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What About Kids in Church?

Updated: Mar 4

Family in church

When I was a kid, everybody went to church, and nobody ever asked whether or not kids should be there with their parents. There were no big youth facilities with special music and activities geared to kids in those days, we all just went to Sunday School, then on to church.

Things have changed. Even in churches without large children's ministries and activities, there's a question about the proper place for kids during church.

Most of us have been in a situation where our kids are really being disruptive during a service; people turn and glare at us, and we feel like crawling under the pew. We try quietly to correct older kids, or give treats to younger ones, and often end up making even more of a commotion.

We may really want our kids to be with us, but sometimes it's just a recipe for frustration; we long to participate in worship, but we can't because our kids demand our attention. We may ask ourselves things like "What are they really getting out of it, anyway?", as if we should only have our children do things they "get something out of".

But if all we're doing is wrestling and wrangling kids, what's the point? What are parents to do?

Reverence for God, and respect for others: are there two more important lessons for us all to learn? These are the foundation of all healthy relationships.

Recently, the Wall Street Journal ran an opinion piece about people's attitude towards kids in church. The writer praises his parish priest and the congregation for placing a higher value on families being in church than on the commotion the kids make, a point that is well taken.

I wrote a response to that article, which you can read here. It's a summation of my feeling about kids in church, but I'd like to elaborate on it. If you read my response, I'd love your feedback!

In my view, having kids in church is of enormous importance. I view this as part of the formation of a child's soul, a training in love of God and his church, and that churches should do all they can to encourage it.

At the same time, I believe that if parents are going to bring their children to the service, regardless of the style or traditions of the particular church, parents have a responsibility to prepare the children in advance, at home.

This means taking time to talk about the significance and meaning of the symbols, art work, vestments, and physical movements we go through in the course of the service, AND teach them how to behave appropriately in this setting.

Why do we kneel when we pray? Why do we stand to sing? Why does the priest wear a robe? Is communion snack time for grown-ups? Why do we say a creed? In less formal churches, why do we raise our hands?

I suggest parents take kids to the sanctuary sometime other than the service to talk through some of these things. At home, the parents should consider setting aside time to practice sitting quietly on the sofa for short periods of time, with a book, and gradually increasing the length of time, in preparation.

Explain to kids that worship is showing reverence for God, who created us and loves us, and that keeping our bodies still during the service is a way to act out reverence. It's also a way to show respect for other people in the church, because when we are quiet, they can more easily pray and be reverent as well.

It's not a hard lesson to teach--my five energetic kids were certainly able to learn it--and the value is enormous. Reverence for God, and respect for others: are there two more important lessons for us all to learn? These are the foundation of all healthy relationships.

Invest the time to instill these lessons in your children, regardless of the church you attend. You'll never be sorry that you did!

Please share with me your experience with kids in church! Do you get angry looks? How do you handle it when your kids are disruptive? Let me know!

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