All five of our children have had much experience sitting in adult church services with us. There are seasons in a child's life where they may be more clingy, and just have a hard time going to kids' church. Sometimes, there are behavioral reasons a child may need to stay with a parent. I have had a child who has struggled behaving when they are around their friends. The teacher in kids' church has had to talk to me about their misbehavior. Attending kids' church is a privilege. I have had to remove that privilege from them for a time until they could be trusted to attend and behave. So they've had to sit with me in adult service. Some of my children are pros at sitting in adult service now, the little ones are still learning. A few of them haven't had any trouble at all learning to sit still in church, others of them have had a harder time. But Pastor James and I feel its very valuable for them to learn how to properly behave in an adult church setting. Over the years, we have picked up a few tips to making a child's church experience a success for both them and us as parents. I'd love to share them with you!
FIRST, you must have a clear picture of what your expectations for your children will be. I firmly believe that most children, by the age of four or five, are CAPABLE of sitting through an hour-and-a-half long church service. Now, many of them haven't been trained to have that kind of self-control, as that training begins at home. For my children, I have found that boys struggle with the wiggles a little more than girls, but that may not always be the case across the board. Each child is different. However, each child MUST learn, before the age of five, I believe, how to have a measure of self-control.
BOYS AND SELF-CONTROL: Now, I have a house full of BOYS, so I understand them. God put in boys an extra dose of energy, no doubt. They were created to fight, to go to battle, to conquer, and to protect! That must not be squelched. However, I teach my boys that there is a time and a place for exerting their energy. There are times when they must hold it in. For instance, recently, we were at the grocery store and I was ordering food from the deli counter. I was thinking hard, trying to calculate how much of this and that to get to feed my family. Beside me, one of my boys got bored waiting for me and decided to start jabbing another brother in fun to start play fighting. Not good timing! I stopped what I was doing, bent over to get eye level with that boy, and said very quietly, "The grocery store is not the place to exert your energy. You need to practice self-control right now, and wait until we get home for this kind of play. Do you understand me?" And I waited for him to reply, "Yes, Mom."
There are other times in our daily life when we practice self-control, such as during our school time or when we are having family devotions and prayer together. Whenever I am teaching them something, I expect them to not only pay attention, but not to distract others around them. I am fully aware that this isn't easy for boys. They often cannot sit beside each other, because it is just too tempting. But they have learned, now, how to sit through me reading an entire history lesson to them, reading a story to them, and even reading several chapters of the Bible in a row to them. I do not tolerate whatsoever any disrespect or trying to be funny and draw attention to themselves while we are praying or reading God's Word. I find that very offensive, and have taught them to respect God enough to control themselves and give Him the attention He deserves.
WHAT RULES DO WE HAVE FOR OUR CHILDREN AT CHURCH?
Our children know and understand that we have several guidelines for their behavior during a church service. The bottom line to all of these rules, and I tell them this, is, "We want people to pay attention to God and the speaker. We do not want anyone to be distracted by anything we're doing." This is about preferring others before ourselves. Here are a few of our rules for church conduct:
- They must speak in a whisper only. They may not make any noise or hum that others around them can hear.
- Under NO circumstances whatsoever are they to walk near or around the front of the room or stage area where the speaker is speaking or the worship team is leading people in worship. This is extremely distracting to everyone who is trying to pay attention to the worship or the speaker. (Unfortunately, when I'm on stage playing keyboard, I am not able to stop my toddlers from doing this all the time, so they occasionally make their way to Daddy when he's speaking. He doesn't mind, and usually just picks them up and holds them and continues to talk.)
- One of my pastor's wives many years ago told me something she used to tell her children, and I now tell mine: You may not make any motion above the back of the seat of your chair or pew. You must play below the back of your chair, so as to not distract those behind you. I love this, because it is very tangible for kids and they get it.
- Before and after service, running is not allowed inside the sanctuary. Now, let me just say, my boys are still learning this, and I catch them all the time. But this is a very important rule. I tell them, "There are elderly people and young toddlers who attend our church, and by running, you could easily cause one of them to fall and hurt themselves. You may also cause damage to expensive equipment. Running is for outside."
- Before and after service, they may not touch any of the expensive equipment in the sanctuary. I have one son in particular who just LOVES to touch things he shouldn't, and experiment with what this button does or how to disconnect this cord. It only takes one glance from me where our eyes meet, and he sees me shake my head at him, for him to know he's touching what he should not touch. This should include instruments and microphones. I know it's so fun for kids to jump on the stage and pretend they are the worship band. I myself love to see my toddler practicing his drum skills. So I struggle with this one a bit. I think, with parental supervision, it can be OK, however, a ton of young children playing with all the equipment on the stage UNSUPERVISED is a recipe for disaster, and can result in a huge bill for the church. They drop microphones and damage them, they clumsily trip and knock over this or that, and it's just not a good thing. In addition, we want to create an environment where people can linger and visit, and often, its hard to have a conversation while a child is banging on the drums or shouting in a microphone. I know and understand, my children do it as well. It's very cute. But again, it requires close parental supervision, and even better, the purchase of some play instruments for them to "lead worship" at home!
SETTING YOUR CHILDREN UP FOR SUCCESS:
There are a few things I do to ensure our morning in church is, at least, headed for success.
- We visit the restroom and eat our brownie bite from the coffee cart before church begins. Once church starts, we're not getting up and walking around a million times. The constant movement is just too distracting to others. There will be no more visits to the coffee cart. I keep a bottle of water nearby or, when they were younger, a sippy cup. When they were much younger, I might have even had a bag of Cheerios or something they could snack on that wouldn't make a mess all over the place.
- I try to have a bag of a few quiet activities for the younger ones to do. This includes coloring books and crayons, reading books, drawing supplies, anything that they can do in a very small space with no noise at all. Toy vehicles do not qualify, as they require too much space to "drive," even though they've been known to sneak them in church on occasion.
- For my older children, I whisper to them quite a lot through the service, explaining to them what is taking place and how they should respond. During worship, I tell them, "We're singing these songs as a prayer to God. Try singing along with the words on the screen and make it your prayer." Or "We lift our hands to God as a symbol of our complete surrender to Him, our worship of Him, because He is so good to us." Any of my children above five years of age are required to stand during worship (the older ones, longer perhaps than the younger ones), as it is a sign of respect, and because someone asked us to stand so we obey, and because Jesus hung on the cross for us, so we can stand for 30 minutes for Him. Trust me, I've heard the, "I'm too tired to stand," bit before, but I don't buy it, because as soon as church is over, they're running around outside with their friends like crazy people. My response is, "I'm sure Jesus got tired hanging on the cross for your sins, too." During the "Meet & Greet" time, I might take them around and teach them how to properly greet others by looking them in the eyes, smiling, and shaking their hand. During the message, my goal is to, step-by-step, teach them how to engage in the service. I may give them a piece of paper and ask them to copy words they see from the sermon notes on the screen. I may instruct them to draw a picture of something the pastor is talking about. I might have them practice looking up the Scripture passage for the message in their own Bible. (Incidentally, my children are required to bring their Bibles to church as a discipline. My oldest child also brings a notepad and takes notes during the sermon on her own.) I might have them listen for a key word to see how many times the pastor says it. Whatever I can do to get them engaged, I will do. I want them to be active participants in the service. Coloring is fine when they're young, but after about age six, we must slowly make the conversion into more mature church participation. During prayer time, I expect that they take the proper posture of prayer. With my little ones, I whisper, "We're praying to Jesus now. Close your eyes and fold your hands." When the pastor is giving an opportunity for people to ask Jesus into their heart, I might whisper, "Let's pray right now quietly that people who need Jesus accept Him." Any of my children are welcome, also, at the altar, but only if they are reverent while there. They may not go with me and then roll around and wiggle and play. (The only way any of this teaching is possible is if our children sit WITH us in church, not away from us with their friends. My children have often slipped away to sit with friends before I could get off the stage from worship, but my preference is that they sit with me. Again, temptations to NOT pay attention and engage are SOOOO much greater when they are sitting next to a friend. They can visit with their friends before and after church, just like I do, but during service, my preference is that they sit with me or their father.)
This past Sunday, my two toddlers, ages three and four, who are going through a very clingy stage right now, sat with me on the front row during the entire church service. I was pleased when a friend came up to me after service and asked, "Were they sitting there the whole time? I didn't even notice them!" I don't know if the people in the row behind me would have the same sentiments, but nevertheless, this is my goal! In my mind, my children sitting in service with me was a success, because they were unnoticed. They deserve praise afterwards for a job well done, maybe even a special little treat. But they need to know they were obedient for doing exactly what Mommy asked of them, and they were good boys for having such great self-control.
This skill goes a long way in their lives. I encourage you to start training your children at home to have self-control, and start with a small increment of time, and work your way up. Teach them the real purpose for attending church, and how they can participate. Give them a very clear picture of what will take place, in order, and what they are required to do at each segment of the service. Cater your instructions to the age of your child. I believe every child needs some experience sitting in adult service with their parents from time to time. It won't be a huge culture shock to them when they graduate from kids' church to attending adult service full-time, as they've already had experience in the environment, and know how to properly conduct themselves and engage their hearts in the service. The greatest lesson for a child is what they observe the adults around them doing. Modeling active participation in church is priceless. What a delight for a family to be able to worship together on a Sunday!
One other note: As adults in church, it is important that we have grace for families who are at different points along the journey to worshiping together as a family in church. Children are clay on a potter's wheel, being molded and shaped into something beautiful. But during the process, they can sometimes look like anything but a finished product. We can partner with parents of young children by supporting them as they train their children and not passing judgment. Let's come together as a family of God to model and teach children to be respectful in God's house.