How Can We Nicely Kick Kids Out of Church?

A few weeks ago, I shared a post about a card a church had given out inviting parents who brought their kids to “enjoy the remainder of the service” in the lobby so others could “engage with the sermon.”  This past week, another children’s ministry group I am a part of had a similar conversation regarding if a church is large and streaming on-line,  what card they  should hand out to parents if kids are loud in the main service.

Apparently this is a new thing?  I had not heard of this practice of handing parents cards to invite them to leave the service until recently, but twice in one month made me decide to some digging.  What I found was disheartening, at least for me.

I found stories of parents being told that children younger than seventh grade were not “allowed” in the main auditorium (Source).

I found articles by leading people in the children’s ministry world listing the reasons why children should not be in the corporate worship service (Source).

I found articles written by pastors describing why their church chooses not to welcome or even allow children to congregational worship times (Source).

I could go on but I’m sure you get the idea.

I’d love to say that this information was new to me, but it’s not. But, like all of us, I get into my little bubble, my echo chamber, and I wanted to think that since I first was made aware of these types of policies and actions, that things had changed.

I wanted to believe that over the past decade as more and more research has emerged about the absolute importance of intergenerational relationships and shared space for prayer and worship and creating a sense of belonging for all generations to the larger church body has come out, that churches would have examined these practices and worked to transition out of them.

I wanted to think that the examples of Scripture, of Jesus welcoming children and rebuking the disciples for turning them away, of Paul addressing children in letters that would be read in the general assembly, of all the Old Testament times of gathering where all of Israel was present, had been prayerfully considered and embraced by the American church.

And I had hoped that as a community of faith, we would have recognized that the very continuation of our faith is dependent on generational discipleship, not a curriculum or a program, but one generation passing on their faith to another generation through times of mentoring, prayer and communal worship.

Instead, I found this question being asked:

“How can we nicely invite the children to leave?”

suitcase-1412996_1920Oh Church, what is happening?

Even if a church is not actively working to create a culture of welcome and participation that doesn’t target their communal worship to one or two generations but actively seeks to minister to the full body as one congregation…even if that is not happening…actively working to bar children from being in the congregational assembly with their parents and their church seems unbelievably counterintuitive to a faith that is literally passed down from generation to generation.

But we have an amazing children’s program?

Great, that’s wonderful. Children need times of age-specific ministry and teaching that is appropriate to their level of understanding. But they also need meaningful time with their church, hearing the words of the sermon, watching the adults worship God, participating in the acts of worship, and being present in the midst of the assembly. One does not negate the other.  To sacrifice one for the other is not an answer; it’s just a new problem.

But kids are a distraction?

First, that saying needs fixed. Kids are not a distraction; they can sometimes be distracting. As Dr. John Trainer has said, ““Children are not a distraction from more important work. They are the most important work.” And, so what if there is a distraction during the service?  That’s part of life. Distractions come in many shapes and forms and not all of them children. Are we going to remove anyone and everything that causes distraction? Of course not, but we will ask the children to leave.

But this is the way we’ve always done it? 

No, it’s not. This idea of removing children from the corporate worship service and splitting everyone up in the church by their age or life experience is not the way we’ve always done it. In fact, it’s relatively new in the life of the church (think 50-70 years old).  For generations and generations, faith was a shared experience of all ages.

But it works for our church?

Okay, I get that. It is the easiest way for a church to operate. Curriculum is made for age-specific ministries. Services are geared towards adults between 25-65. It’s all set up in our systems and cultures to “work” this way.

But here’s the thing.

What works in our “church” may not be what works for the Church.  The kingdom of heaven, according to Jesus, belongs to “ones like these”, the children. In fact, Jesus says, “Truly unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 18:3).

There simply has to be more. There has to be a place for the little ones to come.  And not “come” to a place where nearly everyone looks like them, but come to a place where they are part of something bigger and they can belong to a faith community.

If there isn’t room for them in our little corner of the Church, there will be room for them somewhere else. They will find somewhere to belong.

And at least our invitation for them to leave will have been kindly worded and printed nicely on a card.


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About the author

EmbreeFam2017Christina Embree is wife to Pastor Luke, mom to three wonderful kids, and family minister at Nicholasville UMC. 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. Currently studying Family, Youth and Children’s Ministry at Wesley Seminary, she also blogs at www.refocusministry.org and is a contributing blogger at D6 Family,  Seedbed, and ChildrensMinistryBlog.com

7 thoughts on “How Can We Nicely Kick Kids Out of Church?

  1. I appreciate all that you have been writing on this – I really believe that children belong in church and deserve to have us look for ways to help them worship! If you need another disillusioning story sometime, ask me about how we were asked to take 1 year old Ben out of our service by a brand new pastor from the pulpit.

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  2. I’m a first time visitor and neighbor in Nicholasville. This post is on point my dear sister. I think about the command in Deuteronomy instructing us to teach them through teachable moments within our natural environment. We must make room for them where we pray, worship, hear the word. This is where faith is caught. It grieves me that intergenerational community is being discouraged. I pray that we regroup and go back to the tried and true method of mirroring.

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  3. Pingback: How to (Painlessly) Connect Generations in Church | r e F o c u s

  4. Christine — I appreciate your aritcle and your heart. From my experience, this is a tough decision (about children in the worship service) to make with no easy solution. I’ve pastored several churches over a 25 year period and seen this approached several different ways. I just think you have to pray for God’s wisdom for each church. —– If you have taught or preached in front of a congregation you can experience frustration when you really want people to hear from God but once a child starts crying or making alot of noise – it totally cuts off people’s attention (the majority of them). Anyone who does not do public speaking to an audience of worship auditorum does not know how this feels – just like I don’t know the pain of birthing a child – ha! (which I’m sure is more painful.) The only scripture I can point to that might give us some guidance about what churches should do with their children is found in Nehemiah 8 where Ezra was reading and teaching in front of the Jewish people – notice who was there (and not there) and notice how the emphasis was on being “attentive to the book of the law” — here is the passage — Nehemiah 8:3 (NASB) “He (Ezra) read from it before the square which was in front of athe Water Gate from early morning until midday, in the presence of men and women, those who could understand; and all the people were attentive to the book of the law.” ——— So, when it says “those who could understand” the point I get from that is that children who were not old enough to understand the general teaching of God’s Word were kept somewhere else. I don’t want to make a case that was the first “children’s church” – ha! But it does seem they kept certain ages seperate from the main teaching gathering so people could be “attentive to the book of the law” (the teaching of God’s Word) —– I would be interested in your response to these observations if you have time. Thank you!

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    • Hi Jeffrey, I do appreciate your thoughts and thank you for sharing. I do read the particular Scripture in a different light but I can appreciate your take on it. In other portions of Scripture when the Law is read all members of the community were present (Dt. 31:12 – Assemble the people–men, women and children, and the foreigners residing in your towns–so they can listen and learn to fear the LORD your God and follow carefully all the words of this law.” I would be surprised if in this instance when the law was being brought back to the people of Israel that any member of that community would be excluded. Another possible interpretation is that there were many foreigners living amongst the Israelites at this time and they would not have the understanding to hear the Law as it was read aloud. I think this is more in line with the overall context of Scripture and the general assembly of Israel.

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  5. In the 1970s-1990s in mainstream Protestant churches—Anglican, Episcopal, Lutheran, Methodist, and Presbyterian there was movement to reintegrate children back into the Sunday worship gathering of the local church. For most of the history of the Church children of all ages have attended this gathering with their parents. Children who were segregated from adults into their own “children’s church” were found to not only have difficulty making the transition to the local church’s regular Sunday worship gathering but also when they became teenagers left the church in search of a church with Sunday worship gathering that offered a worship experience like the one that they had experienced in “children’s church.” Those who did not find a church that offered that kind of Sunday worship gathering dropped out of church. It was also found that the Christian faith could not be taught. It had to be “caught.” Children were more likely to catch it when they were around the whole church than a handful of volunteers. They were also more likely to own that faith when they were given an active role in the service rather than sat with their parents during the service. By an active role they were recruited to perform certain liturgical functions—light and extinguish the candles on the communion table or on stands flanking the table, carry torches and a processional cross in processions, swing a censor, assist the pastor or priest in preparing the bread and cup for communion, read Scripture, lead prayers of intercession, take the collection, sing in the choir, perform solos, perform instrumental music, and take on other age-appropriate responsibilities. In 2000-2001 I prepared an occasional paper for my diocese’s commission on music and liturgy on child-inclusive worship. It included ideas for not only involving children of all ages in the service but also ideas for making the music of the service more accessible to children such as using hymns and songs that had easy to remember tunes and lyrics as well as hymns and songs with refrains or repetitions in which the younger children could participate. I had been involved in the music and worship ministries of my parish as senior lay reader for fifteen years, having helped to launch the church as a mission in the mid-1980s. All the ideas had been field-tested. During the time that I was involved in the church’s music ministry, we made a concerted effort to plan the hymns, songs, and service music of the services with attention to the presence of a large number of children in the congregation. It is the third decade of the twenty-first century and church leaders are seeing young people leaving their churches. It appears that they have not learned from the experiences of the previous century. Separating adults and children is not the best way to keep young people in the Church.

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