Churches and families vary greatly in how they handle children being present in communal worship. Some families, like my own, have already been worshiping alongside their children for several years. For other families, the idea of having their children in the service can bring about feelings of anxiety and dread. Wherever you find yourself, be encouraged that God can use you to help build the faith of children.
I have not always worshiped well with my kids, but I am thankful for grace that enables me to keep showing up and trying again. Even though multigenerational worship has its challenges, I will continue to advocate for including children in worship services. Why? Because in corporate worship, our children can see and be seen. They can experience what worship is as they watch, listen, and begin to participate. Our children need to see us participating in worship. I will never forget the first time my son looked on as our church participated in the Lord’s Supper. He had so many questions. It was the sweetest time being able to whisper to him throughout the service. I was able to explain to him why in our tradition he couldn’t participate yet but that someday he could! Sitting beside my wide-eyed and ever-curious child as I shared in the Lord’s Supper with my church family was a huge blessing and encouragement to me. Through this experience, God reminded me that it’s worth the extra effort to involve our children in corporate worship. Each week as we sit in the service, we need to remember that we are doing eternal work as we whisper reminders to our kids about not kicking the chairs, as we retrieve dropped crayons, and as we answer our children’s questions.
R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, once said in a chapel sermon, “You should see people sitting in pews whose feet cannot touch the floor. And we should, in church, welcome the wiggling and the squirming, and we should hope that what is happening is that the word of God is reaching those hearts in ways those children do not even recognize. They are speaking as children, they are thinking as children, they are reasoning as children. But the word of God can reach where we cannot go.”
Still, in order to have the best experience with children in a worship service, it’s wise to prepare. Whether you are the caregiver who puts on a brave face and brings your child into the service, the pastor who leads the service, or a fellow church attender, I hope these ideas will encourage and help you.
Prepare the Church Family
It is essential to have your lead pastor’s support. It is important for caregivers, children, and everyone else to hear the pastor say from the pulpit that children are warmly invited into the service. It is helpful to hear the pastor acknowledge that children will simply act like children, and that they are not just tolerated but welcomed. My children hear this every week from our pastor, and as a result they know they are valued as an important part of the worship service. These kinds of supportive messages take pressure off caregivers to have perfectly behaved children and remind everyone else of the welcoming attitude they should have.
It will be freeing for you and your children if you let go of the unrealistic expectation that your children are going to sit quietly and respectfully for the entire service. Yes, there will be times you will have to correct behavior. You may even have to get up and take your child out of the service for a while. It will take time to figure out what works best for your family, but it is worth the effort. You will be amazed at what your kids can do and how much they truly will rise to the level that is expected of them.
Find out if your church has a designated space where families can go if their children need a break from the service. Many kids find communal worship challenging, especially if it’s their first time in a worship service, and they may not be able to make it through the entire service. If you need to step out with your crying baby or a child who is melting down, it may be tempting to leave and go home. Instead, use the designated space and whatever means your church offers to watch or listen to the service from there.
Prepare Your Children
You can assume that your kids will not be perfect, but it’s still wise to set them up for success. Here are a few ideas to help with that:
- Familiarize your child with the flow of the worship service. When is everyone supposed to sit, stand, sing, or listen? If you can, teach your children the worship songs in advance. If they are familiar with the music, it will be easier for them to participate in congregational singing. It’s one less thing that will seem foreign to them.
- Feed your kids a large breakfast and bring a snack for them to eat during the service. This basic step will eliminate growling tummies and help children stay focused during the service.
- Make sure your children use the restroom or have a clean diaper before the service begins. Occasionally I forget this, and I regret it every time
- Teach children how to participate. Help them open their Bibles and find the passage the pastor is preaching on. If possible, sit close to the front of the sanctuary so kids can see better and have fewer distractions. Hold smaller children or let them stand in their chairs during the singing time. They cannot see if they are surrounded by tall adults. Kids that can’t see what’s going on will naturally lose interest and start acting up. They need to be able to see the worship leader and the words on the screen—even if they can’t yet read. They need to be able to hear the music and the voices of people singing around them. Kids will learn that worshiping is important to their parents and caregivers because they are modeling it. Kids learn how to worship by watching and hearing others do it.
- Bring an activity bag. For the littlest ones, pack some soft toys that don’t have a squeaker or crackly material, and of course pack their favorite blanket. If you are a church leader, consider providing young children with pencils, crayons, and a kids’ worship bulletin or activity sheet. You can find templates online for activity sheets and coloring pages. Young kids also love doodling on small dry-erase boards. For older kids, provide pages with questions they can answer while they listen to the service. What is the date? Who is preaching today? What book of the Bible does the Scripture reading come from? What words do you hear that you don’t understand? What questions do you have? You can even customize the pages based on that day’s sermon points, using a fill-in-the-blank format. For much older kids, provide a notebook and pen that they can use to take notes, and encourage them to follow along in their own Bible.
Inviting children into corporate worship may require a big culture shift for many congregations. We have to stop thinking of worship as a grown-up activity that kids aren’t ready for and stop viewing kids who are present as an inconvenience. Instead, we must embrace worshiping with our children as part of our God-given role in discipling them. We need to let them know that they are a valuable part of the church and that including them in our services is vital. The key factor affecting how your children learn to participate in worship is how you, the caregiver, think, talk, and interact with them in church. Sure, it also matters how your pastor and fellow church attendees think, speak, and act, but you are your children’s primary influence, and worshiping together can be a defining moment in your relationship with them. Instead of seeing this time as inconvenient and frustrating, try to see it as a blessing and a privilege. What an honor it is that you get to be the one who shows your children what it means to “Ascribe to the LORD the glory due his name [and] worship the Lord in the splendor of his holiness” (Psalm 29:2).