In an age of prolific children’s ministries and a focus on age-appropriate church activities, there are still very valid arguments for why it’s a great idea to include Little Kids in Big Church. Here are a few…
Several months ago, one of the high schoolers from our church got baptized during our Sunday morning service. My 4-year-old Mini-Me sat there wide-eyed, watching everything with her signature mix of curiosity and awe.
“What are they doing, Momma?” she whispered.
“That young man decided he wants to follow Jesus, so he’s getting baptized to let everyone know about it.”
We whispered back and forth as I explained what was happening and why everyone was so excited. By the time the young man came up out of the water, Mini-Me was clapping and shouting right along with the rest of the congregation!
This is why we keep her in Big Church, Lord, I prayed, smiling to myself. So she can learn about how people come to You, to learn how to be part of Your Church.
It was a precious moment with my girl that I remind myself of on the Sundays she isn’t so well-behaved and quietly respectful in Big Church! 🙂
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Why We Chose to Have Our Little Kid in Big Church from Day 1
Erik and I knew we wanted to raise Mini-Me in Big Church from very early on. Initially, it was because I wasn’t ready to let someone else keep her — with a bunch of OTHER babies who needed constant attention — out of my line of sight. (I have trust issues… ?)
Plus, church nurseries are GERM FACTORIES! If one kid gets a snot nose and the parents still bring him to the nursery, every other kid there will be touching the same toys and spreading that nastiness all around. With my shoddy immune system, we did NOT need to be dealing with that!
As a breastfed baby, she got her immunity from the things *I* was exposed to (which apparently worked even if my immune system wasn’t the best!), so if I wasn’t in the nursery being exposed, too, she wouldn’t have gotten all the good stuff she needed from me until after I had been exposed to HER germs and my body had a chance to catch up.
No thank you.
It wasn’t long after that initial, knee-jerk reaction to church nurseries that I realized some families NEVER put their kids in the nursery – some churches don’t even HAVE a nursery!
So, I started doing more research and learning how other parents have handled the whole “little kids in Big Church” thing, and I found this blog post by another mom. In it, she encourages parents that the hard work of having their kids with them in service is important. My favorite quote from her letter is this:
“I know how hard it is to do what you’re doing, but I want you to know, it matters… It matters to your children. It matters that they learn that worship is what we do as a community of faith, that everyone is welcome, that their worship matters. When we teach children that their worship matters, we teach them that they are enough right here and right now as members of the church community. They don’t need to wait until they can believe, pray or worship a certain way to be welcome here, and I know adults who are still looking to be shown that. It matters that children learn that they are an integral part of this church, that their prayers, their songs, and even their badly (or perfectly timed depending on who you ask) cries and whines are a joyful noise because it means they are present.”
“But Kids Belong in the Nursery…”
Often, I hear the complaint from other church members that little kids should just be put in the nursery, that it’s where they belong.
On one hand, I completely agree. We ALL need to spend time with people our own age, in our own life situations, and in environments that are “at our level” at that moment.
As a mom, it has been crucial for me to have a core group of other moms with young kids to bounce ideas off of, to commiserate with, and to encourage. Mini-Me needs to interact with kids her own age, too, doing things specifically designed for her age and abilities.
HOWEVER, being around our own age group and people on our own “level” of spiritual maturity is not the ONLY thing we need as we grow in Christ.
We NEED other, more mature believers to guide us, encourage us, and let us know we haven’t completely screwed up our lives after one bad decision because they’ve been there. They’ve gone before us, and they KNOW how God works in ways we haven’t experienced yet.
Our littles need that, too.
The Problem with “Just Putting Them in the Nursery”
Young children need to be encouraged and included in the larger church community. As the mom from the post quoted above mentioned, they need to know that both they and their worship matter in a broader context.
When we insist they stay in the nursery while we go off to worship by ourselves, we can unintentionally send the message that they aren’t good enough, big enough, smart enough, or just plain enough to worship God like we do.When we insist they stay in the nursery while we go off to worship by ourselves, we can unintentionally send the message that they aren’t good enough, big enough, smart enough, or just plain enough to worship God like we do. Click To Tweet
That’s never our intention. I don’t know a single Bible-believing parent who would EVER say that to their child.
But the message gets through to their little hearts when they get left out of “big people” things.
We may not see it when they’re little. They may not even realize they’re absorbing that message because they’re off playing with their friends.
But, I promise you, it’s there.
And it tends to come out when our kids get to be “old enough” to be in Big Church and suddenly, they don’t want to be. Big church has never been a place for them. Why would it be now, just because they’re older?
Another Problem with Just Putting Them in the Nursery
Beyond making sure our kids know they are valued as members of the broader community, when we “just put them in the nursery,” we inadvertently teach them that church is the place we go to play with our friends. It’s where we go to have fun and be entertained.
Now, yes, we DO go to church for fellowship and to visit with our friends. It CAN be a place that is fun and entertaining, but when “fun & entertaining” is the ONLY thing they experience week after week for the first several years of their lives, it becomes the expectation.
Then, when they age out of the nursery or children’s church program and are thrown into Big Church, they’re bored and all of a sudden hate going to church. It’s not FUN anymore!
That is NOT the attitude we want our kids to have about church!
“But Kids Should Be Quiet in Church…”
Even moms who are dedicated to having their littles in Big Church with them face the seemingly never-ending problem of trying to keep their kids quiet, so they don’t disturb everyone else in the worship service.
Do a quick Google or Pinterest search for “how to keep kids quiet in church” and you’ll quickly see you are NOT alone in this struggle. We never want to be “that mom” with the screaming child or the wiggly child or the just-generally-distracting child.
So, we try every Pinterest trick out there to just keep them quiet.
The Problem with “Just Keeping Them Quiet”
The problem here, however, is that it’s not enough to simply have our children physically present in the pew beside us. (Or on our laps, depending on the age.)
Having my child beside me in worship, but handing her games, toys, or a tablet meant to DISTRACT her from what’s going on isn’t going to help her learn to love God or His Church. It’s just keeping her quiet while allowing her to mentally check out of what’s going on – in effect telling her, once again, that she’s too young to understand and that Big Church isn’t really for her.
The goal with including little kids in Big Church is not to simply keep them quiet, so that the grown-ups can enjoy and participate in the service. The GOAL is to “train a child in the way he should go, so that when he is old, he will not depart from it.” (Proverbs 22:6)
Let’s take a quick look at a few of the bigger goals of training up our kids in Big Church.
Original photo credit: Leah Stufflebam.
The Bigger Goals of Having Little Kids in Big Church
It’s been important for our family to be crystal clear on WHY we want to have Mini-Me in Big Church with every week — just like it’s important for us to have goals for our homeschooling and teaching her all of those other important life lessons we want to make sure she’s mastered before we send her off to college!
You can read more about those life lessons here:
Yep, we start young on those life skills around here! ? (I might bet a LITTLE worked up about these life lessons since I’m a former college Resident Director who saw WAY too many college kids who did NOT have these skills!)
Anywho, back to the topic at hand… Here are some of the bigger picture goals we focus on for our little kid in Big Church:
Be engaged instead of quiet.
We talked about this goal a minute ago. If I want my child to know she belongs in the church community and to help her understand God more deeply, I need to intentionally ENGAGE her in the service. I need to help my child understand what’s going on around her just as much as I need to help her learn to sit quietly and listen.
Yes, it’s hard. Yes, it takes some of MY attention away from worship – but it’s only for a season. And this work of training up our kids is SO worth it in the long run!
Learn to worship by example.
I have the unique opportunity to watch my little girl learn to worship from the stage. I play piano for our worship service, so when I look out into the third row, I have a perfect view of my 4-year-old singing all the words to every song, dancing around, and actively participating in worship.
She is learning to worship by watching us worship.
Set the expectation that church is something we do as a family.
Many of the kids I was raised with in junior church fizzled out of church life as soon as their parents gave them the option of staying home on Sunday mornings. That’s NOT what I want for my daughter.
By setting the expectation early on that going to church is something we do as a family, we are laying the foundation of church participation for years to come.
Keep our family strong by worshiping together.
This goal extends well beyond just attending services together on Sunday mornings. When we experience the same worship service on Sundays, we can continue the conversation about the sermon or church events all week long. The thread of worship gets woven through every day of our week and keeps our entire family connected not only to the message and lessons we learned, but also to each other.
Need some ideas on how to keep that faith conversation going throughout the week? Check out these posts on using your child’s favorite cartoon to guide the discussion!
Experience church through HER eyes.
Having our kids in church with us isn’t all about training them up. (Surprise!) Kids have an uncanny knack for asking the hard questions about faith, church, and life in general. By answering those questions, we’re forced to wrestle with the hard stuff ourselves, and our own faith grows.
Then, our kids get to see that spiritual growth never ends. We’re always learning and deepening our faith – and our kids get to play a part in that growth. How encouraging for our kids to know that adults can learn from THEM, too!
Read more about how kids stretch our faith:
Set the stage for her to develop her OWN relationship w/God.
As I mentioned early on in this post, it’s important for our kids to know they are NEVER too young to know, worship, and love God. They are NEVER too young to participate in His Church.
When our kids grow up being an integral part of a church family, participating in corporate worship with us, they learn to view God as accessible. They know they can go to Him with anything because the church has always encouraged them to do so.When our kids grow up being an integral part of a church family... they learn to view God as accessible. They know they can go to Him with anything because the Church has always encouraged them to do so. Click To Tweet
And isn’t that what we all want for our kids? To develop their own relationship with God that grounds their life and gives them a purpose greater than themselves?
It’s why having our little kids in Big Church is SO important, folks!
Striking a Healthy Balance
All that said, I know a lot of amazing people who work very hard in children’s ministries. They have a true desire to see kids grow in faith and to know God on their level. Because of these wonderful, inspiring people, kids CAN learn awesome things in nursery & children’s church settings.
As I said earlier, kids NEED to be taught things that are age-appropriate and on their level. But since it’s not the ONLY thing they need, we have to strike a healthy balance of “challenge & support” when it comes to our church activities.
For our family in our church situation, the best balance has been to have Mini-Me attend Sunday School/Family Group, as well as Wednesday night activities, in the nursery with kids in her age group. Then, when everyone is transitioning from Sunday School to Big Church, one of us will go pick her up from the nursery and take her to service with us.
Sunday school and Wednesday nights are the times where she receives age-appropriate instruction and fun with her friends. The corporate worship service, then, is the space where she is encouraged to grow and understand the larger context with our family.
So, What about You?
Do you bring your little kids to Big Church? How do you help them engage with the service? Tell us in the comments!
As a former University Resident Director, Career Counselor, Certified Personality Trainer, and high school Spanish teacher, Laura has quite the “scattered” background — with one underlying theme: education! She writes to teach and inspire women on topics related to faith, family, and lifework. She is also a resume writer, specializing in resumes for moms, career changers, and new graduates.