“Where can I send my kids?” This is a common question that people ask when they go to a new church. And it’s well-intended. Many Christians have grown up in churches where adults and children go different ways on Sunday mornings. Parents attend the worship service while children go to a separate Sunday school hour. Having children in worship on a Sunday can feel unfamiliar.
To be sure, it’s not easy to include children in corporate worship. My wife and I are very aware that having our four children beside us in the pew can be distracting, for us and for those around us. We also know that it will require work and discipline on our end. What’s more, we’ve personally experienced everything from blowout diapers to full-on temper tantrums in the middle of church services.
Why Do It?
So why worship with children? Why would we subject ourselves to something that’s unfamiliar and inconvenient?
First and foremost, we invite our children to worship with us because God desires children to worship! The prophet Joel once visited God’s people with a message of repentance and judgment. He charged the people of God:
“Blow the trumpet in Zion; consecrate a fast; call a solemn assembly; gather the people. Consecrate the congregation; assemble the elders; gather the children, even nursing infants. Let the bridegroom leave his room, and the bride her chamber.” (Joel 2:15–16)
When it comes to worshipping God, Joel was clear that when the congregation comes together, nobody should be left out. Joel calls everyone in the congregation—adults, children, elders, and even nursing infants—to worship him as one gathering!
But Is That What’s Best?
Many parents wonder if kids would be better suited for something more age-appropriate. Won’t children be bored with worship? Won’t it go over our little ones’ heads?
These are good questions. Many churches invest heavily in Sunday morning programs and activities for kids because they care about the spiritual growth of kids. These programs create an environment where kids can learn the Bible in age-appropriate ways, pray with other children, and interact with older leaders. Most churches also have nursery care for the youngest members of the congregation.
But, as important as age-appropriate programing can be to a child’s faith, these activities cannot replace the gathered worship of everyone in the congregation. While worship may not seem child friendly or as engaging as a kid’s program, we have to remember that God created worship with kids in mind!
God assumes our children will not immediately understand everything about worship. He assumes they will ask questions. In fact, he created worship to be the context where our kids ask questions about faith. In Exodus, during the Passover worship service, God assumes that children will ask important questions about what they don’t immediately understand.
“And when your children say to you, ‘What do you mean by this service?’ you shall say, ‘It is the sacrifice of the LORD’s Passover, for he passed over the houses of the people of Israel in Egypt, when he struck the Egyptians but spared our houses.’ And the people bowed their heads and worshiped.” (Exod. 12.26–27)
We should expect the same in worship today. Will kids immediately understand everything that’s happening in the worship service? No. Will it seem like some things are going over their heads? Yes. But God still created worship with children in mind. He created worship to be the context where kids, who are naturally curious, will ask questions about God, faith, and salvation.
While God created worship with children in mind, there are times when taking advantage of the church nursery or additional help is appropriate. Our family regularly takes advantage of the nursery for our twin two-year-old daughters during the sermon. While we would love to include our girls for the entire service every week, we also realize that we’re finite and need help at times. So, while God does call everyone to worship, we should also realize that parenting in the pew is a challenge and a learning curve for most families. After all, taking a child from the nursery to full inclusion in worship takes time and patience.
Won’t They Be a Distraction?
Many parents are concerned that their young ones will be distracting. The dull roar and occasional rustling of children can put parents on high alert, making them feel like they are interfering with the worship of others. However, in my experience, the blessing of children in worship far outweighs the potential for distraction. Hearing children participate in the liturgy, recite the Lord’s prayer, and sing along with the rest of the congregation reminds even the most seasoned follower of Jesus that we’re supposed to approach the Lord with childlike faith and wonder.
The sound of children is also a wonderful challenge and opportunity for everyone in the church. When we find ourselves distracted by little ones, we can be reminded to pray for them and their growth in faith. We can intentionally encourage parents and offer to help them as well. My wife and I have regularly been blessed by an empty-nester or teenager who sat next to us to lend a hand.
As unfamiliar and challenging as it can be to worship with children, we should take encouragement that God knows our children. He knows that our children need to learn and grow in discipleship. He knows that everything will not immediately make sense. Most importantly, he knows that when everyone—adults, elders, and children—gathers to worship, children will ask questions and they will grow in their love and devotion to God.