Little Kids in Big Church

posted in: Uncategorized | 18

This is a direct re-post from a blogger from The Village Church in Flower Mound, Texas.  I loved this post for the most part and wanted to share it with you.  I want to meet Jen Wilkin.  Some people you instantly connect with – I’d like her to be one of those people.

Do you have any thoughts?  (My fave thoughts from her are in bold).  And yes, you may already be thinking to yourself: Self, Kim doesn’t have children yet, she’ll change her mind.”  I have had these thoughts and feelings and convictions for a long time.  So, bring me your thoughts, I’ll try to answer them and listen to yours.  How are we going to teach our children how to worship God in “big church” if we don’t bring them in with us to have family worship time together with the church body as a whole?

I explored the “Why” of bringing school-aged children into weekend worship with their parents. I thought a follow-up post on the “How” might be helpful. While our hearts may urge us to bring our kids to worship, our heads may question exactly how we’re supposed to make that happen. What if my child is a distraction? What if I have to leave the service? Don’t let fear of the unknown keep you from cultivating this vital shared experience for your family – it really is possible to bring small children to Big Church in a way that builds up your children, your family and the church body. Here are a few suggestions that proved helpful to our family as we began transitioning our small kids to Big Church.

Begin with the end in mind.

As parents, we make decisions for our children’s future, not merely for their present. This means we begin with the end in mind, asking the question: “Where do I want my children to worship when they are adolescents?” Then we think strategically about how to train them to that end. If we wait until they are adolescents to bring them to worship with us, we wait too long to model worship for them and we heighten the unfamiliarity they will feel entering that environment. Far better to ease them into their rightful place in corporate worship during their younger, more teachable years. This might mean that in the short term they sit in a room that does not always engage them at their level. And that’s really okay.  Your child may not catch every sermon point, but attending with you is still a huge win because of the modeling they will see and the familiarity they will develop. And you might be surprised by how much they do take away.

Start small, but definitely start.

For our family, the transition to Big Church began at age five. If having your child with you every week in worship feels overwhelming, start with once a month and work your way up to every week. A kindergartner is old enough to sit through a worship service in a respectful and participatory manner as long as a clear expectation has been set, which leads me to…

Set the expectation.

Before coming to Big Church together, explain its purpose to your child: it is a time for believers of all ages to enjoy worshipping God together. It is a place where both children and adults belong. Talk about how long the service will last. Talk about the order
for worship: first we greet each other, then we sing, then we listen to the pastor, then we pray. Finally, set specific, age-appropriate expectations along
three lines: Behave-Follow-Listen

1. Behave Explain to your child that we behave well during Big Church. We use self-control so we can worship and allow those around us to worship.
  • We sit upright (no sleeping) and keep our belongings and hands to ourselves. We try not to wiggle.
  • We keep our shoes and socks on.
  • We potty and get a drink before and after the service, not during. (Remember to take the child for both of these needs before the service starts.)
  • If we must speak to mom or dad, we whisper.
2.  Follow Explain to your child that we follow along during worship. We do what everyone else is doing as part of sharing worship together.
  • We stand when others stand (sit, pray, sing, greet, give, etc.) Help your child meet this expectation by guiding him through the participation process during the service. Sit where he can see the song lyrics on the screen or share your hymnal with him. Help him turn to the scripture reading, following along with your finger while it is read. If an offering is taken, let your child drop the envelope in the plate or offering box. Model how to pray, sing and greet others.
3. Listen
Talk to your child about the importance of listening to people who God has placed over us: a teacher, a police officer, a parent. Explain that a pastor
is also placed over us by God. We listen to him because he teaches us God’s truth. He does this in Big Church during the sermon. When you go to worship, give your child a small, age-appropriate assignment to help her listen to the message:
    • “Write down three words you heard that you didn’t know.”
    • “Draw a picture of something the pastor talks about.”
    • “Write down something true that God showed you through the sermon.”
Set them up to win.

Now that you’ve set an expectation for how you want your child to act in Big Church, take a few steps to help her meet that expectation.

·     Have a special “church-only” tote filled with a Bible and noise-free activities for your child to do during the service. If your church does not allow food or drink in the sanctuary, do not bring them for your child. Even if they do allow it, think twice about bringing it from a noise and mess perspective. Leave electronics at home. Make sure your phone is off limits to your child during the service.
·     If Children’s Church does not teach your children the songs sung in Big Church,  burn a CD of them for your child to listen to in the car, during room time, etc. Even better, if your church has its own worship CD, play it so your kids will be familiar with the music.
·     If possible, introduce your child to your pastor and worship leader. A child is more likely to Behave-Follow-Listen if she feels seen and known by the person leading the service.
·     In your early attempts, consider giving a reward for meeting the expectation of Behave-Follow-Listen:  “If you follow along, behave well, and listen
during the service we will go for ice cream after church.”
Debrief and reinforce.

After attending Big Church together, remember to talk to your child about how it went and what could go differently next week.
·     Ask your child for feedback: “What did you learn in church today?” “What was your favorite part of worship?” “Tell me about what you drew.” Talk about what you liked from the sermon in terms they can understand.

·     Affirm success: “I liked how you sat quietly and colored, even though the sermon went long today.”
·    Correct failure: “Next week I want you to try to wait to ask me questions until after the service.”
·    Reset/re-emphasize the expectation of Behave-Follow-Listen for next week.
·    Reinforce the sermon message: plan a family devotion or service activity to correspond with what the pastor talked about.

Be patient and don’t give up!
It takes many offerings of leafy greens before a child learns to eat them, and many more before she learns to enjoy and value them. Big Church is also an acquired taste and a learned value. Allow your child time to develop his taste for the spiritual food of corporate worship. The act of worship takes self-control – believers of every age must learn to set aside distractions and devote our full attention to the adoration of God. Self-control takes time to develop for all of us, and especially for children. Give grace during that process. The One you are training them to worship is a patient Father to you. Persevere in training your child to take his rightful place among the community of believers. Before you know it, Big Church will be just the right size for everyone in the family.

Give ear, O my people, to my
teaching; incline your ears to the words of my mouth! I will open my mouth in a
parable; I will utter dark sayings from of old, things that we have heard and
known, that our fathers have told us. We will not hide them from their children,
but tell to the coming generation the glorious deeds of the Lord, and his might,
and the wonders that he has done. Psalm 78:1-4

18 Responses

  1. Sona Bailey

    This is a great post, Kim. I wanted to share one idea that I used with my kids before they could read well. I would call the church office each week to find out what hymns would be sung the next Sunday, and I would teach my girls at least the first verse and the refrain for those hymns. That way,they would be excited to hear something they recognized and could enter into the worship even at a very young age.

    • Kim

      Sona – so great of an idea. And I’m marrying the worship pastor, so maybe I can help with that in the future!

  2. Lynne Davis

    I had a lot of long held beliefs and convictions about kids before I had one. I hope you cut yourself some slack when one comes along for you. Because I promise you, some of your convictions will change.
    Lynne Davis

  3. Lynne Davis

    Hi Kim,
    Just one more thought for you.
    I hope you also cut slack for those with different views from you. To be frank, getting agreement to have nursery for Molly was quite difficult for your wedding. Winn had to do a lot of negotiating.
    Please realize that people work hard to make the best situation for all involved. For your wedding, it may be very difficult to train a child for the wedding knowing the best place for them at their home church is in nursery or children’s church. Your request to have children participate in church was very difficult for us. We struggled with how best to get her ready for the big day and decided it was best to fight the good fight instead of reversing all of the good habits she’s developed in getting ready for nursery at our home church.

    While I acknowledge this is a long-standing belief for you, I cannot help but think that you are using your wedding as a big experiment for this viewpoint. I hope not, but when a 2 year old yells out during your serious vows or reverent hymn, remember that parents know best for their child. And you will too.

    Lynne Davis

  4. Children 247 Blog

    Children Bible Songs Lyrics…

    […] xpectation by guiding him through the participation process during the service. […]…

  5. Betsy Durand

    Whoa, Lynne. I would hope we would show more grace to one another, especially when there may be a difference of opinion.
    Kim, thank you for your post. I benefited so much from very similar advice given to me by Vicki Schemm (eight children) before I had children. She gave me very similar pointers for how to ease kids into “big church,” and reminded me that we often do not expect enough of our kids. Of course, this must be balanced, but, in general, from what I have observed from other parents in our church, typically, parents do not expect enough. Both of my older boys (6,5) sit with me in the service and though we have the occasional “problem” (talking too loud, turning around, etc.), they understand why we are there and the reasons behind the “what’s” that we do in church. To borrow a phrase from a Christian writer/speaker, mine and Ben’s goal is to help them to understand the majesty and wonder of God. I would add one pointer that has made a big, big difference for us that you might tuck away! And, it will probably surprise you, but here it is: Sit near the front of the sanctuary. My inclination, of course, like most was to take my post near the back of the church where I could bolt if things got bad. What I have found, though, is that it is far easier for my kids to pay attention at the front of the service where they can see and not be distracted by others. It takes a lot of humility and grace to parent inside and outside church, but it also takes a lot of proactive training and this article really does a great job of encouraging parenting to the heart. Thanks, Kim!

    • Kim

      Betsy – you are always a blessing to me. And I have heard wonderful things about Vicki!
      I hope as the Lord blesses our family with children (we pray) that we can have yall as an example – I love what you and Ben are doing!

  6. Tish Pitman

    Thanks for encouraging families to worship together. Our culture takes every opportunity to separate families. In the midst of it all our culture is losing the ability to sit still, listen and focus on anything that doesn’t wiggle, jump, and dance, and read anything that requires concentration. It may be difficult and inconvenient for parents to make the effort to train their children in this way but the blessings for the family as a whole and as individuals are great.
    “Assemble the people, men, women, and little ones, and the sojourner within your towns, that they may hear and learn to fear the Lord your God, and be careful to do all the words of this law, and that their children, who have not known it, may hear and learn to fear the Lord your God, as long as you live in the land that you are going over the Jordan to possess.” (Deuteronomy 31:12, 13 ESV)

    • Kim

      Tish – thank you for this. I also love the verse you shared.

  7. Lynne Davis

    That’s fair. I’ve already emailed Kim with a follow up. Grace is a two way street, that is very true.
    I appreciate Kim’s willingness to go out on a limb with a viewpoint that is not practiced much today. I appreciate both viewpoints and support parents that wish to have their children with them. I hope that support is a two way street as well. Children’s ministries are wonderful places for kids and for parents that need a little one on one time with God without the parent moniker on Sunday.

    • Kim

      Lynne – we have three hours of children’s ministry and nursery at the church I serve on staff with – and I know it is a blessing to parents.

  8. Tammy Sorrell

    I appreciate your thinking this though before you have kids! Not only do you have a conviction, you have sought out advice from others, and thought of HOW you are going to keep your conviction. I agree with you, if the family always separates and kids are not in worship at an early age they really are not experiencing the solemnity or joy that Sunday is all about.

  9. Sherri

    KIM –
    Incredible insight. The Lord has certainly blessed you with a great conviction in preperation for parenting!
    Obvously those who understand your passion for children seeing the Lord and your passion for an amazing wedding understand the importance of children at the ceremony!!
    Can’t wait girl!

  10. Missy Fox


    I enjoyed your post and admire you thinking through all this before your kids arrive!

    We’ve kept our kids with us in worship since they were born (at least, since the last 2 were born). Yes, age 12-24 months is rough, but if you hang in there, they figure it out eventually. Once you get past that heavy training hurdle, the benefits to the family go well beyond Sunday morning. We didn’t anticipate how much it would open up our lives to have kids who had learned to sit quietly. Because they knew how to keep themselves under control, we found our family could attend all sorts of interesting things together that would have been closed to us otherwise… concerts, conferences, town hall meetings, local history tours.

    For example, my husband and I love to go to the annual homeschool conference together, but finding someone to babysit four kids over a 3-day weekend is really difficult. Once they learned to sit quietly, though, we were able to attend conferences together as a family and just bring them with us… they could sit through 6 hours of conference sessions without much trouble. They actually looked forward to the conference each year (and still do). Yes, it requires a little extra parenting work for a while, but wow! you reap the benefits tenfold!

    Different families may find different approaches work better for them, but we found it worked best for us not to bring in crayons, toys, or other distractions during the service. It’s harder at first to go without, but it forces the child to pay attention to what is going on around him, and that seems to help him learn to keep quiet more easily in the long run. The comment about training for what you want in the future is right- do we want our 10 year old to only be able to make it through church if he has a book to read and Cheerios to eat?

    Also, I learned the hard way that when they did fuss and I had to take them out of the service, I needed to make the “out of the service” time as boring as possible – i.e., sit with them in my lap in an empty hallway, arms tight around them. If making noise meant they got to go do something more interesting (walk around the hallway and visit with people), it actually trained them to make noise. If making noise meant they had to go somewhere less interesting (locked in Mommy’s lap outside with nothing to look at), they soon decided that keeping quiet was preferable.

    Final suggestion- we practiced “church” at home. I would put out chairs to sit on in the living room and we would “play church” (sitting quietly) for increasing amounts of time- maybe start with a minute or 2. They need practice to learn what it looks like to sit still and not talk.

    Some may say the training sounds harsh, but it is a kindness to the child. Our kids get so much positive feedback about their ability to show self-control in an adult setting, it helps build their confidence. They LIKE being well-behaved. And they are ultimately the ones who reap the benefits. Their ability to concentrate increases. They are able to attend and enjoy much more interesting things in life than if they were always in need of a barrage of stimulation.

    Praying the Lord will bless you with children! They are a joy!

    -Missy Fox (mom of 4 at FBC)

    • Kim

      Thank you! I think yall were in Ryan’s BFL yesterday. I was in there too.

  11. Sarah Robbins

    Hey Kim,

    What a great post! We attend FBD after moving here from Arizona. In our church in Arizona, all children attended service with their parents from birth up. We appreciated the fruit of this so much that we do the same here even though it is not the norm. It takes lots of patience and practice with our 9 month old (and another one the way!), but we trust that God will be faithful in hiding his truth in her heart from Andy’s sermons. Although- the music is her favorite part!

    I have really enjoyed Family Driven Faith by Voddie Baucham for more on this subject as well as practical tips on including your children in worship. You might like it as well.

    I had many convictions before we had children having been an elementary school teacher as well as having children after viewing many of my friends begin raising their own, and I commend you for thinking things like this through ahead of time instead of making decisions in the spur of the moment or based simply on what others are doing. Having talked through so many of these issues ahead of time has been a tremendous blessing to our marriage and made the transition into parenting much smoother. I am sure you will find the same to be true for yourself.

    • Kim

      I have read that book and many others. I don’t line up with everything Voddie says, but much is really good.