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?”
Oh 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.
For more information about
- Kids in Worship
- Determining which Type of Family Ministry model works best for your church
- Encouraging the continued conversation through Practical Discipleship at Home
- And much more!
About the author
Christina 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