Do Not Hinder: Welcoming Kids to Worship

I recently wrote a blog entitled “My kid doesn’t ‘get’ anything out of church.”  In it, I shared that while children might not get the same things out of church that we do, they certainly do get many things out of church.  I also shared that, while I am an advocate for Children’s Ministry (that’s my job after all!), I see the need for times where the whole community of faith comes together and worships as the corporate body.

But, let’s be honest, church as we know it isn’t really designed for that.  Church as we know it is designed for kids to be otherwise engaged, if not for the whole service, at least for the sermon.

So, what can we do about that?

I have received a lot of feedback from a lot of people about a lot of ideas and strategies to address that question.  And I fully intended to write a blog about that very thing, something like, “10 Ways to Engage Kids in Worship.”   But the more I prayed, the more I felt a strong conviction that it’s not about that.

It’s not about making sure we use strategies to keep kids occupied and from being a distraction.  That’s important, but it’s not about that.

It’s not about changing the way we do our service or sing our songs or preach our sermons.  That’s important, but it’s not about that.

It’s not even about making Scripture come alive and building intergenerational relationships and encouraging mentoring.  That is so very important, but it’s not about that.

What it is about is simply this:

He took a little child whom he placed among them. Taking the child in his arms, he said to them, “Whoever welcomes one of these little children in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me does not welcome me but the one who sent me.” Mark 9:36,37

There is so much in that moment.  There’s a culture that Jesus is creating.  There’s a deep understanding that He is trying to get across to the people who have gathered about where children fit into His kingdom.  And He doesn’t do it once or twice.  Over and over, Jesus works through and with the children who always seemed to be near Him.

  • To feed 5,000 men, He uses the gifts of a little boy.  (John 6:5-13)
  • To demonstrate how to be great in God’s kingdom, He points to a child. (Mt. 1-4)
  • To explain how to enter the kingdom of God, He says we must be like a child. (Lk. 18:17)
  • He reprimands the disciples for keeping the children from reaching Him. (Mark 10:13-16)
  • He rejoices in the praises of children shouting “Hosanna to the Son of David!” (Mt. 21:15-16)
  • He rebukes those who cause “the children who believe in him” to sin. (Mt. 18:6)
  • He declares in no uncertain terms, “Let the little children come to Me and DO NOT hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven.” (Mt. 19:14)

He heals children.  He holds children.  He includes children.  He uses children.  He appears to really, really like children and it would appear that children really liked him.  They never seemed far from His presence.  They never seemed too young to understand.  Too distracting to be a part.  Too uneducated to comprehend truth.

I can’t imagine Jesus’ church being a place where children are not engaged with His body.  I can’t conceive of His church being one where children and adults grow separately in their own spaces rarely, if ever, sharing in Christ as one.  I can’t believe that Jesus the preacher would be okay with never having the chance to be a part of the lives of the kids.

Even if we add in a cool new bulletin or some crayons for coloring, even if we sing some songs with motions or keep our sermons shorter, even if we offer booster seats and give grace when kids are loud, which are all fine and good strategies for makes space for kids in worship… if we don’t do it from a place of genuine belief in the absolute importance of the community of faith being one, regardless of age, and a place that specifically answers Jesus’ command to “welcome the little children and not hinder them,” than I don’t think it will make the impact we want it to.

It has to be in our hearts.

It has to be the desire of the church.

Collectively, we must say, “We welcome you, with all of your idiosyncrasies and distractions, with your questions and your confusion, with your gifts and your talents, with your hearts and your praise, with your child-like faith we so desperately need, we welcome you!”

And then, I don’t think it will really matter to us if a baby is crying and needs attention or if a little one is bored and needs to color or if a child is fidgeting and needs to move around a little.  After we create and embrace that culture of welcome, we can engage strategies to invite and welcome kids into worship. Because that is when we recognize what Jesus knew and tried to tell us all along – the children are precious in His sight and they see Him for who He is.  We need them as much as they need us.

“And He took them in His arms and blessed them, laying His hands upon them.” Mark 10:16

That is what it is about.

For parents that see Sunday as a chance to get a break, I hear you.  I totally get it.  And I do think because we are a community of faith, the church should provide space for that.  For adults who really struggle with distraction when kids are in the service, I understand that it can be difficult.

But what we have to wrestle with is simply this: Jesus said to welcome children, explicitly and specifically, as though He knew we would have the tendency to push them away, to need a break, to not want the distraction.  So, the church, as HIS body, it can’t just be about what we want.

We have to take care of His whole body, the entire church, the full congregation and that includes our children.  If we are to be what He has called us to be, we cannot be it without the youngest generation, for He says “to such belongs the kingdom of heaven.”


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About the author

familyChristina Embree is wife to Pastor Luke, mom to three wonderful kids, and family minister at Nicholasville UMC. She is passionate about seeing churches partneringsmallbadge with families to encourage faith formation at home and equipping parents to disciple their kids in the faith. Currently studying Family, Youth and Children’s Ministry at Wesley Seminary, she also blogs at www.refocusministry.org and is a contributing blogger at ChildrensMinistryBlog.com.

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37 thoughts on “Do Not Hinder: Welcoming Kids to Worship

  1. Pingback: My kid doesn’t “get” anything out of Church | r e F o c u s

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      • Christina, thank you so much for your article – I am going to be talking to a discipleship year team on exactly this theme next week. I hope you don’t mind – but I’ll try and quote you a few times! I think the role of the church leader and the leadership team is key in modelling that culture so it becomes the norm. We are also trying to include many children who have special needs and helping the congregation to embrace them a meaningful way. You’ve really put my heart for children on a page and it’s so encouraging to know that other hearts feel the same way! THANK YOU SO MUCH!

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      • Sophie, it blesses me so much that you have found this blog helpful and even more that you share my heart, and I believe, God’s heart, for kids! If you are looking for more resources from people far more learned and experienced than me, check the “Resources for Ministers” page at the top and you’ll see a number of books there that address family ministry and intergenerational worship. Blessings on you as you share and serve!

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  3. Pingback: Kids, Clover, and the Kingdom of God | r e F o c u s

  4. Pingback: Children in church | Families, Children and Youth Blog

  5. The KJV says “forbid them not”. That is a bit different from your translation using the word “hinder”. We would never deny access to worship services to anyone, including children, but children need to be taught reverence through the way we as adults behave and respect our church service. Yes, we love all children. Yes, we want to see them at church. Yes, bring your children to church! But No, do not let them wander the aisles. No, do not let them crawl over and under the pews. No, do not let them spend the hour ‘hindering’ the opportunity for others, other children and adults included, who may be in dire need of Spiritual food. If children get fidgety or fretful, take them to the foyer and calm them until they can quietly return and resume a more reverent manner. That is our responsibility as parents, and we do it every Sunday until our children learn the value reverence plays in their personal spiritual journey, and then realize their roll in helping to create a reverent atmosphere for someone, even an adult, sitting beside them who may be longing for a sweet, unhindered hour to hear something that will help them make it through another week.

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    • I think reverence comes later on. Most adults don’t even get that, although they are “irreverent” in very different ways from children. At least children are themselves: in Church, everywhere.

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    • @Gail’amour
      While I agree, it ought not be a free-for-all, with kids being rowdy and disruptive. We teach and model what the behavior should be, as adults. The tone of your comment seems to go along with that attitude of keeping children and the spirit of children apart. I hear/read a tone of annoyance with children acting like children. What I often think of is how can we engage children in the process of worship, so they don’t get fidgety. Liturgical dance comes to mind. 🙂 Or art making, or something that goes along with the scripture and sermon for the day. I have 2 kids, 11 and 6, who have always been well behaved at church. We’ve taken them since they were infants, and have mostly avoided taking them to a nursery during worship, because we believe they should be with us. I’d take my kids out if they were needing to move. But I often thought, how could we engage them better. I think that is what we should be asking.

      My sister in law talks a lot about ‘reverence’ for Mass (she is Catholic) in wearing ‘nice enough’ clothes, turning down nose at a kid who wore a sparkly skirt. Here again, I don’t get why it is such a bad thing that kids be kids and wear what they like. We come from a different angle, I guess. I can’t speak for God, but I think God wouldn’t really mind, when there are so many kids without a skirt to wear at all. My daughter wore a life jacket to church once, we thought it was sweet. It was her ‘Jesus’ for the day–and that was the conversation we had about it.

      I just come from a different perspective, I guess. I have a sense that God rejoices when we gather together to worship and listen for a word from Him. I have a sense that he smiles when he sees kids being kids, in all their messy and fidgety and funny ways.

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      • I have to agree with you that we, as a church at large, need to work on our intentional engagement of kids in worship. When kids are given the opportunity to ACTIVELY participate (as opposed to passively sitting in a pew), they tend to jump at the opportunity. However, I think it’s a larger mindset that needs to change, as you pointed it. It’s about accepting that children, as children, are who God told us to welcome – not children as little adults. I think you’d enjoy this post as well as it shares my heart a bit more deeply on the matter. https://refocusministry.org/2015/03/31/why-do-we-go-to-church/

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  6. I agree with you so much. Love the post “Why do we go to church?” I love the children’s liturgy. I wish there were a bit more creativity like what you are building where we live… we live in a small town. There are only a handful of options. The place where we currently attend has a really nice liturgical approach, that my kids seem to respond to. Fellowship is a major emphasis, which is good for all of us. As a creative type, though, I am always thinking it’d be fun to push the envelope and try something new…. it’s easier said than done. I do feel people are yearning for something more. Children participation, active participation, is a part of that. Bravo. Keep doing what you’re doing.

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  7. One more thought, as I have been mulling this over in my mind. I remember an experience a few years ago. I can’t remember the occasion. I just remember that we had a group of kids up front waiting for something. It must have been a time for them to sing in service, or something like that. I remember watching this group of fidgety kids wait. Some of them were whispering, I think 90% of them were wiggling in some way, although while seated. 🙂 I just had the warmest feeling come over me. THAT was the sermon and the thanksgiving and the offering all in one. Just watching those silly squirrely kids be kids all together was a blessing. That was church. I have been wondering and questioning and mulling over what worship really means for several years. I still don’t have a definitive answer. The real question is how can we get out of ourselves enough to see God, hear God, and give real praise and thanks to God… and be together in that process. Sometimes it is beautiful and you can feel the Spirit move, sometimes it feels forced, sometimes it feels contrived, sometimes my mind is in it, sometimes I’m thinking about what’s for lunch. I come back to thinking about those kids. Sometimes just being together an trying, in all our idiosyncratic, success and failure, maybe that’s what it’s all about. Maybe God smiles when he sees us fidgeting and whispering and wondering what’s for lunch, as we try to pray and worship Him.

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    • Wow, that’s great! I think God does smile when He sees His body together. Because He sees His beautiful bride, without spot, wrinkle or blemish because of the righteousness of His Son. Love your thoughts!

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    • I firmly believe it’s true. The more I read Scripture, the more convinced I am that we have missed an important part of “church” by separating our kids and youth from the larger body. Right this moment I’m sitting at a conference hearing Perry Noble share that there is a direct correlation between student engagement in ministry and worship and their walk with Christ. And I would argue that there’s a direct affect on us too – we need the kids and youth because they are the ones who “receive the Kingdom of God.” And Jesus knew we needed that, so he said, “Welcome them.” Thank you for sharing that heart. Blessings as you serve!

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  19. In my experience, especially around the enjoyment of Holy Communion (as United Methodists), children relish the holy moment, the joy of the sacrament so much more than adults! They believe and know that they are included in something special, even on their own developmental level. They are welcome and loved.

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  20. I really enjoyed reading this. I grew up being engaged in worship, singing songs standing on the chair next to my Mum in church, but I’ve noticed that this doesn’t happen anymore. So often parents palm their kids off on the nearest children’s/youth worker the moment they enter the building and the kids never learn to worship or pray and I think that’s a real shame. Thank you for writing about this subject and blessings for your ministry.

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