Third in a series of three discussions
Many years ago, as I was beginning my career in ministry with children, I arrived at church early on my first Sunday morning to prepare for the day’s worship and education. I was excited—and a little nervous—but also very eager to meet the children that day. Looking back, I think that a lot of the parents in that congregation were looking forward to meeting me, too—and some were quite eager to express their POV to me about including children in the worship service.
One set of parents stopped me outside the sanctuary to let me know that they “hoped I wasn’t going to change the church’s practice of having children 11 years and younger leave right after the call to worship because after all, Sunday worship was their time and children are a distraction”, stunning me with their vehemence. Hoo boy! First week on the job and already in the thick of it!
What did I do? I’ll get to that in a minute….
As I read and research trends in today’s church, I see a movement towards having the whole family worship together. Any congregation that embraces this approach must then deal with how to make worship engaging for all who are present, regardless of their age—and having made this decision, must then convince/persuade all church staff and worshippers that it can be done without sacrificing relevance for anyone. Worship planning can be exciting when you think of all of the possibilities for creatively engaging all ages in the holy worship of God!
Back to my first Sunday dilemma: I thanked those parents for sharing their thoughts with me and moved on to worship. I prayed mightily for wisdom and guidance. I met the most wonderful children that day, children who loved God and who wanted to be with both their family and their church family as they experienced prayer and confession and forgiveness and music and offering and baptism and communion and hearing God’s Word and wondering about what it all meant for them—not much of which could be authentically replicated in a “children’s church” setting.
What did I do? Baby steps. From that day forward, I worked diligently to increase the time children sat with their families, made our time together a continuation of the adults’ worship, and lobbied for [and won!] the practice of bringing the children back into the sanctuary after the sermon. After a time, the only moments children were not in worship were the moments during a spoken sermon, giving them a chance to witness and experience all the richness of the tradition and ritual of worship in that church. After a time, no one could remember that it had been any other way.
Can families with children worship together in your church? Yes! It takes prayer, intentional worship planning, lots of creativity, patience, communication, and time, but your church can transform itself from a Sunday-morning-segregated group into the whole family of God at worship together.
What do you think?