Brutal honesty time.
Sometimes, my kids think church is “boring.”
Not that long ago, my middle child fell asleep on her dad’s lap right in the middle of the 9:30 service. My oldest makes the most amazing doodles you’ve ever seen during service times and on the rare occasions I can get my youngest to make it through any portion of a service, he spends most of his time touching everything he can get his hands on like hymnals, bulletins, random stranger’s hair…
So, why in the world do I make such a big deal about having kids in worship? Obviously they are bored. Obviously I am forcing them to do something that they don’t like and probably scarring them for life when it comes to attending services. Wouldn’t it be better for them to be somewhere else, like with other kids in a different room, where they can have fun and want to come to church?
There’s a lot to unpack in those questions, more than one blog post can cover. A lot of underlying assumptions about why we go to church and what church is supposed to look like and how kids are wired and all that stuff, but I’m just going to tell you my simple reason for why I want my kids participating in worship.
Because they are members of the body of Christ.
It’s simple really. They have each made declarations of faith, appropriate to their age and understanding, that they love God and want to follow Him.
They are part of the church. The church needs them. And they need church.
Okay, you thought I was brutally honest above… check this out.
Sometimes, I think church is boring. Hey now, so do you!! Be honest, sometimes we have a really hard time engaging, in some cases, staying awake. We wish we could curl up on our daddy’s lap and grab a quick cat nap during the sermon.
But most adults I know, especially adults that are desiring to grow in their faith and active in their walk with Christ, would not use the fact that church is “boring” to dissuade them from attending.
Because that’s not why we go to church.
We don’t go to church for an adrenaline rush. We don’t go to church to be entertained. We don’t go to church for goosebumps and thrills and chills. I’m not saying there aren’t times when we have amazing moments where those things might happen, but that is not WHY we go to church.
And that is not WHY my kids go to church. Sure, I do my best to engage them with the service. And our church is exploring more ways to welcome and invite kids into active participation in the service.
But even if we do it all perfectly, chances are, there are going to be days where church is boring. And that’s okay. Because there are days when school is boring, and home is boring, and life is boring. If we are never bored, if we are constantly entertained and distracted, how are we ever going to find time to “be still and know that He is God?”
If you are concerned with bringing your child into worship because you are afraid that he/she will be bored, don’t be. Being bored is not the worst thing in the world. But here are some great suggestions for how you can engage with your child during the service so that being bored and being left out don’t have to be the same. Kids don’t just have to sit and tolerate services. They can be invited into the experience and my guess is, if we engage with them during service time, we may just find out that we too get more from the service. (BTW, these ideas were inspired from an insert from Christ Church Parish in Raleigh, NC and a pew card that we use at my church)
- Sit towards the front where it is easier for your little ones to see and hear what is going on. They tire of looking at the backs of others’ heads.
- Quietly explain parts of the service and actions of the ministers and whisper the sermon to them in words they can understand.
- Sing the hymns/songs, pray and voice the responses because children learn the liturgy by watching you!
- If you have to leave the service, feel free to do so but feel free to come back as well!
- Let your kids doodle and color in church. Often when their hands are busy, their minds are engaged with the service more than you realize.
So many times I have parents tell me, “I didn’t think my child was listening to the sermon at all but then later, he said something almost word-for-word that the pastor had shared!”
Kids are a lot more perceptive than we give them credit for.
They are learning all. the. time. They are watching you, listening to you, and imitating you.
The next time your child says, “I don’t want to go to church. It’s boring!!” and they will because they are kids, give them a hug and say, “I know it can be boring sometimes, but that’s not why we go to church. We go to church because we are part of the body of Christ. And you are an important part of Christ’s body. If you aren’t there, a piece is missing. Who knows? God might use you today to encourage someone who is sad, to teach someone who is needing to learn, to love someone who needs to be loved. God might even speak to YOU if you listen closely. You are special to God and to us, and we need you there!”
And, as needed, remind yourself of that truth as well.
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
- Seminars, Workshops, Coaching
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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.
How do you feel about having kids using electronics devices during service? I have my opinion, but I want to hear other parents.
My personal opinion? I would rather see strides being made to engage kids more with the service by actually involving them in the practices of church such as serving communion, taking up the offering, reading Scripture, leading worship, etc. Obviously age is a factor in the ability to do that, but I think we could utilize children a lot more than we do in worship. That being said, my son (just turned 4 today) has been known to use our phone during particularly long services (not for games, but to “read” his Jesus Storybook Bible or to look at pictures). I think focusing more on what we can allow – more involvement, more participation, more engagement, more interaction – versus focusing on what should not be allowed, such as devices, coloring books, books, etc. will result in greater participation overall. Personally, I’m less concerned about what is being used to distract than I am about the fact that there is distraction rather than engagement. And, as I always try to share, I know that there are SOME times where it is necessary for a child to not be in corporate worship for the whole service, but I also think we have a lot of space to grow in welcoming them in.
I believe kids hear and pay attention more than we think they do. On Sunday mornings, if the TV is turned on it is on a channel with several church services back to back. This particular morning David Jeremiah was explaining the scripture about the Bible being a 2 edged sword but how every scripture should be considered an individual dagger. He made the reference that while he is preaching maybe there should be a caution sign on his pulpit. I thought I was the only one really paying attention to what he said. Well, we left and went to service and this particular morning the kids were in the service (we have Kid’s church but join big church once a month and every Sunday night). We do expect him to stand during praise & worship and other special times during the service but once my husband begins preaching we let him draw (most of the time it’s super heroes). I have often wondered if he is hearing anything but right in the middle of the sermon he stopped looked at his dad then turned to me and said “Boy, Dad sure is throwing swords this morning!” Haha! He can often times repeat different subject matters or points that are being made also. So, I whole heartedly agree with the article and that sometimes we just make things too hard.
Konnie Keevert Still
I have my three grandkids for an undetermined time. The youngest is 10. He pays attention and can pray better than I can. The middle one is 11. She loves church and really listens. Of course she is paying attention to what everyone is wearing and if their hair is messy, also… :). The oldest is 13. He is above average when it comes to school and is ALWAYS bored. He sits most of the time with his face covered by his hands and looks so terrible. I wish I could figure out what to do with him. He could possibly be listening, but his mother is completely against anything to do with church, and he tends to do as she does. He does like to go to youth group activities and Wednesday night youth meetings. I can’t figure it out!!!
I hear you and I will pray for you. Is there a way he could or would be more engaged with worship? Helping with bulletins, worship team, collecting offering? Also, is there any opportunity for him to build relationships with other adults in the church like maybe some of the youth leaders that he could start connecting with in the service and even outside of church? Engagement and relationships go a long way in letting youth know they are wanted and needed in church. But by far your love and prayers can do a deeper work and I join you in those prayers.
There is certainly a lot of truth in this. It’s important that the children feel they are a vital part of the church, part of the body of Christ.
I am a little worried though, that most people who were made to sit through boring church services walked out when they were old enough and never came back.
Children need to learn about God in a way they can understand. They need help to grow their faith. And since they are getting precious little of that at school, and in most cases not a lot at home either, I feel that is is our duty to get that short hour every week to do something with maximum impact. As important the body of Christ is, who determines that the body needs to be in the same room at the same time? They do need to get together on occasions but as there are house groups and bible studies for grown ups, why not have kids groups?
When a family gets together to watch a film, they won’t choose an 18 rating, will they? They will probably all watch a PG…so why do we, in the church, expect the little ones to engage in an adult orientated services?
If the kids are welcomed back into the church after the kids group, and asked to share what they have learned, perform something they have practiced, then that enriches the whole community. There are ways to have the best of both worlds. Boredom doesn’t build faith..
As a Children’s and Family minister, I am definitely not against times for kids to gather with others their own age to learn at their level about Christ. But I do struggle with it when it takes away the opportunity for families and generations to worship together. Multiple studies have shown that the two biggest reasons young adults leave church isn’t because they are bored but because they don’t have relationships with anyone in that church and they don’t know how to participate in worship.
It’s not so much that I expect little ones to engage in an adult-oriented service, I hope for services that are oriented to the entire church body instead of only one particular age group or segment of the church. Kids have so much more to give to us than just a show – Jesus himself told us to look to the children as examples of how we are to embrace the kingdom of God. How are we to do that if they are always separated from the rest of the congregation?
I feel there is space for both, not exclusively one or the other. But the idea of inviting kids into corporate worship is coming back into focus because of studies showing its importance in keeping young adults in the faith, I feel it deserves a fair chance from us adults to make space once again for children in our corporate gatherings. Boredom doesn’t build faith, but engaging in corporate worship, actively participating in church, being a needed part of the service, and having a role to play in the body isn’t boring and definitely builds everyone’s faith.
And, as I often share, I know each church has its own unique culture and needs and it is definitely important to discover those and find the best ways and places to allow the generations to build those relationships and worship/serve God together. Blessings to you as you serve!
Life With Teens and Other Wild Things
Why would you bring your children into the worship service if there’s a children’s church available?
It’s not about church being “boring”. A lot of things we do in life are “boring” but we do them anyway, because there are benefits to them. (like going to school. Not always fun, but we need an education.)
But, is your church’s worship service geared to adults, or to children? Or both? Why would you have your kids sit through a service that’s geared mainly toward adults? Do you sit with them and watch Saturday morning cartoons? (probably not, because those are boring to adults…)
I don’t believe church needs to be “all fun, all the time”, or even seriously entertaining, because that’s not a church’s purpose, but I like how our church handles things- we have a regular children’s service every week, in which the kids are engaged in lessons, activities, and other teaching that’s on their level- and it’s not babysitting- it’s a true ministry to their needs, relevant to their lives.
A few times a year, we have a “family” service, and the children’s ministry wing is closed- families are encouraged to attend together, and the kids are made part of the service, taking part in activities and worship right alongside the adults.
While I don’t believe kids need to be “entertained” by church, I do believe we need to recognize that they are not miniature adults, and that they have their own specific needs as worshipers, that as the Body of Christ, we should be taking into consideration. Let the little children come, indeed!
HI! Thanks for your thoughts! I think fundamentally we agree on most things although I probably lean a bit more towards including the children more often in corporate worship than perhaps you do. A few thoughts on what you shared.
You ask, “Why would you bring your children into the worship service if there’s a children’s church available?” I recently wrote a blog that shares at least three reasons why I feel it is imperative for kids to be welcomed into corporate worship (Here’s the link in case you are interested in the full article http://refocusministry.org/2015/03/10/my-kid-doesnt-get-anything-out-of-church/). In short I feel there are MANY benefits for children being a part of the larger service and connecting/engaging with older adults in the context of worship and fellowship, not just when they are volunteering.
You also ask, “Why would you have your kids sit through a service that’s geared mainly toward adults? ” I think that is probably one of the things that saddens me the most. I don’t think church services should be geared mainly towards adults. I believer that all members of the body of Christ should be given space to participate. That’s not to say that we “entertain” kids. I don’t think they need entertained. What they need is to be engaged. My four year old attended worship with me on Sunday and enjoyed praying at the cross during prayer time and asked if next week he could put money in the offering. He wasn’t being entertained, but he was engaged. I whispered to him what was happening in words he could understand so that he could participate. He did go down to preschool class during the sermon, but as he grows I hope that he is able to participate more and more.
I love that you share “we have a regular children’s service every week, in which the kids are engaged in lessons, activities, and other teaching that’s on their level- and it’s not babysitting- it’s a true ministry to their needs, relevant to their lives.” We also have an active Kids Church and small group experience for our kids. We just have it at a time that also allows them the ability to participate in corporate worship as well, meeting the need for both intergenerational relationships and peer relationships. My kids gain from both experiences.
Your conclusion “While I don’t believe kids need to be “entertained” by church, I do believe we need to recognize that they are not miniature adults, and that they have their own specific needs as worshipers, that as the Body of Christ, we should be taking into consideration” is definitely my heart. However I think their needs as worshipers are able to be met in the corporate context if adults are willing to let them. Kids can pray, read Scripture, collect the offering, usher, lead the call to worship, sing worship songs and lead the congregation. In fact, they LOVE doing it but often they are told they are too little or too young. I think Jesus tried to demonstrate just the opposite when he shared, “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.” My follow-up blog to the one above goes deeper into my thoughts on that (http://refocusministry.org/2015/03/14/do-not-hinder/).
I think fundamentally you and I agree that on our heart for children, but as I stated earlier, I see much benefit from the opportunity for children to participate in corporate worship, not just for them but for the whole church. My heart is that we examine why we go to church and determine if in our efforts to meet our individual needs we have neglected to look at the needs of the body as a whole. Studies have shown that a big reason young adults leave church isn’t because they are bored, but because once they are out of youth group and in the larger church context, they don’t know how to worship, where they belong, or who the older church members are. So they leave. But if we foster a place that says, “You belong here. You are an important part. We know your name and we need you here.” I think we will see far fewer walking away.
Anyway, thanks for letting me share my heart (I can get longwinded about this stuff). Blessings to you as you serve! May God continue to move among the families and kids at your church!