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Stories of “Welcome”: Our Experiences with Children in Church

Last week, we published a blog post that described a card that someone was handed during a worship service inviting them to move to a different space with their child. The post struck a nerve on many levels and several people shared their own stories. Many of these stories were heartbreaking, some encouraging and others inquisitive. Below are a few of the comments, stories, and responses to the original post. It is likely you might find yourself in one of these stories. As parents and ministers alike, we have an opportunity before us to listen these experiences and the messages they send to children and families and consider how we can take steps to rethink the spoken and unspoken messages of welcome that our faith community extends. These stories are our stories but we have the chance to shape the stories of future generations.

Your Stories, Your Kids’ Stories

My wife and I visited a church once in a different state. My son, who we now know is autistic, was making noise. We were asked to go to a special room so the broadcast might not have any hints of unintended noise. To this day my wife struggles to visit other churches when we are on vacation. Preferring to only engage our livestream. She still talks about how embarrassing this was and how she might not have returned to a physical church if we weren’t in ministry. That was over 7 years ago.

I’ve had this happen to me at a service my husband was a guest pastor. The crazy part my boys were actually quietly rolling their wooden trains back and forth. It was hurtful. I took them to the nursery and cried. They were the only toddlers in the whole church. When the usher found out who I was after the service he tried to apologize. I told him that what was done was done and that I forgave everyone. My oldest asked us on the way home why we weren’t allowed in the service and my heart broke all over again. Children have every right to be in service and worship their God too. If we don’t allow them to experience church, how will they ever feel welcome?

This happened at our old church. The head pastor was extremely against any noise during his sermon at all. In fact, he was known to pause and wait for it to be dealt with before continuing on. There was a designated kid’s area which was closest to exit. We ended up leaving for other reasons, but the service was definitely not kid friendly.

When my kids were little, we went to a church where people in the congregation constantly made comments to me if my baby cried or my toddler fussed. I spent many Sundays sitting in my car in the church parking lot, crying along with my child. We go to a different church now and I always offer empathy and a kind smile to a parent with a fussy child. I know how much that would have meant to me.

I showed up for a mid-week, morning Bible study about a year ago, with my two little ones. Upon entering the room to find my seats (we sat in the back row, me and my kids were the first to arrive) I could see the look on the speakers face and it took a few minutes but she proceeded to tell me that they were recording the session and she didn’t want noise from the kids interfering with the audio. Immediately I was hurt and didn’t feel welcomed and instantly became hyper focused on my children’s behavior, so we ended up leaving that day, before it started, and I haven’t tried to go back to a Bible study session since.

Once we visited a church with our six months old tube-fed, disabled daughter and they wanted her in the nursery because NO children were allowed in the main service. We refused and they did let us in but told us we needed to remove ourselves if she started to make noise. I was like, “She has a paralyzed vocal cord and is literally unable to make noise.” Yeah, we never went back there, either.

I remember we visited a church that they told us we needed to take (daughter) to the nursery. We said, “No thanks, she will stay with us.” We went into the sanctuary, and we were singing. She was singing and dancing and someone came up and tapped us on the shoulder and told us that we had to take her out and go to a different room. Never again did we step foot into that church.


For the most part, I would be appalled. However, there are some parents who fail to understand that the Worship Center is not a playground. So, if a child is running around and screaming while a parent does nothing, it is only fair to address the situation. Perhaps there is a more loving way to do it, but it can be an issue. Certainly, kids should not be expected to sit perfectly still and quiet, so something like this should only be used in extreme circumstances.

My Response

Have you seen this be an issue? If so, how was it handled? I’m asking because I hear this scenario posited often as a hypothetical reason to exclude children from inclusive worship experiences, but I’ve never actually seen a child running around screaming out of control while a parent does nothing. That would seem unusual in any situation (restaurant, movie theater, sports arena, theater performance). Additionally, in situations that were observed, was the child really screaming and out of control while the parent “did nothing” or was the child just playing? I don’t mean to press but it’s important. A playing child is a just bring a child. As a church, perhaps we can provide ways for play to happen at the same time as learning. Children often need ways to engage their senses such as sight and touch so that they can hear better. I wonder if those parents and that child could benefit from ways to quietly play while listening. I have seen children melt down or get overactive in church but during those moments, I’ve never seen a parent actively ignore the situation or do nothing. Mostly I see them trying to calm their child and feeling absolutely frustrated, embarrassed, and alone. I wonder if there are ways a church can welcome and support them as they do their best to help their child. There may be something to explore in the middle.

I’m a mom. It would be a little embarrassing I admit but I get it. I’ve had times I really needed to hear something, and I could not because of a child who couldn’t stay quiet. Some kids do pretty good. I’ve got 3 and one is struggling to stay quiet so if I need, I will step out just out of being thoughtful. Yeah, it’s hard for kids to stay still and quiet. We expect some noise they are kids. But if it’s super annoying step out without being offended. Why punish everyone around you? I don’t understand why we have to be such snowflake offended babies when it actually is annoying sometimes when a kid can’t be quiet. There is a generation of parents who don’t know how discipline of children. There’s a generation of parents who don’t know how to be the ones with authority and help their children learn how to behave in public in order to be thoughtful. It’s a legit issue. Not near what it was when my parents grew up. One the parents knew how to discipline. Two the children learned how to be respectful in public.There are people who literally cannot control their children. They don’t know how. If I was the one getting the card, yeah I’d be embarrassed and may not agree with it but….. I get it. I don’t want to be the one who is ruining it everyone else because of my selfishness.

My Response

There are quite a large number of broad strokes made in this response about an entire generation of parents and their children, parents who were raised by the generation that the comment claims knew how to do right. Could it be that the church experience has changed? Could it be that as society became more and more age-segregated and diverse generations no longer share common spaces, they don’t know how to be together in grace-filled welcoming ways? Could it be that instead of changing how we “do” Sunday morning to be more inclusive, we tend to follow societal norms by removing the oldest and youngest generations either by overt means like the card or less overt means like how we organize the service, furnish common spaces, etc? Broad strokes are often unhelpful but big pictures can offer us a variety of solutions or ways of addressing needs.

Also, it’s important to point out, as many commenters have shared was also their experience, this mother who was handed the card did not have a child who was being unruly. It was a pre-emptive move intended to keep all children from the service.


We are a part of a historic black church. Our pastor constantly says, “If babies ain’t crying the Church is dying”. I’ve never fellowshipped with a group of believers who delighted over kids, (even though they make noise 🤣). It took us getting used to. At first, we were always taking a crying kid out of service or trying to hush them quickly because we were so worried about “disturbing” someone. The congregation had to convince us it was “ok” to stay. I don’t think I could go back to anything different now.

At our church, every 5th Sunday is family service and our pastor always makes his message kid friendly and reminds everyone that the kids are going to wiggle, talk and giggle and we’re all going to be okay with that because that is how they are made. They are here because they are the future of church! This is how they will learn what worship looks like.

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Christina Embree is the founder and director of ReFocus Ministry. She holds a masters in ministry focused on Children, Youth, and Family Ministry and a doctorate in spiritual formation with a focus on age segregation and intergenerational ministry. In addition to coaching churches of multiple denominations and traditions all around the globe, Christina serves as the Minister of Generational Discipleship for the Great Lakes Conference of the Brethren in Christ and as a pastor at Plowshares Brethren in Christ in Lexington, Kentucky. She is widely recognized as a speaker and author in the areas of generational discipleship, intergenerational ministry, and family ministry. As the mother of three children, she is familiar with the challenges of faith at home and pastoral ministry. She along with her husband Luke share a love for the church, their community, and the global work of peace and restoration through Jesus.

1 Comment

  • Frank Herman
    Posted July 29, 2023 at 4:32 am

    The article about children in the service is a very interesting one. I have seen what some of the young families have encountered. The congregation my wife and I are members of are really welcoming to families. We have a young family who started coming to our traditional service so they were not real familiar with how the service was conducted. I caught them out of the corner of my eye, and saw that they didn’t have any hymnals or bulletins. I grabbed some hymnals and bulletins and ran over to them and showed them where we were in the service. They are now members of the congregation.
    A few years ago I was serving as assisting minister, and reading the lessons. There was a very young child fussing and crying as I was reading. I just read louder so the members could hear the lessons. After the service the child’s mom came up to me and was apologizing for the child making a fuss and was making noise. I told her not to worry, for I would rather hear a little one making noise during the service than not hear any children at all. I told her I can talk louder because I had a big mouth, and besides we have a sound system that can be made louder. The mother looked at me with amazement because she had been in another congregation that frowned on children in the main service.
    My personal belief is children should be part of the service even if they do make a fuss time to time.

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