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Do You Think Children Should Worship in Big Church?

The debate rages between children’s church advocates and opponents. Where should children worship?

“I’d sooner try to hold fire in my hands than attempt to restrain a child in a setting that sometimes lulls me to sleep.”

“The church has done the family a disservice by providing for the dividing of the family.”

Get Thee to a Children’s Church!

In my travels and 20 years as a children’s church helper and leader, I’ve experienced very few valid “family” worship services. Children sit, stand, squirm, and make their staid Christian parents almost as uneasy as they are throughout the gathering. They draw pictures, fold offering envelopes, tell jokes, and develop new ways to stick ripped-out songbook pages to the underside of pews. Children in the average family worship setting would be better off sleeping in on Sunday mornings.

Granted, if there were such a thing as a “family service,” one that appealed and ministered to all ages, I’d be the first to applaud intergenerational worship. But chances are “intergenerational” in your church translates into ADULT.

So, I say, “Send the kids to children’s church!” Send them to a room where enthusiastic adults and teenagers present the gospel on an understandable level using creative, kid-friendly methodology. Free them from the chains of pretending they’re little adults. Deliver them from parents that would work against the Manufacturer’s blueprints in attempting to contain the unpredictable energy in motion that’s called “a child.” I’d sooner try to hold fire in my hands than attempt to restrain a child in a setting that sometimes lulls me to sleep.

Here’s why children should go to children’s church.

The Bible was never meant to be boring.

God’s Word is the most exciting book ever authored. It was written about the most incredible person that ever walked planet Earth. We must constantly present God’s Word in such a way as to excite children about its content and its application to everyday living. Excitement for God and eternal things can and will grow in a child’s heart in the well-tuned children’s church service.

Children aren’t made to sit.

Scripture says, “Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it.” We have been training generations of children in the way adults go-to sit on a pew and be quiet. We’ve raised an army of pew warmers. It’s God’s plan for the church that everybody be active in the Body-kids included!

Children’s church provides constant ministry involvement and training as a child matures through the elementary years. The child who learns to take part as a worship leader, storyteller, actor, or object lesson assistant will grow up to be a Sunday school teacher, children’s church leader, or even a pastor. The child who grows up sitting quiet and still in the morning service will grow up and remain sitting. After all, this business of training a child works both ways.

Church was never supposed to be punishment.

Children should love church and their pastors. A child whose earliest memories include Mom or Dad forcing silent submission on a hard wooden pew will grow to despise that which should be joyful. Children need joyous church experiences. Children must not be allowed to grow up believing that the Bible and the worship service are some kind of unjust weekly punishment.

God’s love isn’t complicated.

It’s our duty as children’s ministers to bring the love of God to each child in unique and understandable ways. The typical four-point homily often shoots over adults’ heads. Most children have a nearly impossible task discerning the relevance of an adult sermon. Children’s church gives you an opportunity to present a simple theme. Using a variety of methods, you repeat that theme until every child knows that theme and has a God-birthed desire to live by it.

God isn’t supposed to be difficult to find.

Last Sunday, eight children, ages 9 to 12, gave their lives to Jesus for the first time. These children heard the gospel presented on their level. They responded to a message where hefty theological terminology was discarded. Eight boys and girls came to Jesus in a children’s church.

Am I saying they couldn’t have come to Christ in a family worship service? Of course not! God can and will draw in the salvation net where he will. I am saying that these eight may not have known a response time was being given in the adult setting. They might’ve continued in their silent vandalism of the pew backs while a linguistically inappropriate service was concluded.

Send your children to children’s church. Take the first step toward blessing each child by providing a valid worship service where every child can take part, understand, and receive from God.

Dick Gruber is a children’s pastor in Minnesota.

Keep Families Together

The Bible has a lot to say about teaching children. Most of the references have to do with parents teaching their own children, not hired guns or, more appropriately, the local church’s children’s department. We in the church have designed church programs that actually encourage parents to abdicate their God-given responsibilities.

Offer a family service.

In many of today’s churches we have a “family service” where the babies are in the nursery, the preschoolers are in their rooms, the children are in their classes, youth are in their service, and the adults are in the sanctuary. In this age of specialty, everyone has a specialist minister or teacher to deal with a particular area. I think it’s time that we as ministers take a stand for the families of our churches.

Deuteronomy 6:6-7 says “These commandments that I give you today…Impress them on your children…talk about them…at home…as you walk along the road…when you lie down and get up.” It’s difficult for kids to see parents fulfill the Scriptures that instruct us to worship God if they’re in a different room. Just as tough is passing the torch of our Christian heritage through walls of brick and mortar.

Don’t divide families.

The church has done the family a disservice by providing for the dividing of the family. Will the children of tomorrow have a worship model? Will the model be only that of the professional minister or the Sunday school teacher? Do kids ever see “real” Christianity in action? Will parents be transparent enough to allow their children to see them worship? Will parents care enough to want their children to know how to behave in a worship setting? It has been said, “It is easier to form a child than to reform him when he’s grown.” Sitting in church with a wiggly, squirming child may not be anyone’s idea of a good time, but the end result has eternal rewards.

Kids learn by example.

If a child attends church every Sunday from birth to age 12, he or she will have had 624 worship opportunities. In most cases the child will spend most of his or her first three years in the church nursery. That leaves 468 worship opportunities. The average first grader will spend around 180 days in school this year for about six hours a day. That amounts to 1,080 hours of education in one year. What a child learns in first grade is very important; it’s what the remainder of his education is based on.

What a child can learn by experiencing worship with his parents will give him the foundation upon which his life will be based. He will see Dad trusting in the eternal God when his world is crumbling around him. He will see Mom finding strength in her worship even though her heart is breaking at the death of a loved one. But he can’t see the “behind the scenes” life of the children’s pastor or the personal struggles of the Sunday school teacher.

Keep kids in church longer.

Are not our children worth at least half the investment that we make in the education of a first grader? According to the Assemblies of God churches’ Annual Church Ministries Report, 37 percent of children disappear from the church in the seventh grade. This is the year that most churches graduate children from the children’s department to the youth department. Where do they go? More important, why do they go? They’re there in the children’s church and Sunday school one year and gone the next year.

For the first time, many children have to attend adult church on a regular basis. Thus the war begins and, sadly to say, the child wins more times than not. The child is allowed to stay home while the family goes to church or the family drops out completely.

Don’t be negligent.

I believe we’ll be held accountable for our negligence. Not only will heaven show the reward of passing the heritage of the Christian faith, but judgment will accompany the regret of failure.

The kids in my church have 24 family worship opportunities per year-twice on Communion Sunday, once in the morning and once in the evening. I’ve been asked to cut that in half. Children in my department from ages 6 to 11 will now have less than 100 family worship opportunities in the most formative time of their lives.

Psalm 78:5-7 says, “He decreed statutes for Jacob and established the law in Israel, for which he commanded our forefathers to teach their children, so the next generation would know them, even the children yet to be born, and they would in turn tell their children. Then they would put their trust in God and would not forget his deeds but would keep his commands.”

Is there any question? The Scripture is clear, children should be in worship with their parents!

Chris Daniel is a children’s pastor in Florida.

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24 thoughts on “Do You Think Children Should Worship in Big Church?

  1. I have been a children’s pastor, youth pastor and senior pastor. It has always been my feeling that children ought to be with other children during worship. I have watched adults tap kids on the shoulder to sit still, stop talking, stop using their iPods, iPads and iPhones and worship like the adults. On special occasions they can be kept in adult worship, but for the most part they need to see the adult Children’s church leaders worshipping God to the songs they enjoy, and that are made specifically for them.
    Maybe you should let the children whose parents do attend the church, make their own decision where to worship. Peer pressure is a great thing when they are of one spirit.

    • Christine Yount Jones

      Harvey, we love the idea of involving the parents in the decision!

  2. Kimberly Riddle

    I have been leading out and involved in Children’s Ministries for over 10 years, and I truly believe it is far more beneficial for the children to be in a church program that teaches them at their level and involves activities they can experience to facilitate what they have learned. I grew up in church where I sat in the pew each week, and I vividly remember reading other information, passing notes and whispering with my friends (until we got a dirty look from our parents) as the sermon was at an adult level.

    Families should be worshiping together regularly in the home and parents should be setting the example of their relationship with God in their daily lives — not just once each week when at church. Therefore, having children in children’s church for an hour once a week is not going to prevent the family from the ability to worship together and will facilitate the children wanting to return to church in lieu of being bored.

    • Christine Yount Jones

      Kimberly, it’s a complex issue! Thanks for your thoughts on this!

  3. I have recently been reading Kara Powell’s book, “Sticky Faith for Families.” She discusses the importance of not “Silohizing” the children and youth. We tend to stick children and youth in their own classes away from the adults. She pushed for intergenerational worship. I am children’s pastor at a small church in Durham, NC and we are now starting to do both. We want the children to have a time where they worship together, but also want families to be together as much as possible. Both great opinions expressed above!

    • Christine Yount Jones

      Nick, we love that you’ve found the right balance for your church!

  4. Lisa Morris

    What about child who do not have parents at church,mother or father? They come on Church van,who do they sit with if there isn’t a children’s church? What do you do in a situation?

    • Christine Yount Jones

      Lisa, exactly! We often forget those children but need to be reaching them!

  5. Brian Liechty

    I too would applaud inter generational worship that truly appeal AND minister to all ages levels, but there are only a few church that I know of that pull this off successfully….and in those churches, they still separate their children and adult service for their main service times, but provide a “special family” service in addition. When I was a child I was like many of the thousands of children that are/were forced to sit through an adult service that has little to no appeal or application to a child. The only thing I learned during that hour of boredom was that there was a God. And I thank God that my parents at least put me in an environment (a church) where I learned there was a God, BUT there is so much more we can and should be teaching our children. Sitting in church with a wiggly, squirming child is not a good time for the parents OR the child. That is a good indication that the child is not engaged in the service and certainly not learning much of anything that will bring any “eternal reward.” One of the main reasons public/private schools have age separated classes is to present information on a level that each child can best understand. Isaiah 28:9-10, tells us that teaching should be done precept upon precept…line upon line…; children don’t get this kind of teaching when it’s presented in an adult service and on an adult level and pace.
    One main reason (there are many) 37 percent of kids drop out of church at age of 12 is because parents do not know or understand the importance of children/youth ministry (many think it is simply a parent’s obligation to put their young child in church without knowing the true value of helping children to have a relationship with God) or they simply give in to the pressure their teenager gives them.
    I do believe the church can and must do better in bringing the ministry of family and children together. Either provide a “true” Family type weekly service to coincide with the regular age focused services or provide a special “Family Services” throughout the year (perhaps quarterly) that meets the spiritual needs of the entire family and presented in a way that all ages can understand and apply to their life.

    • Christine Yount Jones

      Brian, thanks for your thoughts on this! You make some great points!

  6. Well, I sort of do both. The children remain with their parents for about 1/2 of the service, at which time we have the Children’s Message. (I know, lots of “experts” say you should never bring the children up front and talk to them about Jesus, but I do just that. They have grown to like it.) After the Children’s Message the kids go to Children’s Church on their own, or if they like they can sit with their parents through the rest of the service. On Communion Sunday, (the 1st Sunday of the month) the kids stay in the sanctuary and receive Communion with their parents. I feel it is important to connect them with the church and with Christ.

  7. I’ve been a Children’s Pastor for ten years and before that I worked in other areas in the Children’s department. Before I took the job, I realized that my daughter who was 7 at the time was never in church. She was always in the Children’s programs offered by our church. When I took the job, the first thing I requested was that our children come in for worship. I felt that they needed to experience of seeing people worship, seeing people get prayed for, for healing and feeling the presence of God during that worship. I also found out when I requested this, that most of my parents wanted the same thing….they love having their kids in for worship. Now ten years later we are still going strong. Our kids experience worship with their parents, then hear the word in their own space.

    • Christine Yount Jones

      Lydia, thanks for sharing how this works well for your church!

  8. Alisha Haynes

    I am green in the world of Children’s ministry. I have just been a children’s minister for a year. When I first took the position to be a children’s minister, the little church that I moved to had no idea what children’s ministry really was. They were under the assumption that children’s ministry was a daycare, so the parents could get a break from their kids. In fact, they had no one that wanted to serve in that position. So the kids had Sunday school, but when I came to church service the kids were out in the audience. So when God started to use us as his workmen to build the ministry back up, we decided to move the kids back into the children’s church room for everything. They worshiped together, learned together, and grew together. On 5th Sundays the kids and volunteers enjoy church with their families, and they started to worship with them. As the year went on the kids started to desire staying out for worship with their families, so I didn’t feel that I could keep them from that desire. The reaction in our church was overwhelming, for both kids and families. The kids look forward to worshiping with their parents, and the parents are able to see how real the kids worship really is. I have to say, worship is very important to me. So one of our first lesson segments, after the basics was a worship study for children. This shaped the way our kids worship. Our kids were able to be free, and they love getting to worship to songs they here on the radio with their parents on Sundays. I can see the want to worship in the setting with all kids, but I also like the idea of the kids being with family. Honestly, whatever you feel is right for your church, and where you feel God is leading you is what is right.

  9. As a pastor I have come to a crazy conclusion: ask God what he would like your church to do. Every place is different, different culture, community and congregation. Maybe God desires your church to use children church for a time or maybe not. Either way pursue Jesus and let him speak into the situation … my guess is that he has a thought on the matter.

  10. I struggle with the idea that children would best be served by having only a secluded age appropriate worship service, never being invited to participate in the larger church services. While I believe that children can struggle through a worship service, especially if the sermon is long and not inclusive to children in it’s presentation, I believe that we need to have children in church worshipping as often as possible with the full body of Christ for several reasons.

    One of the reasons I think that children fall away from the church when they move into middle school and high school years, is that they have never felt like they belonged in church. The church only belongs to their parents and the older generations and there is no space for them to belong. I believe that the role of the church is to help each person (young and old) to find a place within the body where they can be themselves and connect with the rest of the body. Using the metaphor of being the body of Christ, we don’t say to the hand, you will only be useful when you are older, because we need the hand now. Disconnected from the body, the hand is likewise useless and unable to fulfill it’s purpose.

    Another reason is that the children’s worship services that we provide tend to be so vastly different from the normal church service, that when a child “graduates” from children’s church, they find the worship service just as foreign as if they had never participated in one at all. If you provide a children’s worship service exclusively, I really hope that you consider the similarities and differences to a normal service and try to incorporate elements that make the transition easy for children.

    I also believe that much needs to be done to help foster good relationships between the children and the community. It is very tough to move a church culture to embrace something unfamiliar, like somewhat wiggly, noisy children in church. Therefore, education on everyone’s part on how it is formational to a child’s faith to participate in worship within the larger body of believers is extremely important.

    I would be hypocritical to say that our church has mastered this, but we are trying hard to move towards it and having our children in church at least once a month to worship as the larger family of Christ has become part of our DNA. As a mom of some squiggly boys, I myself struggle with this at times. However, watching my children be embraced as part of the community of our church has overcome the times when it has been hard, and I would rather have them there within the church than without it.

    I do believe that each church has to find how to work this out for the benefit of all it’s members, but I do hope that my words have caused you to ponder a bit more on this topic than you may have before.
    Nowhere do I read in the Bible that Jesus sent the children away from their families during the many times that it is mentioned that he preached to large crowds. I imagine that church was noisy even when Jesus was teaching; children wiggled, cried and fussed then too. Yet the Holy Spirit was still able to spread the message that God intended for us to hear and I think that He is powerful enough to continue to do that with the children in church with us today. Blessings!

  11. For our smallish church, we have Family Sunday on the last Sunday of each month. On special occasions we would also do Family Sunday (such as a missionary speaker, special event, or holiday). The rest of the month we are in Children’s Church. I also do a Busy Bag for each kid on those Sundays that we’re in “big church”. The bag is just a gallon size zip-lock bag with a coloring/activity sheet that (hopefully) goes with the sermon, a Sermon Notes for Kids sheet (for older kids), some pipe cleaners to keep hands busy, and a few crayons or colored pencils. When they turn in the bags after service, they get a prize (usually candy).

  12. Thanks for these articles. I am on staff at a church of about 350-400 in north central Minnesota. I am both the worship pastor and children’s ministry director, a unique combination which is stretching me to say the least. Our church values worshiping together as a family where we believe values are more caught than taught. However, we also recognize that kids need to be able to learn how to follow Jesus in a way that speaks to them. The way we have handled this is that we spend our first 20-25 minutes together worshiping as families through song and prayer, and then the kiddos are dismissed to their Sunday morning groups to learn at their age level. It works really well because both family worship and learning the Word at age appropriate levels are prioritized. Thanks!

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