Children’s Church–or Not?

The family car is parked in the lot. Together they walk toward the church building.  Dad takes Junior to Children’s Church while Mom leaves the baby in the nursery.

This scene is repeated in thousands of towns across our country.  What about the church with no facilities for a children’s church or nursery?  Is life without either possible, or even preferable?

Sometimes I wonder if children’s church has become more of a service to parents who don’t want to bother teaching their children the joys and responsibilities of worship in regular services than a ministry to the children themselves.

Today’s parents may not realize that Children’s Church is a fairly new entity.  Until the 1950s few churches offered a place for children except at their parents’ side.

Would anyone intentionally return to such a practice?  Are there any advantages?  And if so, how would it be handled?

Perhaps the most important element of children’s church is that programs can be planned specifically for children of a certain age. The leaders can use vocabulary and concepts the child can understand. The time together can be broken into short segments according to the attention span of the child. This means the child’s attention is less likely to wander.

Other elements to recommend use of children’s church include the opportunity for the child to relate to others of his own age and to bond with adults other than their own parents.

Yet there are disadvantages to children’s church as well. Children who have spent all their childhood years in church facilities geared for their own age group often fail to adjust to the environment of mixed ages, and on-going services without interruption and personal interaction.

A child who outgrows children’s church and has never been required to sit for ninety minutes without using the restroom, or talking to anyone else is more likely to drift away from church attendance than one who has experienced it regularly throughout life.

We found there are real advantages to worshiping together as a family. When a child’s worship time is physically shared with his parents and siblings, he develops an emotional and spiritual link that tells him that his relationship with God is “part of who we are as a family. We are in this together.” He sees people of all ages, setting aside other interests and concerns to unite their hearts and voices and entering God’s presence together.

Many of my early memories are set in the midst of God’s people, their voices blending together in adoration for their Savior. The hymn book was an early reading book for me. I still recall wondering why we didn’t sing the line printed immediately below the first stanza of the first verse. Then Mom pointed to the second line, then the third, as I discovered the concept of verses and choruses.

I was taught to respect the meeting place, to be tolerant of crying babies and squirming toddlers, and of old people who wanted their aisle seat.

When I became a mother myself we attended a church with no nursery, but it had a children’s church. It was a challenge to keep my infant daughter quiet and entertained. Many services were interrupted for me when I had to temporarily leave with her. Sometimes it seemed that staying home would have been better. It certainly would have been easier.

When she was a toddler I relied on a clean baby food jar full of Cheerios to keep Debbie occupied. It took her several minutes to find each hidden morsel. First she lifted each of my fingers one at a time. If she didn’t find it in the first hand, she knew it would be in the other. I knew the food offered some nourishment, but more important to me was that if dropped and stepped on, I knew the crumbs could be vacuumed up easily. I’ve passed along this hint to many grateful parents. As she grow older, Debbie learned to play quietly with the toys I brought for her, first on my lap, then on the floor or seat beside me.

By the time our sons were born we had both a nursery and children’s church. But I always kept the children with me part of the time so that they could experience big church throughout their early years. They’re all grown now and are actively involved in the leadership of their respective churches.

Sadly, it is becoming more common for churches to have a blanket policy prohibiting children from being present in the main service. This is often reactionary to unpleasant incidents where children have disrupted other worshipers. Our friends were forced to find a different church to attend because they chose to worship together as a family.

Some families choose to keep their children with them during the worship portion of the service, then to deliver them to the nursery or children’s church service. If church leaders remain flexible they can help parents lead their children according to their individual family’s needs.

Children today can look forward to church services, whether sitting beside their parents, or in classes or services designed for their own age group. The important thing is to introduce the children to God and His people in a way that will result in the child himself choosing to become a follower of Christ.

© Beverly Caruso

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