Children and Worship Spaces
My kids Laurel (6) and Isaac (4) get so excited about church each week. “Daddy is tomorrow church?”
My response… nope… tomorrow is Tuesday.
They love going to church! They love their community. They love seeing their friends. They love sitting and talking with various adults in the community. The church is a special place for them.
This was not how I felt as a kid. I hoped that my parents would stay home and be lazy on Sundays. I never liked Sunday school and always found church to be boring. And I always insisted that I stay with my parents during the worship gathering. Kicking and prodding the whole service wondering if it would ever end
But not my kids. Going to church is lifegiving and exciting.
The worship gathering has a simple structure, play and hang out, go outside for a few minutes for a lesson, play, eat a snack, and then come back in for Holy Communion, sing a song, and then hang out some more.
And they love it!
So I am trying not to mess up there and other kids’ love for church!
Because it is hard as a church planter. You look around. And inevitably you compare yourself to others communities of faith.
There are churches that have a great staff, volunteers, Disney-themed facilities, and curriculums for the children. You check your kids in, go to the all adult, no kids allowed worship gathering, afterward check them out, and then go home. Because babies, toddlers, and young kids in a worship space are distracting.
For our very first every Sunday worship gathering we tried having everyone in the worship space. And it was so incredibly loud and immediately there were people who were worried about their ability to concentrate on the sermon. A lot of parents might feel that way as their toddler runs around the worship space, running to other people, goes through the worship space, and speaks freely can cause a lot of anxiety to the parents because they are thinking about what others may think. And it might be true… if I can’t actually hear the sermon… why go to church at all?
The very next Sunday we decided to take the kids outside for a portion of the gathering and then bring them back in for communion.
I firmly believe that children belong in worship spaces.
This past Sunday one of the parents asked if the kids could act out the scripture we were reading that Sunday. I was ecstatic about this unrehearsed way to see the scripture through the eyes of a child. So after communion, the kids acted out the scripture. It was so joyful, organic, real, and lifegiving. They weren’t just an addendum to our worship gathering they were a key part.
Then during communion one of our older kids handed out the communion grape juice cups, with passion and joy saying, “the blood of Christ given for you.”
I know parents of toddlers get flustered because we can have a better worship experience if our toddler goes to a nursery or at home rather than a worship space. Then I don’t have to deal with the what-if scenarios. What if they are loud? What if they run-up to the communion table or the pastor? What if they throw a football across the room? The reason we are uncomfortable with these “disruptions” is that we have come from traditions where children have been taken out of the worship space. I know the feeling for me as a parent and pastor who has had to pause my sermon to make sure that my kid has access to the restroom and find some assistance if needed… is it a small interruption? Maybe. But my kid knows at the end of the day that the worship space is an approachable space. The dad/pastor is approachable.
I am not saying that we won't one day have nursery or staff in that nursery. But we will carry the question on how we might best incorporate kids of all ages into the life of the church.
A few months ago I was doing the announcements at the beginning of worship albeit this morning was chaotic and nothing seemed to be going as planned. Traditionally I don’t get questions or hands raised during this point of the gathering. One of the kids came up to me in the middle of announcements asking if I knew where the juice boxes were. He needed to know something… and so he came to me in the middle of the announcements. He had a question… and I looked like the guy that might have the answer.
At the end of the day, my own kids are curious about Jesus. Where is Jesus? Is he in heaven? In my heart? They are asking beautiful, curious questions. Questions I’d imagine are being formed and fostered through the community they are around each week.
For us parents, family, and parishioners living out our baptismal vows are to provide space for our children to grow and flourish spiritually and most of all cultivate a sense that they are valuable. And the people they are to look for guidance are us, which means they need to see us pray together, read scripture, sing, and partake in holy communion.
In the midst of what seems like a distraction is really the formation of young disciples that are coming to understand Jesus cares much for them…and they know this because of the people that are around them week after week.
My hope… is that having kids more involved in the worship life of the church will lead to a deeper spirituality and commitment to the body of Christ. Not out of duty or guilt but because it has been fostered and formed in them how much it matters to their lives through the community.
So I am trying not to mess it up. Just trying to let things be and fall into place and celebrate the beautiful gift of having a church that is literally half kids.