Of all the issues that’ll get children’s ministers debating, where should children worship 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 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.”
- “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 response at childrensministry.com
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. cm
Jessica Nelson is a children’s minister in Plano, Texas.