In many churches, children never worship with the adults in worship services. Others whisk them away before the sermon begins. Some may provide other options during worship for children, but only during the school year. A few congregations only offer worship activities for infants, while children remain in worship.
Personally, I think we can learn a lot from how children were treated in the Old Testament. From what we can tell, often the Law was read in front of the entire population – including children. To me, it seems the best place to learn how to worship God is by worshipping Him with your family. For many children the only time God and their family are together is in the church building. As a result, the only time children can worship with their family is during worship service at church. Even if you also worship with your kids at home during the week, there is a special emotional connection that happens when families worship together in a church worship service.
Regardless of how you feel about your kids being in the worship service with you (and I strongly encourage you to arrange that no matter what is available), you will find yourself at some point with your children on the pew next to you in worship service. So what can you do that will allow you to worship and teach your children to worship at the same time? There are probably plenty of things you can do, but here are some of my favorite tips.
- Prepare your children for worship. For kids old enough to understand, this means talking with them about the various things that will happen during the service. You need to also cover your expectations for their behavior in each part and the consequences for misbehaving. For older children, you may also want to explain the reason behind each part of the service. If they understand the importance of prayer or communion, they will be more likely to take it seriously.
- Encourage your kids to participate in age appropriate ways. Even children who can’t talk well yet can “sing”. Toddlers can fold their hands and bow their head during prayers – even if they are thinking their own prayer instead of trying to understand a long, adult prayer. Children should not take communion unless they have been baptized. Explain it isn’t snack time, but a time to remember the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus. Encourage older children to think about or read those stories during communion even if they aren’t old enough to participate yet. The parts when they can participate, the expectation should be that they will participate. Even young children can understand how it would “hurt God’s feelings” if they play or color instead of singing or praying to Him.
- Provide appropriate activities for sermon time. I’m a big fan of anything done in worship service being something connecting your child to God. If you want them to color, for example – get a Bible coloring book. As your children get older, gradually wean them off of amusements and encourage them to listen to more of the sermon. You can start with them taking picture sermon notes or being able to tell you the story from the Bible the preacher was talking about immediately after the sermon is over. With older children, you may want to use part of the ride home from church to ask their opinions of a major point in the sermon. Can they give examples from the Bible to back up what they think?
- Think about blood sugar and potty needs. Save yourself a lot of hassle and make your kids try to use the restroom before service starts even if they just went at home thirty minutes ago. Make sure your kids eat breakfast or bring a neat, quiet snack like oat cereal rings if they start getting hungry. If being thirsty is an issue, make sure they get a drink of water before entering the worship room. (Juice boxes can cause carpet stains if spilled.) Taking care of basic needs will improve behavior and eliminate almost every “need” to leave during the middle of worship.
- Prepare for the unexpected. Every now and then something unusual may happen during a worship service. Have a plan in mind for what you will do with your children if it is something you don’t want them to see or hear (someone bursting in screaming or giving too many intimate details of sinful behavior) or if some large amount of time is added for something that is not worship per se but occurs during worship time and makes it much longer than usual. You don’t necessarily have to tell your children about these plans as you may never need to use them. It’s better to have them though, than be sitting there trying to make a quick plan on the spot.
Taking the time to properly prepare for worship will allow you to worship and your kids to learn how to worship with the people they love the most. It is definitely worth the time and effort.