Like many other Christian educators, I prefer children to worship with their families and not in a separate children’s worship service. Often children’s worship is little more than entertainment- with children learning they should always have fun during worship and that worship is about how they feel, not about worshipping God. Your children are missing so many things vital for their spiritual growth and health when they are separated from you – even for just part of the service.
You may have experienced a few frazzled worship services with your children and decided it is best for everyone if they are removed from the auditorium as quickly as possible. It doesn’t have to be that way. With a few tips in your pocket and a couple of extra loving Christian hands, your family can reap the benefits of family worship with very little pain and suffering!
These are some of the things that made having our daughter in worship not only possible, but something we all valued – even those sitting near us! Every child is different, but some combination of these tips should work with almost any child.
- Prepare for a training period. Children aren’t born knowing appropriate worship behaviors. They must be taught. You need to let your kids know you have been missing them in worship and think they are old enough to be a “big kid” and stay with your family. List a few expectations for their behavior. Let them know you will remind them the first week, but after that you will begin giving consequences after the first reminder. Immediately remove a child who is disturbing others, give a reminder and consequence and immediately return to worship. (Sit in the back during the training period to minimize disturbing others.) Otherwise, your children will learn misbehavior is a way to get out of worship and do whatever they want to do. This may sound tough, but remember self-control and obedience are crucial to live the Christian life. Set age appropriate expectations. A toddler is going to wiggle more and whisper too loudly from time to time. A fifth grader, after being given expectations and a few reminders, should master the basics quickly. Be consistent in your expectations and consequences. You can’t expect great worship behaviors if you let them slide most of the time and then drop the hammer when you aren’t having a great day.
- Expect age-appropriate participation. Thankfully, most worship services have a lot of movement incorporated – sitting to standing, etc. From the time they are babies, encourage your kids to sing (even if the words and tune are all “wrong”), pray (they can silently pray their own words) and think about Jesus during communion. They should be encouraged to give some of their own money to God during the offering. Sitting when everyone else is standing or doing something else when everyone else is praying should be off limits as early as they can understand (which is much younger than people think). We would hold our daughter when standing, so she was on an adult level and could see. It makes it more enjoyable for them.
- Enlist help. This is especially important if you have more than one young child. Find a substitute grandparent or a teen who loves kids. Ask them to sit with you during service and help your children. Make sure they are clear on your behavioral expectations for your kids. Sometimes the helpers will actually encourage inappropriate behaviors because they are “cute”. As an added plus, your children will have one more important emotional bond to your church.
- Be ready for sermon time. This is more of a challenge in some congregations than others. (Honestly, I have been places where the sermons were so long, I was getting antsy!) Being prepared helps. If your child is a reader, make sure they have an NIrV version so they can find scriptures and read them. Have a drawing pad where they are encouraged to write or draw elements from the sermon. Young children may need an adult to draw the initial story or concept and then the child colors or decorates it. It the sermons are too esoteric or long, this is the time for those Bible coloring sheets, word searches, crossword puzzles or Christian children’s books. I don’t prefer children doing secular things during worship. It should be “God’s time” and anything done should be related to Him in some way. It’s not necessarily wrong if they do something secular, I just think it begins bad habits and sets the wrong tone for that time. I also am not a huge fan of devices in worship. Worship is also relational and devices hamper relationships more than they help them.
- Reflect on worship later in the morning. This is more important for school-aged children. Encourage them for the growth you see in their behavior and participation. Brainstorm solutions for areas that are still a challenge for them. Discuss what happened in worship. Some things can be confusing – especially for children who are still concrete thinkers. Ask them what was one thing they learned from the service. Share something you learned. Don’t dissect the preacher, but do encourage looking things up in scripture that didn’t sound quite right. It will encourage your children to double check everything they are taught and avoid a lot of false or inaccurate teaching.
Having your children worship with you as a family may not be the easiest thing you will ever do, but it is one of the most important. Don’t let your children miss the many benefits of worshipping with their family, because it is a little more difficult for you. Trust me, the benefits far outweigh the effort it takes.