Little Ones in Church

One of the things our church has sought to do is include the little ones in the service. We treat them as though they belong with us, because they do. We used to have a full-fledged Sunday school or children’s church during the “adult” service way back when, but over the years it has fallen out of use. The parents wanted to keep the children with them rather than send them off to their own service. So we have many little ones of all ages, and they sit with us and participate at their own little level. From all I can tell, they love it. Now I know that some of you belong to communions with a different understanding of these things, and so I am just describing what we do here.

Now of course we have a couple of rooms available for parents (a mothers’ room and a fathers’ room) with piped-in sound, so parents can bail if they need to. Some parents go in and out quite a bit (especially with babies) while the kids are learning how to sit quietly. But we are used to a certain amount of childish noises, and we like it that way. They are a very important part of the covenant community, and we want them to join in with us. They learn to sing with us, they learn to speak with the congregation, to say their “amen” with us, to say the Apostles’ Creed with us, many take the bread and wine with us, and they lift their hands during the Gloria Patri. We are their people, and they belong with us. They are not excluded from any part of the service.

My thirteen grandchildren are only a small fraction of the many children worshiping with us. At the end of the service a bunch of the grandkids go barreling up front to give their grandfather a big hug. Then they charge over to me for the candy. (Okay, so I’m the sugar nana.) Several other children have joined into this little liturgy, so I bring extras. There are many multi-generational families gathered together each week, and we are just beginning to see with our eyes the joy of God’s covenant promises to our children’s children.

It’s quite an undertaking to teach the children to sit quietly through church, and I admire the parents who have patiently labored with their children on this: teaching, training, sometimes practicing at home, correcting, and rewarding. But eventually they get it, because I see two and three-year-olds sitting through the service. It’s like everything else. You teach your children to sit at the table, to say “thank-you” and “please,” to stay in their beds, and a host of other things. It is astounding how they can rise to the occasion, especially if it involves being with their parents.

Jesus told His disciples to let the little ones come to Him, and He blessed them. We are to imitate Him in this as in everything else. So we say, bring them all in. And if the service gets a little rowdy sometimes, then, good for us. Big families are like that.

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32 thoughts on “Little Ones in Church

  1. Thanks so much for this post! Do you have any advice on how to teach children to love worship once they have learned to sit still and be quiet (for the most part)? It seems worship for my kids sometimes turns into trying to read fast enough to sing a song they don’t really know, sit still and listen to a sermon they don’t really understand, and wondering how long until it is over and they can play again. I agree wholeheartedly with your post and want my kids in worship with me and teach them to honor God in this way, but how can I encourage them to love what we are doing?

  2. Sometimes we get so used to having our kids in worship its hard to remember what an anomaly it is in the church as a whole. We’ve gone on vacation and worshiped at churches outside our denomination and had half the church come and comment on how well behaved our children were. (uh…..hardly) Quiet or not, we love the attitude of including and nurturing our children in the worship of God.

  3. Thank you for writing this! I’m so glad for your thoughts.

    I second Ruth’s thoughts above. I can get my kids in there, but I want it to be a grace to them. I hope for them to worship in Spirit and truth, not just demonstrate good behavior and the forms of worship, and I’m not always sure which is taking place.

  4. Amen and Amen!

    We had a “lively” service Sunday with two toddlers from different families calibrating their cries in stereo. One of the toddlers was rescued, floating on his back, from drowning in a raging river the week before, which puts his cries into perfect perspective. Who wasn’t happy to hear little Andrew’s voice? All the same, his father removed him from the service.

    In addition we had three newborn babies – all girls – in the service.

    Nancy, I wrote about this same topic (it is linked on my name) but without the eloquence of this post. Thank you.

  5. We have made the effort to teach our boys to sit still and listen. After starting out with quiet entertainment (coloring, Bible story books, etc) we have decided that those things are just a distraction and we really want them to listen. But like mentioned above, we also want it to be a joy to worship God. We’re not there yet….the boys only know a few of the songs….but it is amazing what they pick up from the sermons. They are listening and watching more than we know. I am convicted that I must model the right attitudes about corporate worship…..instead of, like Martha, worrying about little things!

  6. Hi Co-Nana! Nothing brings tears to my eyes more than hearing the children shouting out AMEN or their voices singing the GLORIA PATRI and Psalms…we are blessed! Have a fun time at the beach!

  7. “a mothers’ room and a fathers’ room” — a.k.a. the nursing room and the spanking room? 😉

    But seriously…we like to refer in our congregation to “the sounds of the covenant” — music to our ears!

  8. An encouraging post just when I was about to give up and send my twin one year olds to the nursery! They keep momma and daddy’s hands full but we love to have them in the worship service with us. I’m not sure what to do when #3 comes along in September…we’ll just have to figure it out when we get there. :)
    I’ve been reading your blog for a few months now and I have found it very encouraging…thank you!

  9. Thank you for sharing this. We keep our children with us in the service, but not all of our congregation shares the same thoughts that we do. We love having them be a part with us. I wish we had the “two rooms” you spoke of. We have always kept our oldest with us and he is now 22 months old. It has taken time, but he is learning and I can see him worshipping with us in song, prayer, and sitting to listen to the word. They are a blessing!

  10. Hang in there girls. If you are given the songs ahead of time try practicing them with your kids. They love it when they know the songs and can join in the singing. They will get more enthusiastic about worship as they grow into it. My older kids can take actual notes during the service now, and what they are getting is amazing. For younger ones I think Nancy suggested once picking out a couple of key words or phrases for the kids to listen for during the sermon. I have mine keep tally marks whenever they hear that word. It keeps them listening for at least fifteen minutes. It also helps if you can sit closer to the front, less distraction, and if the kids can see what’s happening they tend to stick with it better. My kids still have days when they look less than joyful, but when I ask them questions they have good answers and we can have some good discussions. It also helps if Mom and Dad are cheerful worshippers.

    Thanks Nancy, for a great post.

  11. We have been blessed to be a part of a congregation for the past couple years where children are welcome to worship with us and noises are expected. It has been so wonderful!

    One week, when my husband had to be out of town, I “borrowed” the eldest daughter of another family in our congregation to help out with my little ones. She showed me a brilliant tip for engaging my wee ones in the sermon. I later read this same tip in a book given to me by said young lady’s mother (Edith Schaffer’s Hidden Art of Homemaking)–keep a notebook with you and along with using it to take important sermon notes for yourself, draw out the sermon and illustrations with stick figures. Not an easy task if you have a baby on your lap, but your toddlers on up will LOVE it and be listening to the sermon to see what you will draw next! Sometimes this takes more creativity than I have and I often don’t do it (that baby on the lap thing), but thought I’d pass on the idea. Another one I’ve heard (for lower elementary age, maybe?) is to count the number of times the pastor uses a certain word. It’s supposed to make them listen in the form of a game even when they don’t understand it all.

  12. My niece (9mos. old) can “sing” over the whole congregation! We gladly let her. :)
    Last week she was very vocal with her opinion of the bread and wine. Whatever that opinion was – we couldn’t tell if she was for it or again’ it :)
    In our church, children sit in the meeting after they turn 5. One thing that keeps then engaged in the meeting is knowing that Monday morning (during the school year) there will be a Hearing Game played at Chapel. This game is set up like a spelling be with questions geared for the different age levels and based on the message preached on Sunday.
    This last year the older students were required to submit several questions each for the other students to answer – lots of note taking during the sermon!

  13. I loved this post and I am SO very glad that you posted on this very topic. It made my heart glad. So much so that I linked to it in a post on my blog. At the end I put 5 observations/ideas for “wee ones” that I have noticed in our congregation. I have been filing them away in the back of my brain as my husband and I prepare to to welcome our first child in January. I also put in my .02 in why it’s good to think through having our children in worship with us — something that I was never exposed to until I moved to Phoenix. I opted to expound on my thoughts there rather than here in the comments section.

    Blessings, Mrs. Wilson, to you and your household!

  14. What a lovely post. Nancy, I have seen your grandchildren charge their grandfather after the service, and what a witness that is to watching eyes. I also observed your lovely daughter-in -law witnessing to strangers on the streets of Moscow with her passel of children in tow. I have been blessed how you all show us what Covenant looks like.

  15. I have three children ages 2.5 years, 18 months, 4 weeks. In order to not bombard the nursery workers with my children, my oldest oldest graduated from the nursery when baby #2 came. She was easy – enjoys going to “big church”, loves to sing, read along in her bible, say amen after prayers, etc… Now that baby #3 is here, I want to transition my 18 mo old into worship, but he will not be nearly as easy. I begun practicing with him at home, but it’s a fight everytime. It’s also just me sitting with the children during worship b.c my husband is part of the service and also runs the media. I welcome suggestions as to how to train a very active boy to sit quietly. Thank you!

  16. Oh, for my own church to be similarly envisioned. I pray it will be one day, and that that day would be before my own children are grown!

  17. Thanks for this encouragement. It’s always good to hear of other churches practicing whole family covenant worship.Our little Anglican church does not offer a nursery during the worship service, but we do have a lovely and comfortable mom’s room, which I use every Sunday for someone or another of my three littles. We’ve been extremely blessed in that our first born has always loved church, learning everything with awe and wonder and speaking the liturgy as soon as he can. This has provided a good example for his two younger siblings. Still, church is a lot of work for us and I figure that’s what it should be at this time of life.

    The other blessing is the sheer amount of activity and repetition involved in a Book of Common Prayer communion service! Up, down, kneel, stand, sit, sing sing sing, chant, pray. And of course a short sermon they can easily sit through (10-15 minutes) helps out! All this holds their attention and they have so many scriptures, prayers, and songs memorized.

    One thing that helps us is that my dear husband is faithful every single night to conduct a short (10-20 minutes depending on the children’s needs) family prayer and worship time. Most of their specific training happens at this time. We just truncate the Evening Prayer service and also spend some time on memorization (this year we started the 10 commandments) and it really serves them well in weekly worship. And they love it. The other night, my 3 year old thought his Daddy was going to leave the room without prayers and he burst into tears, complaining loudly, “But I wanna say my prayers!”

  18. I’m surprised nobody has mentioned “Parenting in the Pew” by Robbie Castleman yet. It’s a very good read with lots of practical tips – something we’ll find very useful as we start having our daughter in church with us over the next few months.

  19. We keep our son, 21 months, with us during worship. There is only one other family that keeps their little one with them. We have had our son with us from the beginning. We let him eat a snack during the sermon. Is this bad? We try to make him sit for a few minutes first but he can be active. We do family worship each night, but our sermons are 45 minutes and the whole service is 1hr 15 min. Should we slowly remove the snack and make him sit quietly? We have baby #2 coming in a month and my husband will have to miss many Sundays. Should I look for a family I can sit with to help me? (We do have a “cry room” that we use but doing that makes me feel like I’m not part of the body.) Any advice is appreciated.

  20. Leslie,
    I don’t think it is bad at all to give a little one a snack during the sermon. As long as you are not breaking out the picnic blanket and offering him a three course meal, which would be a bit of a distraction, particularly to the other children nearby, I think it is all part of getting him to where you want him to be. Of course, the long-term goal is for him to make it to the end of the service without a snack, but in the meantime I would encourage you to be discreet. I have seen one father diligently feeding his son cheerios before the service so that he would be satisfied during the service. But as long as this is nurturing him toward the goal, I think it is just fine.
    If you can find someone to help you, great. Sometimes a teenage girl is quite happy to help, but do enlist some aid. Back in the day when our children were little, I missed quite a few Sundays because someone was sick. During the chicken pox marathon, I was out for six weeks because my kids decided to get it in sequence rather than all together. It was during that time I think that one of the college guys asked me where I went to church. But those times do pass. Hang in there!

  21. Single women and moms who need an extra pair of hands — a symbiotic match made in heaven. Asking a single friend to sit with you is a great way to include her in your family. Then extend it after the service by inviting her home for lunch. C’mon…you can fit one more at your table. If she’s offended that Martha Stewart doesn’t live at your house, that’s her problem, but I think it most cases this sort of arrangement will become mutually blessingful as each party gets to serve and be served by the other.

  22. As a pastor’s wife who has to spend about 3 hours tending the children (ages 6, 5, 3, and 1) by myself during the service, I have really appreciated having one of the older girls “on hand” to help with the kids… if I need to go downstairs to nurse the baby, she notices me get up and comes right over to sit by my girls. The girls know that we expect them to be obedient to her and to participate in the service, so there’s no drama as we switch places. Thanks for addressing this topic, Nancy. It’s great to get tips from other people, too!

  23. Mrs. Wilson,
    Thank you for the wonderful post.

    And – Valerie – thank you for the gentle reminder. :) You’re right!

  24. I, too, am a pastor’s wife and sit with my five children in the worship service each week. My first four are boys, 9, 7,5 and 3 years old. It took me a while to come to believe that it was possible for me to train them to sit and participate in the service, especially by myself. It’s been over a year now since I have fully kept them all with me (we’re planting a church and there is no nursery). What a joy it is, now that I’ve been “forced” to do it. We practice and discuss the different parts of the service throughout the week so that they are all prepared and know exactly what to do. I effusively praise their successes on specific things afterwards. Now that they’re trained, it’s marvelous. I wouldn’t have it any other way. I also hold my one year old daughter in my lap and am pregnant and I can honestly say, it’s not difficult. It’s wonderful. It was hard at first, but the training has been so worth it and my children feel that they are a part of the people of God. I am thrilled to know that they will always grow up knowing that.

  25. “Parenting in the Pew” by Robbie Castleman — we did a study on this book, and hopefully it will inspire more young people to raise up their children in the weekly worship service. It’s a good book. As with any human manuscript, there will be things that each of us likes and dislikes. There is strong emphasis on meaningful worship in children rather than just sitting still.

  26. One of the things that has blessed our family over the past few years is when other families ask if one (or more) of our children can sit with them. I know many parents are not comfortable with their children sitting with other families, and as a general rule we agree. However, it is really delightful to have a break periodically. I find that I can worship with concentration, and the lift in my soul spills over to my children — whom I happen to always be watching with great affection and thanksgiving a pew or two away.

    My 3-year old will turn around and give us a cherubic little wave or squishy face, and then turn around and sit still. Or my 7-year old will bound up to me after the service and tell me what she remembered from the sermon. We can allow our children to sit with other families because we know their concerns and expectations are the same as ours, and most of all their love for covenant children. I’m sure when our girls get older, and our ability to concentrate is no longer compromised by squirminess, we will keep our children with us, and offer the same gift to other young families. In the meantime, the breaks sure are refreshing, for us parents and for the kids.

  27. I was not happy with my children just sitting still and being quite in church. I wanted them to participate escpecially in worship. There were numerous stumbling blocks to this. They could not read. When they learned to read they were unable to see the screens. The music changed everyweek and so they never learned any one song. I found a book (Parenting In The Pew) which was a tremendous help and one of the suggestions was to help the children hum along to the music. It took a little encouragement but they eventually got and enjoyed being able to participate. I can’t tell you what a joy it was to watch my son teaching this to his cousins when they attended church with us. He said, “Don’t worry, you don’t have to know the words. You can just hum along like this!” Proud moment for me!

  28. Amen! And teach them those hymns, songs, and Psalms at home all day every day.. dance and sing around your house! Then the highlight of the week is when they get to sing them w/their church family.

    Even babies can be taught to “rest” and enjoy the service. Elisabeth Elliot wrote on this years ago. It changed our expectations and freed our family up to do many things. We started right then w/our 5 month old who was our second child. You can have lots of little children (we even have 3 who were adopted at non-infant ages…. no training prior to entering our family at ages 4-6), you can have a 2 hour service, and you can have contented children who love it. It is possible. It is training! Once they are taught to obey w/their bodies, then you are freed up to lead them into LOVING it. We form their tastes in this way and have never regretted it. Teach them to LOVE THE LORD’S DAY and form their tastes for the best things! (don’t form their tastes w/dancing vegetables and junior church — it’s not the worst thing in the world but maybe we can do better? )… Whoohoo!

  29. i realize i am late on commenting on this topic, so i might never hear from anyone…but i am fascinated by this topic as i have a three year old and a one year old. specifically what type of training is helpful and effective for teaching kids to sit through the service? my three year old made it through the service once when he was too sick to be in nursery. i brought him a blanket to sit on, a lunch, and some coloring activities. our pastor generally preaches for an hour and the songs are often unfamiliar to me (we have some artsy musicians who like to switch it up a lot). so i’m not exactly sure how to train my children to sit still/enjoy the service. they do like dancing to the music however, we do that a lot at home!

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