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No Children Allowed

Ben Freudenburg

A child-friendly church helps children sense that they're a part of the church-not apart from the church. It's never too early to help children catch the wonder of being God's workers in the kingdom of God.

And the church said, "Keep those little sticky-fingered, crumb-making, noisy, Cheerio-nibbling children away from here for they are not members of the church yet! Haven't you heard? No children allowed! This place is for adults!"

I'm sure you don't recognize the above as part of Scripture, and no Christian church believes that children aren't important to God. But do some churches scream "no children allowed" by what they say and do- and not even realize it? How does this unspoken message affect the relationship parents and children have with Jesus?

I wish you could've been in church with me at one of our five services last Sunday. Here's what happened at 8 a.m. The church was alive with children and junior high teenagers assisting in "the big people's" worship. It was witness Sunday-a time for the family of God to hear young teenagers affirm their relationship with God. The service was introduced by an eighth-grader sharing her belief about the Holy Spirit and worship. Eight more teenagers witnessed their love for God through stories, letters of faith, descriptions of their beliefs about God, and helping with the children's message.

The children's bell choir lifted our hearts in praise to our God; the children's choir and adult choir alternated lyrics of the same musical score with two teenagers on flutes accompanying them. Parents of kindergartners, in front of the congregation, received Bible storybooks and made promises to read them at home with their children. The pastors sermon included stories of two teenagers whose faith was modeled by their lives, one through a serious illness and the other through the death of a great-grandfather. And 50 children gathered around the altar to hear about God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. I don't think anyone could've left without sensing that children are very important to our church.

What does a child-friendly church believe, say, and do when it comes to caring for God's precious gift of children and their faith in Jesus? What are parents in your community saying about your church's love for children? Are they saying this church has a heart and passion for the lives and well-being of children?

A child-friendly church is not a child-centered church where the child controls the decision-making process. Rather a child-friendly church is where the child knows that the adults who are in charge love children. A child-friendly church is not so much a program for children; it's an attitude that says children belong here. They're welcome here. We value them so much that we plan, design, and say words deliberately to include them so they know they're important to us and to Christ.

Check out your church's attitude about children. Would your church agree with the following statements?

1. Children are members of the body of Christ. A child-friendly church helps children sense that they're a part of the church-not apart from the church. A child-friendly church isn't waiting for children to grow up to be useful to God and his kingdom. How many times has a child reflected the light of Christ in such a way that it has led an entire family into the kingdom of God? How often has a child salted the life of a grandma or grandpa, making it better? How often have children been the yeast of the neighborhood, singing Jesus songs on the swings, telling Jesus stories to the neighbors, and including neighborhood concerns at bedtime prayer? How many times have you seen children willing to give it all so others may have some? A church that values the gifts of a child says loud and clear, "You belong here!"

2. We understand that the client in children's ministry is really the parent. Overheard any of these statements at your church recently?

  • "I just wish parents would stop their children from putting prints all over the glass doors."
  • "I could've just died from the stares I got in church today when my child started to cry."
  • "The nursery? It's in the basement next to the furnace room. I'd better take you there; it's hard to find."
  • "It would be best to take your child out of church. He's distracting the pastor."
  • "The day care kids and preschoolers are very hard on the building. Do we really need these programs? Can't parents take care of their children at home?"
  • "Volunteer to baby-sit in the nursery? Don't you have a more important job I could do?"

What other words do we say that offend or devalue the child and cause the parent to go away?

3. Our building is designed with children in mind. What would a building look like that says, "Suffer the little ones to come unto me and forbid them not for such is the kingdom of God"? Actions speak louder than words. Do our buildings and furnishings nullify our teaching that children are important? Our building can be a great way to teach the value we have for children. Check out the "Uncommon Family-Friendly Ideas" sidebar for fresh ideas to welcome children.

4. Congregational communication demonstrates our love for children. Does your Sunday worship bulletin cover ever feature children's art? Does the church newsletter include articles about children's needs or feature children's gifts and accomplishments? Does the pastor's sermon use illustrations from children's lives? The way we project ourselves, the words we use, and the pictures we display say a lot about what we value.

5. Major programs deliberately include children. Sunday school and the church picnic are programs that include children. But what about the stewardship drive, the evangelism and outreach events, concerts, and building programs? Does your church plan these events to include children? We all feel special when we're included. It's never too early to help children catch the wonder of being God's workers in the kingdom of God.

6. Worship is deliberately designed to be perceived through children's eyes. Do parents view your worship as child-friendly? Children do belong in worship. They're part of the family of God. One wise pastor, now with his Savior, once told me, "Church is the one place we're all equal. We're equal in God's eyes as his children. Worship is one place where age holds no power. I'm as big as the biggest, yet as small as the smallest, as valuable as the most valuable and as unworthy as the least worthy. I'm as capable as the most capable and as sinful as the most sinful. Age makes no difference to our Father in heaven. In his house, in his eyes, we are who we are, his children, and he expects us to come and worship him. It matters not what our age is."

Instead of taking children out of church, let's make church child-friendly: booster chairs so children can see, children's worship aids, children's messages, children's songs that all ages love to sing, children as greeters (with their families), children helping parents usher, adults who talk with children and shake their hands, children's prayers prayed, and prayers requested by children honored and offered.

The education and social science communities believe that attitudes and values are established in the early years of life. The way we present worship to children will form strong opinions about worship and its value in their adult lives. We've blamed many for the fallout of children in the church, but have we ever considered the impact worship has had, either positively or negatively, in their choice to become a backdoor loss statistic?

7. Professional children's ministers are valued by the church. What does the pay scale say about the value we place on children? What does it say to parents? Or to the staff who give much for the faith development and care of children? Ask parents what's their greatest treasure and most would say their children. Why does our society then place a low value on those who care for these most treasured people?

8. We're known for our desire to protect children from harm. What's your church's public stand on abortion, pornography, child abuse? How do we screen and train volunteers who work with children? How do we equip homes to protect children from harm? Does the community know our beliefs and values?

Children are very important to the Christian community. They're precious and very important to our Father in Heaven. Jesus said to bring the children-those little sticky-fingered, crumb-making, noisy, Cheerio-nibbling children-to him. We must be deliberate about what we say and do in our ministry to children. Our reason for ministry shapes our model. Could our model be saying to parents and their children, "You're not important today"? So often the model is the message. Over the next weeks, walk through your church and view it through children's eyes. Discover just how child-friendly your church is. If you sense your children are being ignored, it's time to do something about it. Go ahead and encourage your church to burn any "no children allowed" signs.

Ben Freudenburg is a minister of the Christian home in Kirkwood, Missouri. Please keep in mind that phone numbers, addresses, and prices are subject to change.


Uncommon Family-friendly Ideas

Here are nine ways to broadcast to families that they are welcome at your church.

  1. Provide a small exterior door that children can open on their own to go into your church building.
  2. Add child-size furniture to areas normally used by adults.
  3. Establish reserved parking spaces close to the church door for mothers with babies (and tons of baby paraphernalia).
  4. Create a staffed drop-off zone to help families with small children into church.
  5. Set up changing stations in women's and men's restrooms.
  6. Hook up video transmissions in the mothers' cry room and the fathers' cry room so parents don't have to miss the service when the baby needs attention.
  7. Put in child-size restroom fixtures-especially sinks and drinking fountains. Or, at the least, provide step stools.
  8. Hang paintings and art work at a child's eye level or children's artwork at an adult's eye level.
  9. Create a children's space with Lego tables, books, toys, and children's and adults' furniture.
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