Kids and Church

In our church community we have lots and lots of little kids, and we love it! God has blessed this place with kids of all ages, from babies in their buckets (you know, those car seat things) to toddlers and on up. We try to be considerate of their little frames as we worship and fellowship,  and I am often in awe that our church service is so quiet with well over a hundred small children present. Hats off to all those parents who are loving and teaching and training their little kids to sit through the service (while the parents seldom get to hear an entire sermon uninterrupted).

Just a side note before I go any further. I have to tell you a funny story. A friend of ours who is a minister in Virginia recently told us about a little guy in his church who calls him Sermon. This comes from his parents saying, “Listen to the sermon.” So of course it follows that the preacher’s name must be Sermon (and Sermon wears a white robe at Sunday worship). Not long ago this little guy asked his big brother if Sermon was God. “No,” said the wiser older brother. “He’s not God. He just dresses like Him.”

But back on topic. At our worship service, we want to include the kids as much as possible, which means a lot of teaching has to go on at home on how to behave. There are no church-enforced rules for the kids, but there are plenty of family-enforced rules that I don’t know anything about. When our kids were little, we had a children’s Sunday school program where they could go off during the sermon. But by the time they were eight or so, they were in the service with me (Doug has always been up front and not sitting with us).

I remember having a few rules for them (and our church was much smaller then, with just a couple hundred people). One was that they had to stay by my side after the service,  and they couldn’t leave to go visit someone unless they checked with me first. This was just so I knew where they were. Maybe I was too strict, but I didn’t want to be searching for them every few minutes. And Doug was at the door greeting folks, so I couldn’t ask him to spot the kids. Of course, after they were a little older, they wandered off to visit friends, but while they were dinky I kept them pretty close. The other big rule was no running. We’ve always had elderly members, some with walkers or canes, and it is dangerous to have little kids wheeling around.

I also tried not to make them stand beside me and listen for ages to conversations that were either over their heads or of no interest to them. How dull is that? So I either tried to include them in the conversation, or I sent them off to visit with their friends. It seems rude to  ignore our children, whatever their age. Don’t you just hate it when you have a small child who needs your attention, and the adult speaking with you doesn’t seem to notice?

The little ones in our congregation say the “Amen!” with the rest of us, they raise their hands in the Doxology, and they kneel down for confession in prayer. We are bringing them along side us. We are their people and we want them to know it. Even though much of the sermon may be over their heads, many parents have activities for the kids to help them concentrate. One I’ve heard of is to make a tick mark on a piece of paper every time the minister says a certain word, depending on the sermon topic. This helps keep them tuned in. Doug has received many pencil drawings of him in the pulpit, drawn by little hands during the sermon. (As you can imagine, some of them are pretty amazing!) And of course we do have a mothers’ room and a fathers’ room where they can take little ones out of the service if necessary.

We  want to help the children participate in worship, not just be quiet observers. Our bulletin lists the songs we’ll be singing the following week, so some parents review the songs with their kids during the week so they will be familiar. If my husband is preaching through a book in the Bible, then the parents can prep the kids for the upcoming section of Scripture for the next week. And they can pray as a family for the worship service, for the music minister and the Sunday school teacher and preacher and even the chair setter-uppers. This is another way to help the kids feel a part of the worship service.

We visited one church where the pastor’s children were setting up the sound system and the Lord’s table before the service! I was amazed at their proficiency.

Worship is demanding for adults, so it must not be easy for the kids. It requires preparation and concentration. And the beauty of preparing your kids for Sunday worship is that it helps prepare you as well.

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26 thoughts on “Kids and Church

  1. First–I love the story about Sermon :)
    One of ours just asked the guy behind the counter at Subway– “Are you Jesus?”
    Kiddo-comments are pure JOY !!!

    I appreciated this post.
    Ours (except for our 2 year old) sit with us in church, but I struggle to know how much they are getting out of it. They do take notes (priceless) and draw pictures, but I often wonder if it’s the best decision to keep them with us.

    The idea of pre-service-prep is really helpful. We do a little of that, but this made me want to do a lot more…so that have a sense of what to look and listen for each Sunday.
    Thank you!

  2. Since we teach our kids that when the pastor is preaching, he’s talking for God, we have heard some interesting comments as well. “Mama, there’s God, right there!”

  3. Thank you for the encouragement and the ideas for during service! We had gotten to where we were sort of pulling our kids along to participate in the worship service and then they “got to” draw during the sermon. It takes diligence to draw out the beauty of worship for them.

  4. Do you have any tips for with the younger children i.e. 3 year olds? Our church only has nursery up to 3 years old and we are reaching that time with our oldest. I don’t yet feel like she can really grasp the sermons yet so I would love some advice on that.

  5. Love the story about the kid. :)
    This is great food for thought. Our parents kept us with them after we turned five, sometimes sooner and I have always felt that it turned out very well for us.
    Thanks. :)

  6. Nancy,
    Thanks for this! I appreciate that you have given some positive, proactive suggestions. Sometimes I get caught up in all the “do nots” of what I expect of the munchkins in church. Thanks for refocusing me on the “to dos”!

  7. Thanks for this! We love having our kiddos in the service with us and are only just now starting to see the fruits of missing all of those sermons. Ours are still a tad young for a checklist during the sermon, but I love that idea for when they are older!

  8. And don’t forget the sacraments! We’re at a church now that only celebrates the Lord’s Supper once a month, coming from a church where it was eaten every week. Our son gets so excited when he sees the table all decked out up front: “Do we get the bread and the wine today!?” How He condescends to us! No “look, but don’t touch” here. Jump in with those grubby little hands!

  9. There’s a great little book written by a pastor’s wife called “Parenting In The Pew” by Robbie Castleman. It offers some great practical advice on how to engage your kids in the worship service. She stresses that the point isn’t just to keep your kids “quiet” and to reflect your good parenting, but to teach them how to engage and worship right along with you from an early age. Just thought I would pass that along!

  10. Love it! We are one of the minority in our congregation who keeps our children (ages 6, 4, and 2) with us. Sometimes we make a “church bingo” activity or make sure they have an illustrated Bible to read during the time.

    We should not wonder “what they could really be getting out of it” when they worship with us or even if they are observers. They are learning what it means to be the church and to gather and celebrate (and mourn) together. They will turn out knowing how to anticipate the sermon, to sing and listen and take notes and serve and come as a participant and not a spectator or *gasp* to be entertained.

    Both my husband and I serve in various ways and the children love to come to music rehearsals with us. The church building has become somewhat of a second home to them, which they love! I praise God for his mercies and love over the children.

  11. Don’t discount what your kids soak in… I am always amazed at what my 7 year old can tell me about the sermon even when I think she isn’t listening :)

  12. Love it! We are now missionaries on an Indian Reservation with a team who is church planting, so “church” looks REALLY different than it did just a year ago back at home. We were one of the few families that kept our tiny children in the service with us instead of taking them to childcare and I am so glad we did because we are happy to have our (now) toddler and baby enjoy the baby-church-services we celebrate each Sabbath and they are able to participate (sort of) quietly through the whole time already. THANK you for the encouragement – goodness knows that I worry about being distracting if my children make even the slightest peep.

  13. Our youngest boys (10 yo twins) have been in the service with us since they were four. They participate and follow along in the bible reading and singing. We allow them to draw during the message but know they are listening because we discusss the message at lunch and are often surprised at what they picked up when you think they are not “paying attention”. I think keeping their hands occupied allows them to more fully concentrate. We will graduate the boys to note-taking in the near future but for now this works well for them.

  14. Thanks for this great post, Nancy! We kept our two sons in the service with us from the time they were two, and they learned to sit quietly and amuse themselves with books or drawing. I have some fun (and strange!) pictures in my Bibles from those days. Now that I’m older and it’s harder to hear, I really appreciate when families keep their children quiet, and remove those that are crying. And, of course, the no-running rule should be enforced anywhere indoors when there are adults near who could fall or accidentally knock over a little one.

  15. My favorite “Amens” and “Doxologies” during our service are the “prison singers” (behind a few bars, and without the key). Love the Sermon story. I bet that pastor is wise enough to know that the kids won’t mind waiting for the sermon if Pastor gives them candy on their way out :0)

  16. At almost 70 I am now in a family integrated church and I love it. Because all the children are always included in service and all fellowship is together, I know them and most of them know me. Separating the children from their families was never a good idea. Age segregated Sunday school and youth groups inevitably leads to alienation. The church is a family. Families should worship together and play together and grow together. From Nana in Tidewater, Virginia

  17. My pastor husband was actually mistaken for God, by one of our darling 3 year olds, a couple of years ago. His dad realized this misconception one Sunday when my husband was a bit late getting into the pulpit (he was recovering from knee surgery). Isaac had been told often, “This is God’s house.”, “We come to hear God’s Word preached at church.”, “Listen quietly to the Word of God”… He asked his Dad that Sunday, “Daddy, where is God?” Well, when Pastor limped into the pulpit a few minutes later, Isaac’s dad suppressed a muffled laugh, and Isaac learned a new concept and truth that day about who God really is. Those little ones are paying attention whether we know it or not.

  18. Wonderful post! I am speaking to a ladies’ sunday school class tomorrow morning on how to train your children for worship. We have 8 of our 10 children in church, with the oldest 2 having moved out already. Our ages in church are 17, 13, 12, 11, 10, 8, 7, and 5. They have been in there since the age of 3-4, except the youngest who has always been with us. I wish I had known how to train them before…I would have kept them all with me!!

  19. I have not read all of the responses but I saw some who talked about their kids maybe not ‘getting’ a lot out of sermons…I have two views on that: #1-God’s Word does not return void. and #2-at first, sitting in the service is a learning experience more than anything. we have our kids stand at the beginning for the music so they won’t feel as wiggly at first. we have them write notes during the sermon once they can write. they have their Bible & bulletin & a pencil or pen. Everyone takes turns sitting in Daddy’s lap so they can move around a bit w/o running around 😉 also, when they first start, we practice sitting at home (with nothing – just hands in lap) everyday so they will get used to it faster. Those are some tips but I cling to the fact that God’s Word does not return void! btw, ours are almost 6, 4.5, 3, 1, and one in the belly :) and they sit in the service once they drop their morning naps (around 1.5yrs)

  20. Excellent post! We left one church because children were unwelcome during service. I love your comment about the kids drawing pictures during the sermon….my husband does the same thing! He says it helps him focus on the words when he is drawing. What works for the kids sometimes works for the adults, too. :)

  21. Wow! As a British Christian the concept of keeping children in the pew through a sermon which is not geared to their level of understanding is astonishing. Churches here do differ of course but often age approprite classes are provided for the children running concurrently with the service. (Although parents often keep there kids with them during sung worship). I can only imagain how much effort it must take to keep the children from disrupting other worshippers / or getting bored and resentful. I had no idea how easy i have it!

  22. We’ve had our just-turned-four year old son with us during service for about 6 months. We have a pretty structured, liturgical service, and he LOVES anticipating what will happen next – standing, sitting, singing, listening to call and response. We used to bring him books and quiet toys to play with during prayer and sermon times, but about 2 months ago he decided that he’s a “big boy” and “big boys” don’t need toys during church, they just listen. When he starts to get antsy, we pull out a pen and paper, but otherwise he’s good. I’m sure he’s day-dreaming and half-listening most of the time, but I love that he feels so much a part of the church body and service. He *does* catch some things, like recently when he asked “Why do we want God to ‘stir up our hearts?’ Wouldn’t that kill us?” 😀

  23. Growing up we had issues with this in our church. My little brother is autistic, and there was no way he could sit through church. Once he turned 3, the nursery wouldn’t take him anymore. So for years my parents had to take turns, and each had to miss church every other week. It was either that, or terrifying temper tantrums in the middle of the service. The Sunday School ladies liked to tell my mom that it was a discipline issue, but it wasn’t. He was autistic and my parents were doing their best! Have you had any situations like this in your church? How have you dealt with it?

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