Children in Church Services

I thought this was an interesting an unexpected article in the WSJ’s online editorial pages this morning: “Seen and Not Heard in Church” by Laura Vanderkam.

According to Mrs. Vanderkam, a growing number of churches are asking the question, “Should children be in church?”

Apparently, many separate the kids and the adults.  And I suppose that if I reflect back to my Sunday-keeping days, I do remember sitting in Sunday school for a long time, though I felt then that the longest part of my time there was in the general service with my dad and grandparents.

I know in our services in the Living Church of God, the children and the adults generally sit together as an entire family for the whole of services.  We generally believe that the Sabbath is a time for families to be together before God and that children are a part of the community like the adults are.

I’m not saying it is easy — children have to learn to sit quietly with due respect, but for the diligent parent this is not an unattainable goal.  No one would accuse our children of being perfect, and I even had to pause in one of my sermons once to get on to one of them when my wife was out of the room (you know Dad means business when he gets you from the lectern!), but being all together has been a great blessing.  Increasingly as they get older, the kids ask me questions about the sermons, and often provide their “reviews” of what I said.

Of course, in the earlier days, there were times when my wife and I would spend most of the Sabbath service time in the hall (or in whatever area we could find) training them.  We felt that if we took one of the kids out for being noisy, the goal of taking them out was not to just let them cut loose but to have more freedom in training them without distracting others around us.  And part of what really helped when they were young was spending time each day during the week — at approximately the same time as Sabbath services and for approximately the same duration — having “quiet time”: either time for a nap or time in which quiet play was enforced and encouraged.  This made it much easier for the kids to pick it up — much easier than when the only practice comes once a week during church!

I know that some of our congregations have special, age-appropriate activities for children after services — special lessons for small children or youth Bible studies and such — and I’m all for them!  These are great when they can be done.  But I’m glad that our Sabbath services do not split up the family.  Training four boys to be quiet and attentive (somewhat-to-mostly-to-thoroughly depending on the circumstances) during a two hour service wasn’t the easiest thing, but it has produced wonderful benefits for all of us, and I wouldn’t change a thing.

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[UPDATE: Almost right after posting this on Friday, I sent a more polished version to Charlotte for consideration as an Internet commentary, and I notice this morning that it is currently up on the Living Church of God website: “Should children be in church?” It says essentially the same thing but is worded differently in places, is cleaned up a bit, and has been tightened to fit the customary size restrictions on commentaries. You might check it out there, as well.]

10 thoughts on “Children in Church Services

  1. Troy Riggs

    If you eat fried chicken you’re gonna get greasy. The same as a child in services, if they are in the same room as the sermon they will pick up not only the subject, but also the lessons they may learn from scripture. I know because your wife is the proof.
    Troy(dad)

  2. questeruk

    “I would spend most of the Sabbath service time in the hall (or in whatever area we could find) training them.”

    Could you amplify a little just what this training consisted of?

  3. Greetings, questeruk, and you bet.

    For example, one of the things we wanted our children to be able to do (not just in church, but at other occasions, as well) was to stay on a blanket and not wander around without boundaries.

    If we found that one of them (say, Boy #1) was having a difficult time doing this, one of us would go out to the hall with him, lay his blanket out there, sit on the floor next to him, and take advantage of the ability to gently “herd” him back when he wandered without being distracting to those around us. The consistent expectation that the blanket was where he was supposed to be eventually made its impression on him.

    Every once in a while over the course of rearing four boys it was easy to wonder why we were even at services since we spent most of some days out in the hall sitting on the floor! Yet we also realized that this was only one chapter in our lives — and one worth reading, at that.

    I hope this helps, and thanks for stopping by!

  4. Hey, Dad, I didn’t mean to forget you! Yes, your daughter is a great example of that. At the same time, simply dragging them to church, expecting them to be quiet, and then dragging them back home where they aren’t loved, taught, and nurtured isn’t going to get you those kinds of results. Deuteronomy 4:9 & 6:7 (et al.) make that sort of clear — they don’t say “Drag ’em to Moses and Aaron and let them do it all!” 🙂

    Your daughter is an example of more than simply having them in services with you (though that is one important part). She is also a real credit to you guys and your willingness to do right by your girls in many ways. You must have known I would come along and need a really top notch wife, huh?

  5. Terri

    This is exactly the method I used with my children. The daily practice worked very well, and as they got better at it, it gave me quiet time for my own Bible Study. And yes, I do remember those Sabbaths when I wondered why I even came, but the outcome was well worth it.

    I do remember an instance when “blanket-training” worked almost too well. One of my children had the occassion to spend some time at a neighbor’s house. The neighbor commented to me that she’d laid out a blanket and put some toys on it, but then she couldn’t understand why the child wouldn’t leave the blanket. Not matter what she did to coax the child off the blanket, the child stayed put. Definitely an effective method!

  6. Thanks, Terri! I know I didn’t do it perfectly, but I eventually realized that they had the most difficulty when I did not define the boundaries very well for them (and, of course, they can’t read my mind!), which was my fault, not theirs. A blanket is good for that.

    It’s always a real balance — we wanted the kids to have as much freedom as they could without being distracting to others and without feeling like they were being put in a straight jacket for two hours. And at least one of them (I can’t remember which) seemed to need to sit in our laps more than the others instead of staying on the blanket. My wife was great at still being able to take notes during those times, but I am horrible at it, so I would just sit him on my lap for some Sabbath service cuddlin’ and make a note in my notebook: “See Jeanine’s notes for rest.” Now, when I look back on that, it makes my memories of those times all the more special.

  7. Melissa Jamieson

    Hi Mr Smith.

    What a wonderful blog entry!

    I have always struggled with the children at church. My husband did not attend services with me and I felt in over my head! In some ways I fell into the ‘I can’t do it’ way of thinking.

    It took a good stern and loving chat by my Minister for Real change begin….and from that point onwards amazing transformations have happened.

    Every day at the same time I sit my children on their mat while I watch a sermon. They play quietly and then nap. It took a little while but within the first week they responded so well I couldn’t believe it.

    Now I’m watching 5-6 sermons a week and Im thriving! If a day goes by without doing it I miss it terribly!
    Now every time I get out the blanket my ‘little Beth’ (she is 2) says “It’s Sermon Time ” and sits down.

    My Wonderful Minister came to services today (we live in Tasmania and only have a small group so we don’t always have our Minister with us) and he congratulated me on my children. No one herd a peep the whole time.

    Oh I could go on for hours telling you about what transformations have happened to me in the last two weeks…. But I won’t 🙂 I’m sure you have better things to do 🙂

    So yes, children defiantly belong in church and yes they need to sit respectfully.. not only so the adults can hear…but so they themselves can hear the sermon! It’s amazing what a child absorbs while listening!

  8. How encouraging! What a wonderful story. I think there are a lot of folks who suffer needlessly, not knowing how some simple changes might be able to work wonders. Our children have such a remarkable potential to be responsive to us, but we just have to know how to lovingly bring out their best.

    It’s so important to be teachable, whether we get advice from a minister or a brother or sister in Christ. I remember one night at a Bible Study when Boy #1 was still very young, and I was playing with him in a way that a friend of mine saw as potentially encouraging future disobedience. He mentioned it to me and, at first, I inwardly bristled. But as I turned his words over and over in my head, I was forced to admit that they made so much sense. I acted on that advice, and I believe that it is one of the factors that has added to the great relationship we have with our children, now. At the time, I was just having fun with him (my son) and maybe it was awkward for my friend to bring it up, but I am so glad that he did.

    Thanks so much for sharing, Mrs. Jamieson!

  9. Norbert

    I would like to very much thank Terri for sharing that story. It does make me think about numerous scriptures, seeing how well the events and ideas lend themself to analogy. And everyone else’s input as well.

    It can make a person wonder about numerous scriptures and how they may relate, that as adults we too have our blanket. And indeed what option is there to be coaxed away from the training, as Simon Peter said, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. Also we have come to believe and know that You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” (Joh 6:68-69)

  10. We’ve all gotten busted from the pulpit! That’s the worst. One of the serious negative consequences of being a PK. 🙂

    Although apparently when my brother was very young, my Dad would take him to Bible Study by himself while Mom stayed home. He would quietly play and entertain himself on the stage with Dad for the entire duration of Bible Study. Apparently everyone was very impressed. I’m not sure where he came from, because that was definitely not the story told about my childhood.

    My mom also enforced the 2 hour quiet play time during the week. It seems like this is a pretty reliable method of training kids to sit quietly during church.

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