Engaging Young Children in Church

As the pastor of a church where children begin worshiping with the adults at age three, I regularly receive an apology from the parent of a young child for some disruption their child made during the service. As a father of young children, I can empathize with the challenges of bringing young children into a worship service. Yet, I believe children are a part of the church family, and despite the challenges, the church makes an important statement by seeking to include them in the worship service. While not every Sunday will be a delightful experience, the childhood years offer a prime opportunity to teach our children what it means to be a part of a community at worship.  

Robbie Castleman, author of the book Parenting in the Pew, writes, 

"Teaching your children to worship, parenting in the pew, is entering the house of your heavenly Father and saying, 'Daddy, I would like you to meet my children.' Worship is seeing your Father’s smile."

When I first read her book years ago, Castleman’s approach to worship revolutionized my thinking about the importance of including children in the worship service. Like learning to ride a bicycle, learning to sit through a worship service or listen to a sermon may involve its share of “skinned knees.” But it is also worth the effort because the most important thing a Christian parent can pass along to their children is a passion for worshipping the God who created them and redeemed them through Jesus.

Following is a list of six ideas for parents seeking to involve their children in worship—adapted from the suggestions of Castleman and others:

  • Pay attention to the messages you communicate to your children about worship in general and sermons in particular. Tell your children why you want to go to worship and why you want them to go as well. Express excitement that they are grown up enough to listen to the sermon. When they complain about long sermons, respond with sympathy for their feelings, but also with encouragement for them to keep listening. Your encouragement is critical.
  • If you’re comfortable with the idea, sit together as a family in one of the front rows of church. Children who can see what’s going on are more likely to pay attention. If you’re using a hymnal, a Bible, or a bulletin, share it with them at their eye level. Consider bringing your own Bible so that you can highlight or underline important words for them. 
  • Remember that few children listen to an entire sermon. Instead, they tune in and out as things catch their attention. The trick is to pay attention to what they do hear and use that as a basis to begin discussions with them.
  • Teach children the importance of giving as a part of worship, perhaps even by sharing their own financial resources. Even if it’s only a quarter for this week’s collection, demonstrate to them that the congregation values their participation in all parts of worship.
  • Talk about worship on the way home and during the week. (Make it a rule to talk more about worship content than about worship behavior). Share things you heard that you enjoyed or learned from worship each week. Encourage your children to share what they heard and build on each Sunday’s time of worship in your family devotions or prayer time.
  • Instead of giving your children books to read or color in during the sermon (suggesting that they are not able to listen or that the sermon isn’t worth their attention), give them their own copy of the message notes to draw or write on about what they are hearing in the sermon. 

The truth is, as a pastor, I usually don’t notice the commotion of one of two children in a church service. Yes, sometimes kids will disrupt others. If you’re genuinely concerned about this, find a trusted person who can help you gauge your child’s behavior. But most of the time, I answer concerned parents by saying, “I’d rather have a little bit of disruption in our congregation than tell our children to stay away.”

Parents of young children, what you do matters. God’s children belong in worship. Their Savior said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them” (Matt. 19:14). Let’s have the courage to teach our kids to worship God—their God and ours.  

About the author — Rev. Joel Vande Werken

Joel Vande Werken is the pastor of Fairlawn Christian Reformed Church in Whitinsville, Massachusetts. Originally from the Chicago area, he served for ten years in Sussex, NJ before moving to his current church.  He and his wife, Brandie, have four young children.

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