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Where Should Kids Worship?

Jessica Nelson

Should children worship with adults in church or in their own children's church setting? Check out what 2 children's ministers have to say on each side of the issue...

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 setting? 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 spirituality.

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 children come."

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.

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 the service."
  • "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 world!"
  • "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 responses at childrensministry.com


Pro Children's Church

What children's ministers at cmmag.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 only way."
  • "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 today."
  • "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 return.

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 Learner-Based.

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."
  • "Whatever we choose to do, we have to make sure it helps the children in our community to have a growing relationship with Christ Jesus, and I am confident that he will perfect the rest."

-- poll responses at childrensministry.com


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