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.
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.