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Big Church Hurts

Debbie Vallejo and Jennifer Hooks

"I don't really fit in here."

In big church, we sometimes view kids as a disruption risk rather than worship participants. Wanting kids to sit still and pay attention isn't a bad thing. In fact, many children's ministers tout the virtues of having kids in big church so there's no abrupt transition from the "fun and games" of children's church to the seriousness of big church. There's merit in this.

"Children socially learn when they see others older than them learning, singing, worshipping, praying, and reading scripture," explains Dr. Tommy Sanders, professor at Dallas Baptist University and director of the masters of arts in Christian education children's ministry program at DBU.

"Yes, children can learn with other children, but they miss the bigger picture of what church is and does when they are only with their peers," says Sanders. He rejects the idea that children should become adults before they experience corporate worship with an entire body of believers. "Their vision of church is limited when kids never worship with the entire church."
But when the service clearly makes no accommodations to include children or speak to them, the message is loud and clear: You aren't included in this. This isn't for you.

Children fear being excluded, so for impressionable children to sense that they're excluded in big church is a significant problem. Over time, that sense of not belonging can evolve into the hardened belief that church doesn't include the child. The seed of discontent is planted: If I'm not part of it, why should I go? The obvious danger here is that kids begin to resent going to big church-and eventually church in general.

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