I hate church nurseries. At every church I’ve attended that has *had* a church nursery, I’ve been offered, encouraged and harassed to use the nursery. I know people have good intentions, but I grew so tired of hearing people to tell me to “let myself have a break,” or “let the children come and play,” or whatever other way they so nicely suggest that my children didn’t belong/didn’t need to be/weren’t wanted in church. This is why I am so glad that they church we go to now has no nursery in sight. Places where you can take your child during the service? Yes. Staffed nursery? No. So grateful.
I truly believe (and always have) that children belong in church from the time of their baptism on. I also believe that children should be baptised within weeks, if not days, of their births, ergo, children belong in church from the time they are days (or weeks) old, hearing the Word. And don’t tell me it’s too hard, because I don’t buy it. When I had one, or even two children, mothers with more “experience” would knowingly say that I’d change my mind when they were older/more mobile, or if I had more children. Well, I’m here to tell you, I didn’t change my mind, not when I had four children four and under, not when I found out that one of my children has autism (which can make sitting through church a challenge), not when my husband is out-of-town and I have to take them all by myself, not ever. Children are part of the body of believers, they need to be taught how to worship, and they need to be in worship.
So, to everybody who talked down to me like I had no idea what parenting was like when I was a younger parent: you were wrong. I stand by my belief that children *always* belong in church. To the other parents out there who are struggling to do the right thing and keep their children in church with them, here are a few ideas for you:
- Sit in front. This is just common sense. If you’re sitting in the back, facing the front, when your child is loud, that loudness travels in front of you, toward all of the rows of people sitting in front of you. If you’re in front, the sound is mostly just traveling toward the pastor, and he’s usually more understanding than the people sitting in the pews.
- Limit distractions. I know a lot of people swear by “church bags” full of toys, books and snacks. I used to do that, too. But I found that all that stuff really just provided more distractions, more noise, and more problems when they were dropped, lost or fought over. If you *must* bring something, bring a quiet toy (stuffed animals are great at being quiet) that doesn’t rattle, sing, squeak, or have wheels that make lots of noise. Better yet, bring a church related book. A Bible story book, or one of my favorite books for toddlers–The Things I…series from CPH. I think those are actually best used at home before and after church to talk about what you will be (or what you have been) seeing and doing, but in church would be OK too, if you have to bring something.
- Sit in front. I know I said this once already, but I’m saying it again for a different reason. Children love to see what is happening in church. There is so much to watch and listen to, and the closer you are to the front, the better children are able to participate. Yes, you will need to whisper to them what is going on, and yes, they will need to be taught to whisper their questions to you, but this is how they learn. They need to see, hear and understand what is going on in the service–this is how they learn to be part of the service themselves when they are older.
- Help them participate. Help young children learn to stand when you stand, sit when you sit, and fold their hands at appropriate times. Also, a benefit of attending a liturgical church is that even small children can learn when to say the appropriate responses, and what those responses are. And young children who can’t yet read still like to follow along in a hymnal, so show them the correct page, help them turn the page at the right times, help them to learn how to treat the hymnal with respect (just as you’re probably teaching them to do with story books at home).
- Talk about church. Talk about how you behave in church before you go. Talk about what happened in church on your way home. Play church with stuffed animals during the week, modeling correct church behavior. The more children know what to expect, and what is expected of them, the better they will do on Sunday morning.
- Be consistent. Go to church *every* Sunday. Yes, there are weeks when illness makes us miss out on worship, but those instances are usually few and far between. There will be Sundays that you won’t want to go. Go anyway–these are the Sundays you need to be there the most. The more often you go, the better you children will behave, so go regularly.
- Leave when you need to. Even with practice and help from parents, even the best child has a Sunday with a meltdown. So, if you need to leave because your child is being a distraction, just leave, as quickly and as quietly as possible (I know this is embarrassing when you’re sitting in front, but hopefully if you’re sitting in front, and your children are engaged in the service, you’ll need to leave less often, anyway). And when you get out of the sanctuary, sit with your child, or stand if there are no seats available, but keep participating in the service. No running around, no playing with toys, no going home. Even if you’re not in the sanctuary, your child needs to learn that Sunday mornings are for worship, and if they are not willing to sit in the pew (preferably in the front), then they are going to worship in the back, where they can’t see as well, and aren’t as much a part of things. I know from experience that this is not more fun than sitting in the pew, and the child will eventually realize that in the church, where they can see and hear well, is the better place to be.
Helping children to learn how to worship is not always easy–at times is may seem like a never-ending task. But, one Sunday you will realize that your toddler is singing the words to the liturgy, and you will realize that your elementary-school age children are listening to the sermon, and you may even notice that your special-needs child is at his best in church, and you will know what an important and rewarding task it truly is!
14 thoughts on “Children in Church”
Amanda – I’d like to know if you’d give permission to reprint this article in our church newsletter and/or repost it on our church website. We would certainly give you credit and also link back to your blog. Please let me know.
If you’re amenable, you may wish to license your blog posts under a Creative Commons license for other churches to use as well. You can find more info at http://creativecommons.org.
Pastor Matthew Dent
You can email me using my first initial and full last name @christthekinggp.org
Feel free to reprint as you see fit! I’d be happy to think that some other parents might find this encouraging or helpful in some way.
Hi, I am not sure if this would be divulging too much personal information or not, but my family and I are also confessional Lutherans and we are considering a move to the St. Louis area, would you mind sharing with us what congregation your family attends?
Try this website: http://issuesetc.org/findachurch/ to find a confessional Lutheran congregation near whatever part of St. Louis you’re considering.
Hi – you don’t know me, but this post was forwarded to me by a dear family friend who happens to be a pastor. Oh, how your post resonates with me! I am the mother of a four year old daughter who has been in church with us every Sunday without fail (barring illness or travel, of course). At four, she can follow along in the LSB, sing the Liturgy and much more. Children belong in church with us, hearing the Word! It is so sad that so many do not think so! Bravo for such an eloquent post – so well written, succinct and so very, very true! God’s blessings to you!
Amy, thank you for your kind words! I had no idea the response I would get when I wrote this, but it has been good to see how many people are committed to keeping their children in worship with them. We as parents need to keep fighting the good fight as we raise the next generation of Christians!
Amanda – you post was forwarded to me from several people who had received it. I can’t agree with you more. When my daughter was very young (that would be Amy from an earlier post) our Pastor would stop preaching if a child bothered him. However, he expected them to be there. We know the Scripture say, “bring the little children to me” and “not to forsake the Preaching of His word”. I feel all children (and adults) must be in His house on Sunday morning. The blessing we receive are without measure. I know that children can follow the hymnal and printed worship inserts, I have seen it too many times.
I want to thank you for your post and you strong stance in this issue. You are not alone.
Amanda – thanks for the great ideas. Since our church is quite small and pastored by my hubby, I feel a huge burden to keep my kids quiet. There are no other children and I feel all eyes are on us constantly. Members love to SEE us there and fawn over the kids before and after the service, but it seems many don’t want to HEAR us there. In fact some ladies decided to set up a nursery – each take a different week to run it – mine are the only kids in our church the appropriate age for this and I refuse to use it. Because of this, I sit in the back row with snacks and a box full of books/toys. They are all church-related, Baby’s First Bible, Easter story, the little play church from CPH, etc. However, I think I’m going to change my tactics. In two weeks (after a vacation Sunday visiting a neighboring church) I’ll be relocating to the front of church and leaving my box of stuff at home. Until then, I think we’ll practice with our play church and do a lot of talking and pretending. My only fear now is that Ephraim will run up to Daddy during church. 🙂 Thanks for the encouragement and ideas.
Jenna, we had a similar situation at a church we used to go to, where out of nowhere, they set up a nursery where there hadn’t been one before. Guess who was the target of the nursery? And they just couldn’t get why we didn’t want to leave our children in it every week. I know their intentions were good (at least I’m going to put the best construction on it), but I still don’t get why people are so surprised that we prefer to worship as a family!
I’ll be praying that you have little problems with sitting up front (because we all know there is always some kind of problem!), that your congregation is supportive, and that Daddy doesn’t receive any surprise visits when he’s trying to preach! 😉