Last week, Christian comedian John Crist posted a picture on his Instagram account that he had been tagged in. It was a card that someone had been handed at a church they recently visited that said,
“Thank you for being committed to being in church with your child. In order to allow those seated near you to engage in the message, please enjoy the remainder of the service in our lobby…A Connection Team Member will assist you.”
A full thread of comments ranging from the sad and angry to the agreeable and affirming filled in below the image. If you’ve read my blog for any length of time, you know which response best fit me, suffice it to say, I was saddened that this particular church had decided to address the topic of having children in the service with a blanket “No.”
As an advocate for a both/and approach to youth and children’s ministry, one that acknowledges the need for age appropriate teachings and activities but also the need for corporate times of worship and relationships, I can see merits on both sides of this issue.
But I think that it’s also important to address assumptions that are not based in facts but in one’s own experience or surface observation. So much of what influences us, shapes us, molds us and forms us doesn’t come in obvious ways, but in consistent and silent messages that tell us who we are, what we mean, and why where are here.
The subtext of the card above matters for these very reasons.
This card very clearly says that there are some people who are welcome in the corporate assembly and some people who are not.
This card lets parents know that they are not welcome to have their child attend service with them.
This card lets children know that there’s no place for them in the corporate gathering of the congregation.
It also lets children and their parents know that they are expected to be a distracting detriment to the service and that their proper place is outside the doors, not inside.
And these messages matter… a lot.
Because regardless of what one thinks about children and youth being included in the corporate assembly, we can’t deny the fact that when we read the stories of those who have chosen to leave the institutional church and in some cases their faith, these are the messages they heard and they repeat back as part of their reason for leaving.
A quick internet search will show you that some of the biggest reasons that people leave the church is because they express doubts, have questions but are given pat answers, don’t have a relationship with the church, and feel lonely and distant from God. (A brief reminder here – the church IS the body of Christ; we are literally “God” to the world and to each other in the world today, so if distance is felt, that is very much on us.)
One of the most common complaints I hear about including children and youth in the corporate gathering is that they don’t get anything out of it. People will share their own stories about how church was so boring and all they did was waste time coloring or crawling around the pews.
My first response to them is, “But look, you remember. You remember being in church. You remember seeing the people and hearing the voices and watching the way the service unfolded. It’s part of your forever memory.”
And that’s part of the bigger picture. Children remember.
So what if we used that time when they are in church to do something more; to connect to that memory in meaningful ways? Rather than leaving them with negative impressions, why don’t we work to ensure positive ones? Sure, there will be some “boring” moments, but what if they also remember…
…that lady who always asked me how school was going and came to my tee ball games
…that man who always had the lollipop that he gave to mom for me and told me how glad he was to see me
…that young adult who sat with me and colored every week and helped me to memorize the Bible verse
…my mom holding me and letting me lay my head in her lap as we listened to the sermon
…my pastor who always told a story or mentioned the kids at least once in the sermon so we understood what was going on.
…that older lady who always told me every week that she loved me and was praying for me
You see, children remember LOVE.
This is integral to their growing up years. How they perceive love and how they see love acted out around them speaks volumes. In an article by Psychology Today, we (adults) are reminded to “be creating moments with our children that will reinforce their connection of love with us, but also encouraging and modeling the moral mindset towards love one ought to have.”
What better place to do that than at church? And what better place than with the full congregation, all ages and generations, modeling love?
This should not only be the message of our subtext, it should be our overt, out loud, very explicit message – You are loved and you are welcome! When we reduce our corporate gatherings to a sermon or to a worship time or to a service, we miss the much bigger picture. Our corporate assembly is when we have the opportunity to be Jesus to each other, to show love to each other, to sit and stand with each other, to hug each other and to hear each other. And those things are remembered. Love is etched on our hearts.
So what brings people back to church?
In his article, Four Reasons I Came Back to Church, Christian Piatt gives four reasons: Community, having a voice, finding deeper meaning and a sense of belonging. The subtext of these reasons is simple to deduce: I was welcomed to be part of something bigger, something meaningful, somewhere where I was truly wanted and my voice was valued and I knew I belonged.
We can send that message now. We don’t have to wait for them to leave and hopefully come back. And we don’t have to write it on a card; we can live it through our lives.
We can welcome our children.
For more information about
- Kids in Worship
- Determining which Type of Family Ministry model works best for your church
- Discipleship in Intergenerational community
- Encouraging the continued conversation through Practical Discipleship at Home
- Seminars, Workshops, Coaching
About this Blog
Refocus Ministry was started by Christina Embree, wife to Pastor Luke, mom to three wonderful kids, and church planter at Plowshares BIC. With years of experience in family ministry and children’s ministry, she is passionate about seeing churches partnering with families to encourage faith formation at home and equipping parents to disciple their kids in the faith. She recently graduated with a Masters of Arts in Ministry focusing on Family, Youth and Children’s Ministry at Wesley Seminary, she also blogs at www.refocusministry.org and is a contributing blogger at D6 Family, ChurchLea