10 churches, 45 hymns, 10 sermons, 13 awkward conversations, 233 bible verses, 38 handshakes–these are the stats my husband and I have acquired in our search for a church that suits both our needs. What we did not see coming, however, is the difficulty we would face in finding a church that suits the needs of our son. In nearly every church we have visited, something has both surprised and disturbed us equally. It causes us to leave each sanctuary with the same question tormenting us: Where are all the kids? For 10 places of worship, I have turned down an offer to be shown the nursery 13 times.
Out of the ten churches my husband and I have visited, one of these welcomed our son and did not make us feel as though he only belonged in the nursery. That church is currently first on our list. We will absolutely not attend a church that makes us feel as though our son is not welcome. Now, don’t worry–A parent who has a screaming and disruptive child during a service bothers me just as much as the next guy, maybe more. There is, of course, an appropriate time for a parent to remove a child from a service; however, if a baby or toddler is behaving, he belongs in the sanctuary with his parents. A church that encourages, and even obliges, its parishioners to utilize the nursery for children between the ages of infant to 3 years, and continues to keep the older children out of the service with kids’ church, is sending a painful and unhealthy message to its visitors: children are not welcome here.
We have attended countless churches where we are not even sure any children exist in the building, because they are never seen. We have attended countless churches where my 11-month old is the only child in the sanctuary. We have attended countless churches where there are not even any adolescents or teenagers present, no doubt because of the way they were ill-received as children. We have attended countless churches where I am convinced if my son makes even a small, joyful sound, they will surely stone us. This, my friends, is not only deleterious to these places of worship, but also to the little ones.
If I want to bring my son to the nursery, I will ask someone. I promise you he will get fussy during the service, and I will respectfully remove him from the sanctuary, but I will be responsible for him for the entirety of the service. Stop asking me if I want to know where the nursery is located; stop making me feel like my son can’t shake his rattle or pound on the pew without driving the Lord from the room; stop reminding me that there is a nursery available. I understand that there is a need for a nursery in a church; however, a church should leave that decision to the parents, and parents should certainly use it in moderation. My husband and I seem to be pretty isolated in this opinion, but we made a decision early in our son’s life: he will stay with us in church. There are, of course, many disadvantages to wrestling an 11-month old through an hour of Bible reading, sermon giving, and song singing. 1. The mom literally never gets to hear the sermon. 2. Both the mom and dad are on edge, shoving the pacifier in the child’s mouth, praying he keeps his rambling to a reasonable decibel. 3. The pew gets a bit messy with toys soaring through the air as the mom tries desperately to keep the child’s interest. 4. Despite the best efforts of both mom and dad, the youngster and one of his parents (usually mom) always end up banished to the fellowship hall. These are no doubt struggles that any parent who does not utilize the available child care must face.
However, it is my belief, that keeping your little one in church with you, no matter the age, has benefits that far outweigh the drawbacks. For instance, my son will learn from a young age that church is a place of silence, respect, and patience. He will also understand that church is not only for adults, but for him as well. Because of this, he will feel welcomed and included in a church service. Until he is roughly 9 or 10, he will no doubt gain most of his knowledge of the Lord from Sunday school and our home, since a sermon will be above his level of understanding; however, he will learn how to worship, pray, and devote an entire hour to the Lord long before he is able to pull information from a sermon. My son will not view a sanctuary as a land of adults which will surely cause him to feel unsure of where he belongs when he reaches the awkward stage of not-quite-a-kid and not-quite-an-adult. He will not associate church with a time of strictly play, but as a time of devotion and praise to God, and it is my hope, he will someday learn to enjoy this just as much as play. Most importantly, he will learn how to respect the building, the people, and his Father long before the children that spend their first 5-6 years inside a nursery or attending kids’ church.
I don’t know where churches developed the attitude that a church service is for adults. Church is to be a time of worship for an entire family, and it is a parent’s responsibility to make the experience beneficial to little ones. In Matthew 19:14 Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” When Jesus walked the earth, people were desperate to get their children as close to Him as possible. Just one touch of his robe–that is all these parents wanted. Nowadays, we keep our children at a distance. For what? Convenience? Peace? A break? Jesus would surely never encourage us to banish our children from a place of worship. The Bible also constantly reminds us that the faith of a child is what we should all strive for (Matthew 18:3). In Matthew 21, the chief priests were furious with Jesus because of the marvels He was displaying to his followers. These miracles created something beautiful in the children of Jerusalem, causing them to shout in the temple courts, “Hosanna to the Son of David!” It should be any parents’ greatest joy to witness their child worshipping Christ. Parents who allow their youngsters to spend most of their time outside a church service are sure to hinder children’s worship and prayer. The youth belong in church. In Colossians 3:16 Paul explains the purpose of a church to the people of Colosse, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.” Children are fully capable of engaging in many of these: Christ can surely dwell inside them; they can sing songs; they can thank God. There is no reason they should not gain abundantly from a church service, just as the adults do.
My son does not sit still; he absolutely never sits still. Keeping him engaged in a church service is similar to wrestling a wild boar with both arms tied behind my back. I have spent the past 12 Sunday sermons standing with my son in the fellowship hall, desperately trying to quiet him while he yammers on, as if he believes it is his responsibility to deliver the sermon each Sunday. It is exhausting, frustrating, and demanding, but Romans 10:17 says, “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.” How will my son hear unless I allow him inside the sanctuary as much as his behavior allows? I have hope that someday my labors will pay off and I will see its fruits in a faithful and devoted child. Until then, I will give my son every opportunity to hear the words of Christ, and I will do this by keeping him in church, no matter how inconvenient or grueling.