Sep 22, 2015

6 Reasons Why Children Should NOT Be in the Adult Worship Service

Should children be in the adult worship service?  There are strong opinions on both sides of this debate.  Personally, I believe children should NOT be in the adult worship service.  Here's six reasons why.

Children need age-appropriate worship.  In other scenarios, we wouldn't put children in an environment that's not age-appropriate.  Think about it.  There's a reason why children are not in college classrooms.  It's not what they need or are ready for at that stage in life.

Children have unique spiritual needs that can't be met in an adult worship service.  That's why it's vital to create environments where they can worship, learn and interact on their age level.

The Word of God is equally inspired, but it's not equally applicable.  A 7-year-old doesn't need to know how the Beast of Revelation applies to his or her life.  A 5-year-old doesn't need to learn from the life of David that you shouldn't commit adultery.  Instead, they need strategic, child-focused teaching that will give them a solid, Biblical foundation to build their lives upon.

If you want to reach and disciple children, you've got to meet them where they are, not where adults are.

Children distract those around them.
  Let's be honest.  Children in the adult service distract their parents and those around them.  Parents end up spending more time trying to keep their children from distributing the service than they do focusing on what is being taught.  It's heartbreaking to watch a guest who doesn't know Jesus get distracted from hearing the Gospel because he is watching the preschooler in front of him act out because the little guy is bored out of his mind.  It saddens me to see a new believer miss vital teaching because she is preoccupied with smiling at the cute baby in front of her.

It's not the children's fault or due to bad parenting.  This goes back to my first point.  Children are wired to be children...not adults.  Children are wired to have very short attention spans.  Don't place them in an adult setting and expect them to not be children.  They will get distracted and distract those around them.

Here's a classic video that illustrates this so well.



It allows children's memories of church to be positive.  I have met many adults who are not in church that say, "I'm not going to church because I was made to go as a child."  Think this through with me.  You don't have to make someone go where they enjoy being.  I've never met anyone who says, "I'm not going to Disney World because I was made to go as a child."

One of the most outspoken agnostics in the country is Bill Maher.  In his movie Religulous, he talks about his experience in church as a child.
When we quit the church, I was 13 and I was thrilled.  But not for any ideological reason.  I was just thrilled because I hated church.  It scared me.  It was boring.  I had to get up on Sunday.  When I think back, it wasn't relevant to my life.  Superman was relevant to my life.  Baseball was relevant to my life.  - Bill Maher (comedian, host of HBO's Real Time with Bill Maher, outspoken agnostic)
A child's memories of church should be of a happy, fun, engaging, energetic place where they were allowed to be kids.  A place where the lessons related to their life.  A place where they could move instead of being told to "sit still and be quiet."  A place where they were encouraged to talk instead of being "shhhhhhddd."  A place where the time flew by rather than seeming like an eternity of listening to Charlie Brown's teacher.  A place where the Word of God was enjoyed instead of endured.  A place where the music was the same genre as the music they were listening to during the week on their mobile device.  A place where they could play fun games that reinforced the lesson instead of having to invent their own game in the pew.

A child's early experiences in church shape much of their thinking about God.  Placing them in the adult service is not conducive to making those memories positive.

The Pastor can focus on teaching adults.  First of all, as a pastor, it's much harder to effectively communicate when a child is crying, causing a scene or distracting those around them.  Secondly, the quality of a pastor's teaching goes up when he can focus solely on adults and doesn't have the weight of trying to prepare a "children's sermon" or adapt parts of the sermon to include children.  Thirdly, it causes the pastor to be hesitant about addressing mature subject matter, issues and sins due to children being present.

Faith is first and foremost modeled at home.  One of the biggest arguments you will hear for children being in the adult service is they need to see worship modeled by their parents.  I would push back on this by saying faith is modeled first and foremost not at church, but at home during the week.  The spiritual influence parents have during the week far outweighs the one hour of influence they might have with their bored, restless child squirming in the church pew beside them.

It's more effective to bring parents into their child's experiences at church.  If you really want to impact children and their parents, then involve parents in their child's experiences at church.  Here's some ways to do this.
  • If you have a children's faith commitment or baptism class, require parents to attend with their child.  I promise you it will be a game changer for the families in your church.  
  • Provide other classes and Bible studies that parents attend with their child that are primarily geared for children, but will engage parents as well. 
  • Provide parents with tools they can use to disciple their children at home.  This includes recaps of what the children learned and discussion questions.  Another great way to do this to align the children's teaching series with the adult teaching series when it's appropriate.
  • Provide family experiences several times a year outside of your normal adult worship service times.   These are worship experiences for families with the programming geared for children but with elements mixed in that will engage parents as well.  Think of it like a family attending a family movie together.  Friday nights are a great time to host these since it's a night when many families are looking for things to do together.  Another option is to host these between weekend services or after a weekend service.  Here are a few examples of family experiences we've done. 
Northpoint Community Church was a pioneer in this and still hosts a monthly KidStuf family experience that is used to effectively disciple hundreds of children and parents together.  I believe more is accomplished in that one experience than in a year of children sitting with their parents in the adult service of the average church.

Concluding thoughts...
As I interact with churches across the country, here's what I have found.  Churches that are growing and reaching children and families have a high quality worship experience for children outside of the adult service.  The vast majority of churches that don't are stagnant or declining.

A great example is one of the fastest growing churches in the country...now reaching over 30,000 people a weekend.  They do not allow children in the adult service.  But they have an amazing children's ministry service that reaches, engages and disciples children.  The result...children are coming to Christ, dragging their parents to church and entire families are being reached.

Do you agree or disagree that children should not be in adult worship services?  Share your thoughts with us in the comment section below.

35 comments:

I feel like we have missed the reason for having a "worship" service. Are we trying to make children "better children"? If so, we have most definitely missed it by separating them from their parents in a so-called "adult" worship service. Yes, children are wired to be children, but aren't we supposed to be raising (training) them to be adults to love the Lord and worship Him? Most all churches have either Sunday school, small groups, as well as other children's programs during the week. This is one hour during the week where parents and other adults can exhibit what it means to be a worshiper of the One true God. If parents are not willing to impress on their children the blessing and joy of worship, then there's a problem elsewhere. This article has good ideas for family togetherness outside of the worship service, but I am in total disagreement that we should not have our children in worship with family and elders of the church. Children can learn respect (for others and God's house), reverence, honor (for God and for others - the elderly or other adults and those in authority), and so much more just by observing adults in worship. I agree that there is a place for children's worship when parents or other guardians are not present, but, as a whole, parents are called to bring their families to worship. If we are always separating parents and children in worship, opportunities are being missed by parents and other adults to create an a sense of awe and wonder in the life of a child. Maybe those churches where children are not having a "good experience" should change the way they do worship. To quote Josh Hunt, "It is a sin to bore people with the gospel." In other words, the gospel is the best news ever, and should be exciting! Not all of the Bible is considered exciting, but its message is. Kids don't always need to be entertained; it's really ok to be bored sometimes...another teaching opportunity for patience and character. American children are entertained to death and don't know how to "be still and know" God or anything else. From what we read in scripture, families worshiped together. They followed Jesus together (feeding of the 5000 plus women and children). Let's follow the biblical model of worship and expect more from young people - starting with children. (By the way, I'm a children's minister, and we do offer children's worship, but we encourage parents to lead their children.)

Using the feeding of the 5000 to create a doctrine of kids being in adult worship is a real stretch. I'd love to hear how your ministry is effectively creating a good experience for kids in the adult worship service. Most of the time when people say this it is in theory only. "Entertaining" children is simply a way of saying engaging them, meeting their needs and presenting something that is relevant to their life. Thanks for sharing your thoughts. Love the dialogue.

I find that quite often when there is an issue with two very different opinions the answer usually is somewhere in between. We have a very talented worship team, better than anything I might rustle up for kids church. We have kids stay for the worship portion and are then dismissed for their own, age appropriate lessons. Seems to work pretty well.

I totally agree! A child learns differently then adults and need to be spoken to differently. Foundations are laid in a child's life better when they are in a service specifically designed for them Not to mention the adults are going to get much more from the worship service if they're not having to constantly try to quiet or entertain their child. I want my children to love church...and they do! They hate when we miss. I have an 18 year old and a 14 year old who are now in the adult services and they still love church and I believe that's because a foundation was laid in their lives in the children's area.

BTW....we discourage people from bringing kids in and if they want to bring them in they have to sit in the back.

Sorry, but I would have to disagree. There are a lot of misconceptions in the American church today about the "worship service" and a number of these seem to be underlying your arguments. First, instead of being a show, lesson, or experience geared toward the audience, the corporate worship "event" is to be a regular gathering of the entire local body of Christ to worship Him and celebrate His death and resurrection. We find no basis in Scripture or early church history for segregating segments of the Body and having separate "adult church" and "children's church." There is no kids' table in the Body of Christ. In addition, the cognitive aspect of worship probably accounts for 10% at most of the entire experience -- there are other more powerful and supernatural benefits to children being regularly in the presence of the corporate Body of Christ than the information they would potentially receive through the spoken message. That being said, I do believe kids need to learn Scripture and how to apply it on their level in a separate, more kid-friendly environment, but removing them from the presence of God and His people is overly humanistic, materialistic and not the Biblical way to go. They need both.

I also disagree. I think one reason that young people leave church is because they never were part of it in the first place. Church is not about us and making sure we have fun--that is the wrong attitude. I do believe in teaching children on their level both at home and in a church setting, but I think those classes/groups should be at a separate time from the worship service. Worship is a time to gather as a body, sing praises, share in prayer and testimonies, and hear from the Pastor what God has put on his heart. Is it sometimes over the children's heads? Yes, but I am constantly amazed when the children tell me, "Oh, Pastor talked about that in his sermon a few weeks ago." And it is great for the children to see that adults who love God want to come together and worship and learn together. It sets a good example, and a good pattern for their life.

One more thing...just because a church has high attendance doesn't mean they are truly a healthy church. I can have high attendance by catering to the popular and keeping things light. I am NOT saying that big is bad, just that you can't use it as a true test of whether the church is pleasing God or not. They might be, or they might not be. But where I am from, many churches have family worship, and those churches are still growing. Come check us out!

As a Children's Director and a parent, I love the idea of Children's Ministry on Sunday. We teach the same biblical prinicipals that are taught in "big church", but they are structured in way that children can easily receive and retain the information. The fruit in this is seeing our children become amazing boys and girls in Christ grown into amazing men and women of Christ.

My experience in every children's/youth program is the inequality factor. The kids of church leadership are often the most popular and kids from lower income families are often ignored and ridiculed. Some kids just don't fit the mold and so every time they try to speak up or take initiative in these groups they are made fun of for their thoughts. So they become introverts and choose not to participate. The kids I've seen in Adult Services (what a horrible name) are here because they'd rather be with their parents because they don't like the children's/youth program for one reason or another. Usually, it's a comfort thing. I recall Jesus calling for "adults" to let the little children come to him "for they are the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven." When Christ spoke, he used words and stories that everyone with an open mind could understand. Who has a more open mind than a child? Many sermons these days get way way WAY too preachy and far too technical, using words people don't understand and dealing in concepts in very difficult ways to understand, as though they are preaching to a room full of Doctorate students or professors.

Thanks for everyone who has contributed dialogue so far. Great thoughts.

I disagree. As someone stated above, worship is an event: the very act of worshipping our God together as the body of Christ. To exclude young people from that is to diminish the body of Christ. Yes, children need age-appropriate faith formation. That can and should take place during a Sunday school hour, while parents and other adults are also receiving rich, age-appropriate faith formation in separate classes. To exclude children from worship is teaching them a message that they are less-than. Jesus welcomed children with open arms, and worship services should as well. There are ways to make worship engaging, meaningful and not tortuous for children. For concrete, lived examples I would point you to www.worshipingwithchildren.blogspot.com and to the work of Theresa Cho. This is a must read post: http://worshipingwithchildren.blogspot.com/2011/04/why-children-belong-in-sanctuary.html. Parents and families with children should never be made to sit in the back! What a way to make them feel unwelcome and unwanted. Children should be up front where they can see and hear what is going on. Parenting in the Pew is also a wonderful book that gives step by step instructions and ideas for how to keep children in worship. There are so many important reasons to keep children in worship with everyone. And yes, it takes more effort from parents, worship leaders, other worshippers and the children themselves. But as was also stated above, worship isn't a passive, entertaining activity to be consumed. It is to be lived and breathed.

My thoughts exactly, Caitlin. Thank you. I agree that a thriving nursery ministry is a gift to parents, and to invite younger children to experience an age-appropriate lesson during the sermon is very appropriate. But to advocate for the pastor to focus on only adults shows an unwillingness to care for the whole body of Christ. Refusing to add intergenerational elements to the worship service so that children can participate feeds into the misconception that children are “lesser than.” What I hear you saying is that church is for adults, children can be hidden away doing “something else” until they are old enough to sit still. Out of sight, out of mind.

This question of sitting still and being shushed begs the question of what do you do with adults with special needs or visitors who are new to the church experience? Are they shushed, too, and invited to a separate room until they can learn to “behave” in church? And what about young adults? What is their incentive to go back to church when they have no intergenerational relational connections there because they’ve been sequestered in the children/youth wing all these years?

Regarding parents modeling faith: I have seen the opposite - churches that offer a full slate of age appropriate programming during worship reinforce the idea is that parents are to outsource the spiritual formation of their children to the professionals. Worshipping as a family gives the church an opportunity to teach parents to model faith to their kids as many parents aren’t confident in their ability to do this. Having children in our midst reminds us that ensuring the next generation has faith is a responsibility carried by all of us, and I’m sad for the churches that miss out on this opportunity to worship with all of God’s people.

Thanks to everyone who has jumped into the dialogue. As I stated at the beginning of this blog post, there are strong opinions on both sides of this and it's been interesting to see some of the push back. That being said, I believe it is vital that we first and foremost remember that God has called us to reach children and families with the Gospel and see them become lifelong followers of Jesus. Much of the push back has been cloaked in spiritual talk and theories that sound good but in reality produce limited fruit. Did you know there is something the 10 largest churches in America all have in common. Guess what it is? They all have children's worship services...and they are reaching kids and families. It seems fake to me to talk about reaching the next generation but in many cases be doing very little about it. I'm talking about more than just reaching the handful of kids that are in your church already because their parents are believers. That's very important...but outside the walls of your church are tons of kids who don't know Jesus. I find it hypocritical to accuse churches who are going all out to reach kids of not "suffering the little children to come to Jesus." If we are not reaching unchurched kids in our community because we're not willing to change what's not working, then we are missing Jesus' passion to seek and save those who are lost.

As a children's and youth work adviser, I think your premise is wrong. Worship isn't about teaching, it's about worshipping, together, as a whole family. So maybe you've just made the strongest case so far for scrapping the sermon completely! If there has to be learning, let's get up and mingle in groups of mixed ages to explore a topic or question the Minister has given us to look at. That way the adults might finally begin to start learning from the children and young people, because they are the ones who have a real, live sense of spirituality and God with us. Sadly, by the time they're 10 or 11, we've managed to educate it out of them, replacing it with what we think they ought to learn and understand...

What makes me really cring is the sentence: They do not allow children in the worship service. This is really missing the point and hurtful towards children and parents who would like to bring their children along. And as it was mentioned already once in the comments: We make children's church, teen church and after that we expect them to sit in the boring adult worship, honestly, I have been very bored more then once in church! Why would they come if before we did forbidd them to attend and now we want them to attend. Thats quite a confused message!

There is the assumption that because kids do not attend the adult service each week that they are being excluded from the church as a whole. Bu that's not the case. Kids at our church serve, go on mission trips, lead worship in the adult service several times a year, attend classes with their parents, and much more. When they reach middle school they start attending the main service with their parents and become fully immersed in that service. Once a month they lead worship in the main service. A few years ago we transitioned all our student ministry services to Wednesday nights so they could be heavily involved in the life of the church on Sunday mornings. Come and you'll see them serving, greeting and on the front row helping lead the way in the main service. So our strategy is when they are 5th grade and under to teach them in an age appropriate environment then when they hit middle school we move them into the main service because at that point they have reached an appropriate age for it.

It's not an either/or situation. Have the children stay in for the first half of the service, during which time songs of praise are sung, and there may be other items in the service, then have the children go to their own classes for age appropriate teaching, quizzes, games etc while the sermon is being given for the adults. Children need to be part of the body of Christ, and if they never mix with the rest of the church, they are missing out. It requires a balancing act to get it right.

Wow. I could not disagree more with any of your points. My kids attend worship with me. One of them is VERY energetic. Families should worship TOGETHER when they can. Current research supports this. I am just cringing and cannot believe Relevant posted this!

Hey Dale, thanks for being willing to bring up such a lightning rod topic. Our church logistically can't have kids in the adult service. And we provide a great worship experience for them. I guess a thought would be; why do we have to wait for Sunday to come along for a family to worship together?

I agree that this is an area where there are some very strong opinions. I personally disagree with your arguments. Yes, I do believe in the value of a nursery and children's ministry up to age 3 or 4 is probably most helpful. But when a child is 5 he is exposed to classes and learns to sit and take in. I find it is often the parents who are bored with church and use this as an excuse for their unruly kids... I happen to be a Children's Pastor as well as a parent of 10 (6 biologically and 4 adopted at ages 4,5,6 and 10). All my kids were in church by the time they could sit my Mom and Dad's sides. We taught them how to take notes and to listen for key points. Today my oldest son is 30 and a Senior Pastor, my second son is involved in a parachurch ministry, my third son is a Senior Pastor at age 25 my oldest daughter is in her final year of study at Moody Bible Institute and my other 6 kids are all still in the home and they love the church and the whole church family.

The Big church time should not be boring or a child killer. You can find today a lot of young people that have left the church because they were never a part of the whole church experience. They were entertained and talked to on their level and now church has become boring to them because they were never taught to be a part of a "church family".

We have examples on both sides of kids that have turned out OK. It is by grace that any of our kids will become followers of Christ. I just believe that they have the best chances of being committed to the body of Christ when we include them in the body of Christ at the earliest age that they can listen.

I can't tell you how many times I have had parents tell me their child can't learn in Big Church because they would not understand the pastor. I explain to them how to help their child interact with the message and to please give it a try. They come back and say they got more out of the message then I did. I can't believe it, it works. Lets be honest do we all get out of the service everything that is said? We are building foundations.

We do have a full running Sunday school that is also God-centered, Christ exalting, with Spirit-filled teacher, Bible saturated, truth-driven, mission minded, gospel centered as well. WE encourage our families to do both Sunday school and Big church.

Thank you.

Wow! I love the diversity and creative thinking we have within the body of Christ. Great post, wonderful comment thread. Thanks for sharing everyone, it's been very insightful.

Children should be giving the privilege to worship adults Christians because it is their right and nothing more. we pastors should not create doctrines that are not in the Bible ok?

Could you tell me what church you are referring to that reaches 30,000 people in a week?

The church I was referring to that is reaching over 30,000 people a weekend is NewSpring Church in Anderson, S.C.

My biggest problem with your argument is that it doesn't have any scriptural references. I've been trying to find scripture to support your position, but instead have been firmly planted in the opposite direction. Deuteronomy, Nehemiah, and Ezra all made clear that the Lord wanted men, women and children to hear the reading of God's word. Deuteronomy (6:7) also has wonderful verse about reaching your children in your daily life. Psalm 78 is full of how its is my responsibility to teach the kids God has entrusted to me. Colossians and Ephesians, books that were to be read aloud during service, a sermon from Paul, addressed kids specifically in the message. Samuel and Jesus both studied with the adults (priests) at a young age and learned things at an adult level. Maybe that's why they both grew in wisdom and favor with God and men? And that's all without mentioning the things that Jesus said about children.

As far as your arguments against that, again, are logical but not scriptural- I learned by sitting in church and listening. Quiet books, mints, writing on the bulletin, boredom, listening when I got too bored- all memories from my childhood. I got a great doctrinal foundation before I even realized it. There are many parts in the bible that we probably wouldn't seem ok for young ears. Should I stop reading the bible to my kids? I listened to those sermons as a child, too, and came out with a biblical view on sex (although the large majority flew right over my head until I was a teen).

You said that faith is modeled at home and that the one hour they'll miss being with their parents is a big deal. So, should I even attend that one hour? Apparently, it's not a big deal. After all, I do plenty of bible study and worship at home, alone and with my kids. We both know that not going to church is forsaking the assembling. There are a lot of benefits from that one hour, both for me and for my children. Modeling my faith in every situation is a big deal to me, including the one hour of worshipping as a congregation.

Anyways, I'd love to see scripture where the kids are segregated from the adults. I'm looking, but I can't find anything. I want to understand because I'm about to leave a church because of this issue, but if you provide me scripture to back yourself up, that'd go a long way for me. I'm not against children's ministry, btw. I just have a kid that it doesn't work for. But, boy, she can tell you what the pastor said that she understood! And she's 5!

Oops! I meant to say, "the one hour they'll miss being with their parents in NOT a big deal." Also, I think the feeding tubes for the 5,000 is relevant because children were being taught with the adults. I've still not found a place in scripture where the parents were taught in one place and the kids were ushered off to the professionals. I believe God made the parents to be the professionals of their own children. I also believe this is the very reason for the creation of the family.

Thanks for sharing Le Artiste, great thoughts and insight. Each parent and church has to follow what God leads them to do in this area. This was written from my perspective having spent my whole life growing up in church and observing what is effective and not effective in most cases. It's not a blanket statement though. I would say your daughter is the exception to the average kids experience who sits through an adult service.

I agree with the post. As a mom to a 13 and 4 year old, they are bored silly sitting in an adult service and my 4 yr old is a constant distraction. Kids thrive in an environment where they are comfortable sharing their gifts and feel less intimidated doing so. As an usher in my church, I find it extremely difficult to serve while also trying to keep my child still and occupied. I have decided to step down as lead usher because no matter where I am, I am a mother first. I mentioned to my Pastor the vitality of having a children's ministry and without it, the church will lose entire families because no one wants to come to church only to babysit their own children. I'm seeing it happen and I hope my family isn't next to leave where we currently fellowship in search of a better established ministry.

My 4 year old does not always eat same meals that my husband and I do. For example, he won't eat pepper steak so, he gets a grilled cheese instead.

But it doesn't mean that times like that he needs to eat at a different table. We still eat together as a family!

He may be learning differently than adults but he sits with us in church during the service. And guess what? He loves it!

He loves to be invited, he loves to feel involved, he loves the togetherness.

Hopefully you get my point.

No joke, just looked this church up and the opening statement on the website is "Life is better together" BUT children are not allowed to worship with their parents. This church is a complete contradiction! How can a child see what worship is? How can a child experience the holy sprit? These things are valuable. Not having a child in church is part of the passive movement in the country and around the world. Parents have taken a passive approach to teaching kids anything at all. If the church doesn't wake up and realize we actually need to spend time teaching our kids, we can say goodbye to the next generation. Segregation has never been good for anybody. We can go separately to bible studies and sunday school but worship is exactly that worshiping our Father in heaven together, sharing in our joy and love for him together. Not having children in church is a complete missing link in producing a God fearing child that will turn into a God fearing adult. Is it exhausting having children sit with you in church sometimes? Yes, but life isn't just about you or me, its about brining others to Christ and that includes our children. Its rewarding that my 6 year old wants to pray at the prayer benches, its rewarding that my 3 year old stands and sings and bows her head to pray. Its rewarding to see them growing and learning because of the Godly example my husband and I set for them at home and in church. I think your article is completely wrong and you should reevaluate and perhaps you would realize this is a selfish passive approach. And Le Artiste your daughter is not the exception, if more parents believed firmly in taking an active role in teaching their children about God they too would realize most kids can learn and want to be in church, mine do and cry if I take them to the nursery.

The church you are talking about is reaching thousands of kids and families who are far from God. God can work in a children's worship service just like he can in an adult worship service. The Holy Spirit is just as present in a children's classroom as he is in the adult worship service. The primary place parents influence their children is not on a church pew but at home during the week.

We do influence our children at home during the week, my daughter attends a christian school, we do bible studies during the week at home. I would encourage you to do some more research about the positive affects of having a child in church with their parents and how that can influence the depth of their faith throughout their life. Like someone already commented, just because that many people go to the church, that does not mean that is how many firm, non lukewarm members are present. I would be curious to know how many of those people spend time with God on a daily basis and how many of them actively talk about the bible with their children. I still believe your opinion is wrong, I believe that church is wrong to make that a policy and I will continue to raise my children how my husband and I believe God wants us to.

Our church encourages both. Many families serve in children's ministry or attend a life group one hour and then attend the congregation service together the other. Blessings, Dave

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