Children in Worship

Three years ago I wrote one of my favorite blog posts, Children in Worship.  It is a reflection on the role of children in worship written from my perspective as a first-pew sitting pastor's husband and father wrestling a 2 year-old in the pews.  A few months later, balancing a 3 year-old and a 6 month-old, I wrote another post, "Shame on You."  If at all you are interested in issues related to children in worship, please read these old posts and the wonderful comments that were given.  They serve as background for this current reflection.

I'm now a pastor, and am burdened not only with my own passions about children in worship, but also with my responsibility as a pastor to help foster a community that welcomes people of all ages to hear and live into the Gospel promiess.  From children's sermons to "Children's Church" (when children leave the nave during readings and sermon for a 20-minute children's program), to ways for children to meaningfully participate in and even lead worship . . . I'm thinking about these things in preparation for our next program year.

I'm not sure what I want programmatically – sermons or children's church or other activities for children in worship (in fact, we do different things at our two different services) – but I do know a few things:
  1. I expect children in worship.
  2. I want other worshippers to expect children in worship.
  3. I want parents to know how to manage their children's noise levels, removing their children from the nave when necessary. 
  4. I want other worshippers to put up with a reasonable amount of child noise (crayons falling on the pew, whispering, the ocassional but brief cry, etc.). 
  5. I want congregations to make clear their perspectives on children in worship – whatever they might be – and to teach and re-teach these perspectives to worship leaders, parents, and the general membership. 
  6. I want parents and congregations alike to take seriously the baptismal vows – which the parents made and which the congregation promised to support – of bringing the children to the Lord's house.

I know this is an amazingly broad question, but . . . but what are your thoughts on children in worship, not just philosphically, but logistically?  How do you answer these questions and how to you put these answers into practice?

Published by Chris Duckworth

Spouse. Parent. Lutheran Pastor. Veteran. Jedi. Political Junkie. Baseball Fan.

4 thoughts on “Children in Worship

  1. This is a great question and one that many church’s wrestle with I think. Personally I struggle with this because I have a 5 year old son who physically cannot sit in worship. He cannot endure the crowds, the organ playing or community singing.
    I got word that there were some people who think that he should be in worship because he is 5 now. But when we took him to midweek worship (1/2 an hour long) he could not sit still and he was very disruptive to the worship service.
    The one place that he did do somewhat well in was a church that had a table set up and bean bags, a bookcase, crayons ect. set up for children. I thought that was great!
    So I agree that there should be an opportunity for children to be in worship, I think that as clergy we should try and think about how to incorporate that and I love the idea of having children lead parts of worship (like perhaps starting the Lord’s prayer?). My question is — is it possible to think about ways to have a “quiet nursery” in the sanctuary for children to do their own thing? Would that encourage more children to be a part of the worship service?

  2. Chris et al,
    In the very traditional sanctuary of our Lutheran Church in Iowa – we encourage parents to have their children in worship and we provide what we call “busy bags” – they are hand sewn bags approx- 10in x 10in with crayons, paper, small soft toys, little bible story books, etc.
    We do have a nursery staffed by church members who sign up ahead of time – and this has the audio of the service (but in the future I would like to have closed circuit vidoe as well).
    We are tolerable of children jabbering and some crying and I believe that our parents with little ones have a done a great job with their kids. We have a children’s message before the sermon and also a processional offering for children with a “noisy” pottery jar to deposit their coins in.
    What say the rest of you?

  3. I actually work in the nursery at my church, and while I don’t have kids of my own to supervise during a worship service, I’m in the back and bringing them out for the Children’s Sermon (and trying like nobody’s business to keep the Christ Candle from being knocked over in those 5-ish minutes).
    While I think it’s important for kids to experience church from a young age, I think it’s also important to understand and accept that they just don’t “get” it all yet. On the one hand, none of us “get it”, but what I’m saying is that they don’t understand why we grown-ups feel the need to come here on Sunday, why we’re singing, why we’re saying the prayers, or what “worship” means. I know this sounds like I’m talking kids down and I KNOW they understand a whole lot more than we give them credit for, but in that same way, we need to let them lead their own lives.
    In one of your previous posts, there was a comment that blew me away, and that was from a parent whose teenage kids went to church every Sunday and *didn’t sit with them*. That means that going to worship was their individual decision. To so many teenagers/young adults, church is something they do because Mom/Dad/whoever says “Get up! It’s Sunday! We’re leaving for church in 15 minutes.”
    That is obviously not the kind of idea we’re all trying to plant in these children. We want people–not just kids, but everyone–to WANT to come to church.
    So it should be with the little ones. I think the option of a nursery is important and I think having Sunday School at the same time, or some sort of separate “children’s church” underestimates their decision-making capabilities. We have bags with coloring books and crayons etc., too, and that, combined with the option of a nursery should certainly be enough to get a child through what adults have decided the “boring” parts of the services are. But as you’ve all pointed out, when the kids can’t be in the service, they can’t be in the service, and all will know that they have made that decision.
    One thing I’ve seen some families doing, and I’m not sure how it’s different from what other families (mine included) have done, is that they’ve made going to church a privilege. You go to the nursery when you can’t sit in church, and when you’re ready to sit in church, great. This makes the nursery-to-church transition as easy as I’ve ever ever seen it.
    I’m sure there’s more, but I seem to have lost my train of thought, haha. I love this conversation, though, keep us updated on what you’re thinking/deciding?

  4. I struggle with this as the father of a 2 1/2 year old and a newborn. Our little Lutheran church is very small (the UCC churches of the same size in this area are referred to as “family sized”), so when the little ones make noise, it is clearly heard by everyone in the sanctuary. Either my wife or I ends up removing the toddler at least once at every service we attend. Folks here are pretty understanding, but we both feel very bad about it. Still, we believe it is important that they grow accustomed to participating at worship.
    A couple of things I’ve found that help:
    (For me)
    1. Make sure the little ones are well rested.
    2. Once they are able, talk with them before the service about how you expect them to behave. I don’t do this all the time, but I’ve found the promise of a reward for good behavior is met with some effort in that direction. I’m certainly not above stopping at Dunkin Donuts on the drive home from church if it means that my son will make a special effort to be quiet.
    3. Some services might not be possible. Midweek Lent services this year concluded well after bedtime for the toddler. There is a very good chance of a meltdown in that situation. In fact, we did take him to an evening Tenebrae service on Good Friday, and he freaked out when the lights were turned out (though I suppose if there is any place for uncontrolled wailing in the liturgy, this visible reminder of the death of Christ is it).
    (For others at church)
    4. Please start the service on time and keep announcements to a minimum. I’m happy to keep the little ones in the pews during the service, but I don’t want to do it for any longer than that. Kids have fairly routine schedules, and it is really easy to screw this up if they don’t get lunch/nap/play on time. Don’t rush through service, but when it comes to sanctuary time that isn’t actually a part of the Divine Service, please bear in mind that kids have short attention spans.
    5. Please bear with us. With little children some disruption is inevitable. We’re trying to minimize it, but the only way to eliminate it completely would be to keep them away from worship.

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