I recently wrote an Instagram (@casspattillo)/Facebook post with tips about how to make things go (somewhat) more smoothly when our young children join us in the worship service. I realized after I posted it, though, that I probably should’ve written this first- why I believe elementary-age children should join us in the worship service and the benefits of it (but better late than never 😂).
First, let me share some context of my life and how we’ve done this in our family. Our children are 8, 6, and 3. Our oldest joined us in the worship service when he started kindergarten. Due to changing churches and some other things, our middle joined us when he was in first grade. In our church, children ages 3-5 attend the beginning of the worship service, and during the welcome time, they leave to attend children’s church (so this is what our 3 year old does). I really love how our church handles this. Our preschoolers have the opportunity to ease in to learning how to be in the service, while our elementary kids and up get to join us for the entire service. I understand that this mindset is a little different. Honestly, whether to bring children into the worship service or not wasn’t something I thought through before our oldest entered kindergarten. However, I’m thankful the Lord led us to think through this, and here are some of the benefits we’ve seen to bringing our children into the worship service:
Church isn’t for us. One of the problems I believe exists in the church today is that too many people believe church is solely for them and to entertain them. The mindset is, “What can I get out of church,” not, “How can I serve the church?” While there are wonderful blessings to being a member of a church, church isn’t for us, but for the glory of God. However, we shouldn’t be surprised by this problem when many children and students spend their entire church lives being fully catered to. They attend a “church” that’s 100% centered around entertaining them from their infancy to high school graduation. It’s no wonder that congregational singing and a sermon geared toward all ages seem boring, and many church hop looking for the next big show. Therefore, when we bring children into the worship service, it teaches them that church isn’t about them. As children join in the multigenerational worship service, we can have conversations about our preferences in church. If they don’t like a song that’s sung, we can teach them that’s actually a good thing, because it probably meets the preference of another generation/person in the church. Most likely, the sermon won’t be the most interesting thing for them at first. This is when we can teach and model for them that though they may lose interest in the sermon now, the preaching of God’s Word is more exciting than our favorite college football team winning a championship.
Accountability for parents. If our children join us in the worship service, their little eyes and ears will watch and listen to how we participate in it. Does mommy only sing songs she likes? Does daddy lose interest in the sermon? Do mommy and daddy get more excited about sports, entertainment, etc. than they do church? These are tough questions to chew on, but important ones. Our actions during the worship service and attitude toward it speak loudly to our children. I pray my actions and attitude scream that mommy cherishes the worship service, loves congregational singing, and soaks up the preaching of the Word.
It teaches children how to participate in the worship service. This is such an important thing for our children to learn! As they join us in the service, they’ll learn as we model for them how to do this. Another thing I love is that my children not only have my husband and I modeling for them how to participate in a worship service, but they get to many other adults who pour into them also worshipping, giving, engaging in the sermon, etc.
It ensures children are a part of the church as a whole. My husband and I spent a little over 11 years in student ministry before he became a senior pastor. We saw that students are more likely to remain engaged in the church after graduation if they’re a part of the church at large. Far too many children and student ministries function as a para-church ministry, where children and students are only a part of things in the church that are only for their age. There’s nothing wrong with para-church ministries, but they’re no replacement for the local church. Bringing our children into the service gives them an opportunity to see that they, too, are a vital part of the multigenerational local church. It allows them to connect with the church as a whole, not just the parts that are geared just for them.
Children get to see church ordinances. Baptism and the Lord’s Supper are key parts of the local church. It’s so important for children to see this! For us, it’s brought up great conversations with our children. Our oldest child is a Christian, so it’s important that he’s in the service so that he can participate in these things like any other believer in our church gets to.
Children are as a blessing, not an inconvenience. Please hear me, I’m not saying that churches who offer children’s church don’t view children as blessings. What I’m saying, though, is that maybe we need to think about what kind of messages we’re sending about kids. I get it. Kids are noisy, and they have a lot of wiggles. Bringing them in the service is by no means easy. It takes effort and intentionality for us parents. Sometimes, though, when I talk about wrangling mine during the service (and I typically wrangle solo since my husband is the pastor), it often brings up the well-meaning question of children’s church. We’ve come to expect the church to provide a space for the noises and wiggles to go during the service so they’re not an inconvenience to us as parents. Again, I’m not saying this is the intended mindset, but it can come across like this at times. Children are a blessing, not an inconvenience (Ps. 127:3). Our church welcomes their wiggles and occasional noises, and I couldn’t be more grateful. Bringing them into the service takes work on my part. We prepare them before the service, and then of course there’s needed training during and after the service too. Because my children are a blessing and their discipleship is important, this effort is worth it, not an inconvenience.
Hearing my children worship Jesus along with our congregation. I mean, really, if you want to bring me to tears, just stand me beside my boys while they loudly sing to Jesus along with the rest of our church. They sing in the car about Jesus too, but there’s something different and more special about this. It’s the absolute best. I don’t want to miss out on this blessing because it’s sometimes hard.
Let me close with a few things that I’m not saying. I’m not saying that I’m anti-children or student ministry (remember, my husband was a youth pastor for 11 years; there will always be a special place in our hearts for students). My children still get plenty of time through Sunday school and other activities where there’s teaching and activity geared for their ages, and I believe this is important. Children and student ministries function best, though, when they’re discipleship driven and a part of the church as a whole, not a separate entity. I’m also not saying I’m anti-nursery. I’m SO grateful for the nursery and precious workers who rocked my babies and played with my toddlers. I think there’s a great difference between trying to shush a crawling 11 month old versus the work of training a first grader to participate in the service. I’m also not saying that churches with children’s church are bad or that children’s church is sinful. Scripture doesn’t speak clearly this, so I don’t want to either.
What I’m saying, though, is that maybe we need to pause and think through the why of children’s church, and the other option- welcoming our children into the service. For our family, this is the conviction we’ve landed at, and we’ve seen wonderful benefits for the glory of God. My children are blessings from the Lord. God has entrusted me with these gifts to disciple them for his glory. The local church is a pivotal part in coming alongside us in this. Brining them into the worship service is one way the local church and us as parents get to partner together in discipling them. Praise God! Oh, and maybe I forgot to mention one last benefit- there are many funny stories that we have thanks to our children being in the worship service with us! But on a serious note, no matter how we handle this situation, let’s love Jesus and his church, and let’s prioritize them in our families.