the primary concerns I hear when discussing the proposition of keeping children in church is that it “won’t work.” The reasons for this seem to be many. Here are three that have been directly said to me: 1) It will be distracting for others in the congregation 2) Kids won’t understand or learn anything in the service. 3) It will prevent the church from growing since their is an expectation for children’s church.

These concerns are important and must be carefully considered. In this post I want to respond to each of them.

People will be distracted.

I agree that keeping children in church brings about more frequent distraction. While I’m thinking about it, having children at Disneyland also brings more distractions. My enjoyment of the plant sculptures lining the water at Its a Small World is lessened by crying babies.  Five year olds trying to get a picture with Mickey Mouse prevent me from having much fuller and more educated conversation with him. 10 year old boys whispering about what ride to go on next make it more difficult to hear the performers at the Aladdin show. It seems to me that Disneyland should make a daycare where parents can stick their kids so that I, and other adults, can more fully enjoy our experience. 

It seems to me that Disneyland should make a daycare where parents can stick their kids so that I, and other adults, can more fully enjoy our experience.

Of course, I am being facetious. Removing kids from Disneyland is unfathomable – the place was designed for them. When we insist on removing kids from church services because it distracts adults, the implication is we think church isn’t a place/organization/event that was designed with them in mind – what message does this send the kids? Perhaps this is why so many are now simply leaving after graduating from high school, in other words, when it comes time for them to sit in “big church.” Their entire lives they have been taught that it wasn’t for them.

If we really believe church to be a place where we come before God in a unique and powerful way, we must pay attention to the story in Mark 10:13-16, “People were bringing little children to Jesus for him to place his hands on them, but the disciples rebuked them. When Jesus saw this, he was indignant. He said to them, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” And he took the children in his arms, placed his hands on them and blessed them” (NIV). Jesus didn’t say, “My presence is for the adults. I have important business to take care of. Please get rid of these kids.” Instead, he got angry at the adults for trying to keep the kids away.

Adults ought to be focused on what is best for the children in the congregation. If this means keeping them in the service then the adults ought to put the interests of the children first, even if this means an occasional distraction.

Kids don’t learn anything in church services.

I suspect that when this type of statement is uttered, most often it is referencing the sermon. It may be true that children won’t comprehend what is taught from the pulpit, but does this mean they won’t learn? I surmise that children do an immense amount of learning through observation. As a child sits and watches people passionately worship God through song, carefully listening to the exhortation of God’s Word, showing genuine love for fellow believers, praying fervently, and taking communion with deep and humble respect, it seems to me that they must learn from this.

Most of what I learned in my childhood wasn’t from sitting in the classroom or reading a book. Instead, it came through observation of those I was closest to (family). The old adage, “Do as I say, not as I do” is cute, but rarely proves true in the life of a child. When parents are abusive, their children often grow up to be abusive parents themselves; this isn’t because someone told them to be abusive, but instead because it is what they experienced and observed as children.

I think that one of my earlier memories has implications for how children can learn when they sit in a church service. As a very little boy, I remember my dad and uncle teaching me how to swing a bat. I can’t remember what they told me, perhaps I didn’t even understand it.

Perhaps, even when children don’t understand all that is being said, they can learn how to interact with God as they watch and follow the example of worshiping adults.
Instead, I remember my uncle pitching me the ball while my dad stood behind me and helped me swing the bat so I could hit the ball. Quickly I was hitting the ball over the backyard fence without anyone’s help. Perhaps, even when children don’t understand all that is being said, they can learn how to interact with God as they watch and follow the example of worshiping adults.

It will prevent the church from growing.

Of the three stated arguments, this one seems most true. There are many who will come to a church, see that it doesn’t have a place for children to go during the service, and move on to another church where children’s church is offered.

Three things come to mind when I think about this reason for not keeping kids in the church service. First, if people want to go to another Jesus loving, Bible teaching church, fine. I don’t think any church should make keeping kids out of the service the norm in order to compete with other churches for people.

Second, I think we always need to be careful to not confuse what works with what is best. It may be true that offering children’s church will cause greater numerical growth in the short term, but we should be focused on whether it will result in greater growth for God’s Kingdom in the long run. 70% of teens are leaving church after high school! 70%! Could this be connected to the fact that a high percentage of kids aren’t actually in church before they graduate? The American church is facing a crisis; maybe it is time for us to think about the long term health of our churches and not what brings short-term growth.

Third, what people desire in a church seems to be changing. It is clear that the post-modern generation is longing for something different. Maybe, just maybe, making their children feel comfortable and welcome in a church service would compel some of the many who have left the church to return. Perhaps, in our busy, fast pace, technologically driven society, there are parents who long to spend meaningful time with their children.

A Note From a Friend

After my first post in this blog series I asked an old friend with four children their opinion on the topic. I wondered if they thought it was feasible for a family like theirs to stay in a church service together. Little did I know that they had recently switched to a family integrated church. My friend’s words are pertinent and valuable for this series and the objections raised above:

“We love that we can worship together, take communion together, hear the same message, etc. We very much appreciate being in an environment that is welcoming to children and allows for us to be comfortable during the “learning curve”. While we were at [our last church] I did not feel comfortable enough to have the tots in church with us. Small noises seem to be viewed as big distractions and I did not want to be “that” person.

We love that we can worship together, take communion together, hear the same message, etc. We very much appreciate being in an environment that is welcoming to children…

Also, when a church provides a big children’s “program” there is often to pressure to participate. People wonder why you choose not to involve your children and it creates waves. I never wanted to create waves. It did not feel comfortable to “go against the grain” and while we miss some things about our old church (mainly people), we really appreciate this model and our church family.

Most people with children are accustomed to some noise, and are not all too distracted when it happens. Because we know the leadership supports families being together during church it allows me to feel much more relaxed during the service. When anybody needs to address an issue or a child gets too loud or upset the parent just slides out and takes care if it. They usually come back to their seat, or sometimes just stand in the back or just outside the door where the sound is usually piped in. Most of our sermons are available online and we can just listen again if we missed too much because of our children needing our attention.

One of the main benefits I see is that when you attend a church that values keeping families together in favor of programing that segregates by ages, you empower the parents. When fathers (and mothers too) hear that it is their responsibility to teach and train their children in the ways of the Lord, families benefit. When you take your kids to church multiple times a week to be taught by the “experts,” parents often feel that their children’s spiritual needs are taken care of. I also love that my children know how to feel comfortable in a church service and in the long run won’t have as rough of a transition after graduating high school. [My husband] and I volunteered with high school students for years after graduating and are really passionate about the subject. Although we have great memories of “youth group” we also saw the sad statistics first hand. This lead us to question the “norm” and helped us in our choice to do church differently.”