Kids In Church: A Parent’s PerspectiveI’ve been thinking a lot about what to say about children being disruptive at church. I’ve been thinking about what to say to the grownups who have kids who follow the rules and what to say to the grownups who have kids who like to do everything creatively – including how they interpret the rules. I’m not sure what to say to the grandparents who maintain that their kids were better behaved than our kids now, or that the parenting style that I am choosing for my kid is wrong or not working. Mostly, I’ve been trying to figure out what to say to myself – on the days where being with my child at church is messy and disorganized and loud and complicated and emotionally draining and embarrassing. I spent a week at one point trying to figure out how my mom handled two kids during a service before I remembered that we didn’t attend services as a family when we were young kids. We went to Sunday School and then came home. We only attended the service if we were singing in the children’s choir that day – and then we were surrounded by all sorts of folks who expected the noise and helped wrangle the wiggles and the congregation was too busy being proud of having a children’s choir to be fretting about how loud we all were. I think that our angelic version of kids in church is ridiculous. I think that the illustrations of Jesus with the children are completely wrong. Jesus’ disciples weren’t trying to keep the clean, neat, quiet, and calm kids from Jesus. I bet the kids looked messy and loud and smelly and someone had a fidget spinner and someone was yelling how they were hungry and someone was trying to explain to Jesus about Pokemon just as Jesus was trying to tell a parable and someone was climbing a tree. Jesus didn’t see a bunch of problem kids. He saw families in our messy, human form that makes living in community so hard.
Raising kids is hard. Raising kids in a community of faith is hard. Trying to figure out how to create spiritual practices that keep the parts of your faith that made you who you are while skipping the parts of church that made you hate Sundays when you were a kid is really hard. I’d like to feel that Sixth is a place where we can all acknowledge how hard this is and support one another. Even if another family’s decisions are different than what you’d do. Even if it’s messy. So, thank you for joining us in the complicated parts of raising children in the church. Thank you for smiling when the babies cry and offering to take a baby so a tired parent can have a break. Thank you for kneeling down and talking to the toddler that’s running out a doorway and redirecting them back to their grownup. Thank you for the folks who have watched my preschooler, so that I can finish a task that I’m doing for the church. Thank you to the folks, who I know in the future will ask my 5-year-old about how school is going or talk to my 12-year-old about what books he’s reading or what movies he likes. Thank you for finding ways to engage with my kid and all the kids and teens in church in positive ways. This is what keeps families in church.
Kids In Church: A Church Staff PerspectiveHere at Sixth Church we have been talking a lot over the past few years about children in worship. How can we not?! We are blessed here to have what many congregations these days are yearning for – families with young children. And with these children come energy, squirminess, laughter, lots of questions, temper tantrums, sticky fingers, spilled juice, and all the other things that accompany a building full of vivacious kids. As in most other congregations, there have been many spirited conversations about this topic. The purpose of this article is to let you know that we hear you! We hear your thoughts, concerns, ideas and suggestions.
I, along with church staff, the Christian Education Committee, and our Sunday school teachers have been listening. We have been listening to parents share their experiences of bringing young children to worship. We have been listening to what the kids have to say about their worship experience. We have been listening to faithful congregation members and worshippers who are expressing how our children in church affect their worship experience. Lots of these conversations and comments are about behavior. Trust me, from my experience and what I hear from other churches, what is and what is not acceptable behavior in the sanctuary is always a thorny issue that generates a wide variety of opinions. When we at Sixth gather as a community to worship, we strive to include everyone. We are many kinds of people who all share a need and desire to be in church. Our church’s mission statement makes it clear that everyone is welcome to gather here and be reminded that they are loved and accepted as one of God’s children. We come together to pray, sing and hear God’s words for us. But, of course, we all have very different needs and preferences for how we do that.
What follows are just a few of the changes and adjustments we have implemented to help everyone have a better worship experience. We will continue this work of teaching children to worship with open ears and open minds throughout the year.
- During our Christmas Eve and Easter Sunday services, you might have noticed that we did not have a Time for Children. These are two services during which we do not have Extended Session where children leave worship. The rationale for this change comes from the idea that we want to show that our worship service – the whole worship service – is inclusive for everyone. It was also a logistical decision. If the children are settled in their seats and participating in worship, then why disrupt the flow of the service by moving them around. I have been finding that paying attention to how we transition our children from one place to another and from one environment to another makes a difference in their behavior and anxiety levels.
- Another logistical change is that we have swapped the weekly order of worship slightly. The Time for Children now happens before the Passing of the Peace. The children are now asked to come forward to sit the front pews for their message. Here again, transitioning the kids was the thinking behind this. The children are heading upstairs while the congregation is also moving. The noise they create while exiting the sanctuary and heading upstairs is now less of a focus.
- We are printing more large-print bulletins. These bulletins are great for new and young readers because the size makes it easier to handle, and the type size makes it easier to follow along. Please encourage your kids and the young readers seated around you to grab one when they come into worship and follow along.
- Last year we began teaching the children the Three S’s for lighting the peace candles during worship. The kids love this interactive part of worship, but we needed to introduce some learning tips to help. We will continue to reinforce these tips with our kids. The three S’s stand for special, settle and share. Here is what we are teaching:
- Special – Lighting candles is a way we talk to God.
- Settle – When we light candles, we have to settle our bodies to help settle our minds. Having a quiet body helps to remind us to be safe around fire. It also reminds us the sometimes God is quiet in our hearts, so we have to listen carefully.
- Share – Lighting candles is a shared experience. Many people in our church talk to God by lighting candles. That means we need to share the candles. It also means that we are sharing an experience with them, which makes it really neat and really special.
- We have begun holding a yearly worship and sacrament class for kids. The Saturday before World-Wide Communion Sunday is a great time for us to invite the children to the church for a special time to learn about Communion, Baptism and what happens in church. We also use this time to train children interested in service as water pourers and acolytes. The gathering is fun and interactive, and the children also help bake the Communion bread to be used for the next day’s service. This year’s class will be held at 10 am Sept. 30 for children of all ages.
Worshiping together as a community takes effort, constant communication and flexibility on everyone’s part to make sure everyone is safe, comfortable and able to participate in worship fully. The best thing we can do is pay attention to each other and listen to everyone’s needs, wants and ideas. It’s a big task! We want to make sure our children are not only learning how to behave in church but how to worship and find the presence of God here in our sanctuary. We want to support our parents who, on some days, are struggling just to make sure their kids are making it to church with pants on. I want to encourage us all to work together and listen to each other as we continue to honor the baptismal vows we make for each child. As a congregation we promise to “guide and nurture each child by word and deed, with love and prayer, encouraging them to know and follow Christ and to be faithful members of the church.”
—Jenny Newman, Director of Christian Education