Jesus said in Luke 18, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.” As parents with little children know, bringing their children to Jesus in worship can be quite a challenge.
Our congregation went through a baby boom several years ago. Young couples began building families, adding little people noises to our worship services. My wife and I added four children of our own. It was a joyous time, which introduced to a new generation of parents the age-old challenge of getting children to sit still for worship.
The worship committee at our church offered everything parents needed to help manage their children. A cry room, staffed nursery, and children’s bulletins were available for our use. Parents and their children generally gathered in the last two rows in the back, concentrating the sounds, spills, smells, and general chaos into one area.
One Sunday, I watched as a young couple walked into church with their baby daughter, passed those of us in the back rows and sat down—in the front row! I was pretty confident that sitting up front was not going to work out well for them. I was wrong.
As their daughter grew, her parents persisted in sitting in the front. Free from the distractions of the back rows, their daughter’s attention was drawn to what was happening in worship, and her parents had a simple expectation that a little child could sit still through a service. Certainly, it took some work. Mom or dad removed the little girl from services more than once.
Those observations and our own experiences taught my wife and me valuable lessons about introducing children to worship. The first lesson is that no one strategy works for every family.
Offered here are some thoughts to help you formulate your own strategy:
- Make it your default expectation that the sanctuary is the place your children will be. Use the nursery and cry room only when necessary as your child learns and matures.
- Think little victories. Today you only made it through the first hymn before having to seek refuge in the cry room. Soon you’ll make it to the sermon. Eventually you’ll get to enjoy the whole service!
- Children are visual learners. Our worship spaces are filled with visual symbols and unique objects not seen at home. The sanctuary is often decorated at special times of the church year like Advent, Christmas, Lent, and Easter. Point out these visuals. Explain what they mean. Ask them to draw pictures of them during the sermon.
- If the back pews prove too distracting for your child, consider sitting somewhere else. It is easier for them to focus on worship when they can actually see what is going on.
- Ask the usher for a children’s worship folder. Use it with your child to connect them to simple aspects of the service.
Bringing our children to Jesus and training them to worship are awesome responsibilities. Thankfully, we are not alone in this effort. In Proverbs 22:6, God promises parents: “Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it.” By the grace of God, and with the power of his living Word, God will bless your efforts and your children will learn to love their Savior, even if you cannot get them to sit still.
Brian Heinitz and his wife, Sue, have four children and are members of Mt. Olive, Las Vegas, Nev.