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.