Each Sunday, my children stand with me in church during the worship set. These have been some of the sweetest moments and, if I am honest, also sometimes the most torturous. There have been the times that I have looked down to find them singing along or, when they were tiny, even imitating their dad or me by closing their eyes or raising their arms. But, there are also many times that I have been pulled from my own time of worship to place my finger to my lips and urge them to quiet down or remind them to take their feet off of the back of the seat in front of them. I am sure that they have distracted many people with their loud whispers or sibling spats.But welcoming children into worship is much like inviting them to join us at a dinner table. They are there because they are part of the family, not because their manners are perfect.
Inviting our children into a shared faith experience is an important investment. It is only when we embrace inter-generational faith opportunities that our kids are able to witness adults praising their Heavenly Father. In her book Sticky Faith, Kara Powell writes, “In reality, Jesus’ vision for intergenerational relationships was anything but cute. It was and is both radical and revolutionary.”
While kid-focused settings like children’s church are important opportunities for kids to learn and grow at a rate appropriate for their age, there is significant value in the moments that our church family comes before the Lord together.
If we interact with children as though they are a burden or a distraction, we run the risk of communicating to kids that they are not welcome. When the time comes that they can make their own choice for where to spend their time, they will choose to spend it where they feel a sense of belonging.
One of my greatest prayers is that the children that grow up in our church will see authentic faith modeled in a way that they want an intimate relationship with Christ themselves.
As we persist sharing our time or worship with our kids, they will begin to grow and mature over time. They will be assured that they are an important part of the church community and their presence is encouraged. They will be convinced that the church is a warm and inviting place where they can feel comfortable. They will catch on that something is expected of them in return and their God wants to meet with them. They will feel safe to begin to experiment with approaching the Lord personally.
A while back, I ran across this list of reminders that have encouraged me during the not-as-sweet church moments. They next time you are worshipping next to your little ones, I hope you will be encouraged by these reminders as well.
ABCs for worshipping with or near kids.
A - Arrive in time so the child doesn’t feel hurried and you have the seats that work well for your family.B - Bring something to occupy the child should they become restless.C - Calm and cuddle the child with a soft touch or gentle whisper.D - Demonstrate how to engage in worship by closing your eyes or lifting your hands.E - Express joy at having children in worship. Smile at them and make the day fun.F - Free yourself from the expectation of behavior. Church is not a place where we have to be perfect.G - Give your child something to put into the offering. Encourage them to give from their own funds.H - Hold them so they can see videos and speakers so they feel like a participant in the service.
Nina Schmidgall serves as Director of Family Ministry at National Community Church. She has overseen the family ministry department at NCC since 2001. Nina and her husband, Joel, live on Capitol Hill with their three young kids: Eloise, Ezekiel, and Lorenza.