Of all the issues that'll get children's ministers debating,
this one has to be the hottest. Where should kids worship -- with
adults in "big" church or in their own children's church
We asked that question in our poll at www.childrensministry.com
and got a whopping response. Of the 2,032 people who responded, 48%
said definitely in the corporate worship setting; and the other 52%
said in a separate children's church setting.
To dig deeper into this issue, Children's Ministry
Magazine asked two children's ministers to tell why they
believe strongly in one side or the other. In this article, you'll
see their views, poll respondents' views, and basic models for how
churches handle this important issue.
Pro Family Worship
What children's ministers at ChildrensMinistry.com say...
- "My children need to see their parents worshiping. They learn
so many things by parents' example-including worship."
- "Families are separated enough in our society. Worship should
involve everyone...Keep my family together on Sunday morning!"
- "If kids learn at an early age that it's acceptable in the
house of God to separate themselves from the adults, later on they
learn that it's okay to segregate themselves."
- "We try very hard to incorporate plenty of kid-friendly
elements into the service...I've seen kids' eyes light up when
we've used video clips from Finding Nemo to explain the parable of
the prodigal son."
- "If children are set apart and not allowed to learn what's
expected, what's going to happen to our churches? When the older
members die out, what are we going to do?"
- "There's nothing more beautiful than to take part in services
of worship with children present. Just to see their little eyes
widen and faces light up fills me with joy."
Build Families Together
by Jessica Nelson
We in children's ministry know that one of our goals is to bring
families closer in their relationship to God, yet when families
enter the church we seem to be in a rush to separate them. Many
churches take children out of worship to provide a separate
children's church, but the traditional model of families worshiping
together and then dividing into age-appropriate classes has much
more to offer modern families.
Worship is a place for families. Parents need to understand the
importance of the religious training children need to help guide
them throughout their lives. For these and many other reasons, we
have to build the kind of worship environment that facilitates
families growing together.
Build comfort in sanctuary. We need to prepare our children for
the inevitable difficulties they'll face in life. Every child will
have a loved one die or face a major trauma at some point. Imagine
a child who has never been in a sanctuary facing that massive space
for the first time at a grandmother's funeral. If a child or young
adult visits a chapel in a hospital during a time of grief, no one
is going to come out in costume to hear their prayers. The child
will be alone in a quiet space for prayer and reflection. This can
be disconcerting if the first time that place of refuge is
introduced is when needed most. We need our children to be
comfortable in the house of the Lord and to help them find peace
and comfort in quiet prayers. This takes practice, time, and effort
on all our parts.
Build family unity. There's an amazing amount of chaos going on
in the lives of families. School, work, soccer, and ballet
practices are only part of it when we look at the rates of divorce,
adultery, suicide, and drug use in families. Look up those
statistics for your community and look into your congregation. What
could be going on inside their homes that you don't know about?
Families today need a haven, and that could be your church.
Our families need time together in peace. Children need calm and
security, and they don't always get that at home. Sitting in
worship, holding hands, and speaking community prayers together can
give our families a respite. Once families are comfortable with
these practices, they'll be able to use them away from the church
when a crisis or difficult situation emerges and they need family
Build child-friendly worship. Parents have come to expect
church to be fun. There are several other adjectives that seem more
important: spiritual, educational, and enlightening are a few.
Church is a time of holiness, an opportunity to grow in our
understanding of God's love for us and his desires for our lives.
Children can experience and appreciate this if given the
opportunity. Children of all ages are able to enjoy music and
prayers and begin to learn valuable lessons, even from sermons
aimed at adults.
Build into parents' lives. Children's moments during worship are
a wonderful way to integrate the family into worship time. Link
your children's moment with the main sermon and give them an
activity that's related and can involve their families. If the
sermon is on tithing, have kids write or draw nice things they did
during the week that they can put in the offering plate. Their
kindness is their offering. The family can then do this at home
together each week.
Build an expectation for worship. Sitting in church can be
difficult for young ones who've never experienced it before, but
when prepared, children can meet high expectations. Let them know,
lovingly, that you expect them to sit still, stay quiet, and pay
attention during the service. Practice this. Take children into the
sanctuary when it's empty. Sit in the pews and experience the
silence. Show them the quiet voice to use when speaking in church
so if they have a question, they can ask it appropriately. Tell
them what'll happen during the service, where the choir comes in,
where the candles will be lit, and how children get to the front
for the children's moment. If available, take a tour of your
church. Let children see how the choir enters through the special
doors or why the candles never get blown out accidentally. They'll
love knowing these secrets. The more they know about the church,
the more they'll respect it.
Always remember kids are kids. We all have restless days and
fussy moments, and children don't have the ability to control that
as adults do. There will always be days when worship just isn't
possible and the nursery or cry room needs to be taken advantage
of. It's those days that we simply honor Jesus' words to "let the
Every family must decide what's right for it, but I remember the
days when I sat in church with my parents. I remember the
excitement the first time I looked up a Bible verse in my own
Bible. I cherish my memories of church and family togetherness, and
I'm sad when I see churches encouraging parents not to spend this
special time with their children. cm
Jessica Nelson is a children's minister in Plano,
Pro Family Worship
- "We have the service for everyone...Children are trained to sit
still and quiet, the little ones are taught to lie on the floor and
sleep, and the school-age ones sit and read a book, but stand for
the prayers and hymns. Once they are about 11 or 12 they listen to
- "Keep children with us in the sanctuary. Let them experience
the Holy Spirit, listen to what's really going on, and be able to
ask questions that'll cause us to have to spend quality family time
in giving them the answers."
- "When the kids in my church worship, I feel the adults are
motivated by this and are even inspired by the kids."
- "Kids need to be in the presence of adults who can model the
passionate, sold-out worship that kids need to survive in this
- "We had children in our worship service initially, but the
service was totally geared to adults. When challenged on this, I
was told that they didn't want to 'dumb-down' worship for the kids.
My response has remained the same, "Either include them or exclude
them, but don't ignore them."
- "I love sitting in a service watching a child as he watches his
father and raises his hands the same way or puts his hand over his
heart like his mother."
-poll response at childrensministry.com
Pro Children's Church
What children's ministers at ChildrensMinistry.com say...
- "In our children's church we teach the same Jesus, the same
death on the cross, and the same resurrection."
- "Just because children have been placed in the adult service in
the past doesn't mean that it was the best way; it was just the
- "Children also need a place where they can learn to worship God
freely and not be intimidated by the grown-ups."
- "An adult worship service is for adults. Vocabulary is not on a
child's level; concepts can be abstract rather than concrete, which
is difficult for children to understand; and the method of delivery
doesn't sufficiently reach the generation we're teaching
- "It's great if children can worship in church with adults, but
too many times I have seen children messing around and parents not
doing anything to teach their children to worship God."
- "After 20 years of children's ministry and having had it both
ways, I've seen a greater freedom in children when they worship
alongside other children."
Real Worship for Kids
by Debbie Rowley
When I came into Kidz Church several weeks ago, I was delighted
to see Joshua in the front, leading the other children in the hand
motions to "Lord, I Lift Your Name on High." Joshua is a
first-grader who's been diagnosed with attention deficit
hyperactivity disorder and finds it difficult to "sit still and
listen" in a typical adult worship service. However, after the Kidz
Church worship leader invited Joshua to teach the motions to this
praise song, this active child was able to focus his attention on
Christ, and become an active participant in worship.
This is the advantage of children's church, providing worship
services that involve children and draw them into worship. God
blessed children with extra energy and the desire to move; they
have unique needs and characteristics that make them uncomfortable
and even bored in an adult worship service. Children's worship
services can provide a useful outlet for that energy, actually
harnessing it to enhance children's worship experiences.
Remove physical barriers to children's worship. Most adult
worship centers have pews or seats built for adults. Many children
can't easily see the pastor or other leaders at the front of the
room, causing children to easily lose interest.
In our Kidz Church at Calvary Church, we have chairs of
different sizes for different sizes of kids. Often we remove the
chairs and have kids sit on the floor, removing barriers between
leaders and kids and allowing safe movement during activities.
Remove musical obstacles to children's worship. Songs in an
adult worship service are chosen to be meaningful to adults, but
the songs often include terms and concepts children can't grasp.
Children's worship leaders have the advantage of choosing songs
children can understand. Of course, music can be more fun with
songs in children's church such as "Shake a Friend's Hand" or "I
Love Bananas." Fun elements ensure that kids will want to
Remove learning stumbling blocks to children's worship. What
about a sermon? Most adult worship services feature a sermon that
can vary in length from 20 to 60 minutes-far longer than the
attention span of young children. Most kids find a sermon an
exercise in endurance and will find other ways to occupy their
time. Parents often reinforce this habit of "turning off" Bible
teaching by bringing things such as coloring books and crayons to
keep the children busy. Parents don't realize they're training
their kids to see church as irrelevant and Bible teaching as
something to ignore.
Remove unreal experiences for kids. A children's church leader
can present biblical truth far more effectively to kids through
R.E.A.L. Learning principles than through a sermon. R.E.A.L.
Learning stands for Relational, Experiential, Applicable, and
Relational Worship-Relational activities are what church is all
about-growing in relationship with Christ and with one another.
Kids want to talk to God. They want to pray about their lost pets
and sick relatives. Kids also need friendships with other Christian
kids, and kids need to talk to each other to develop those
friendships. Experiential Worship-Sermons are the opposite of
experiential learning, which is learning by doing. A children's
church leader lets kids do things that help them understand Bible
truth better than they would by simply hearing it.
Applicable Worship-Of course, God's Word needs to be applicable
for kids today. In our children's church, we're not interested in
kids being able to answer questions in Bible quizzes but in being
different because they know Jesus. Sermons in adult services are
designed to reach people with jobs, mortgages, and car payments.
However, in children's church we help kids see how Jesus feels
about fights with siblings, obeying parents through chores,
cheating to get good grades, and other issues at their level. We
want kids to understand that the Bible applies to them today.
Learner-Based Worship-Sermons in "big church" are seldom
learner-based. After all, a learner-based session isn't based on
what the leader enjoys or does best (such as preaching), but on
what'll benefit the participants most. In children's church, we
recognize that different kids learn best in different ways.
Children's church need not be a time of nonstop activity and
noise. God said in Psalm 46:10, "Be still and know that I am
God." We can balance the activities in children's church to include
all the different kinds of learners and worshipers, ensuring all
have an equal opportunity to meet God and grow closer to him.
Kids can worship. The Bible even tells us of a time when the
kids upset pious adults by their worship of Jesus. Look at what
happened after Jesus' triumphal entry into Jerusalem in Matthew 21. Jesus didn't mind noisy kids
praising him then, and I know he delights in hearing kids praise
him in all kinds of ways in children's church today.
Pro Children's Church
- "If we shove children into a service where they only understand
25 percent of what's going on (and that's a very generous number),
we're wasting 75 percent of the time we have with them."
- "In my situation it would be ideal to have a children's church,
because each week I don't get anything from the service and neither
do my children, only because they're too noisy. So I take them
outside and I don't get to hear the message."
- "Let them rejoice the best way they know how and to have fun
with it. Worshiping God should be fun!"
- "Restless kids are a huge distraction to the adult service, and
children can really begin to dislike church because they're
continually corrected during the adult service."
- "It's really neat to see the kids with hands in the air
worshiping God with the same songs the adults sing, but with a
style of music they can relate to."
-poll response at childrensministry.com