A conversation this morning with another pastor raised the question, 'When is it good for little ones to be in the main worship gathering, and when is it not good?' My response, "Well, that's not always an easy one to answer," but here's the best I have based on my experience both as a parent and a pastor.
When our children were small, several of the churches we were a part of didn't have Sunday School, Children's Church or even a nursery. Our children simply attended the worship gatherings with us. I remember them as toddlers dancing in the aisle next to us as we sang during worship. They were precious and most Sundays worship with them was precious. They saw mom and dad sing and pray and follow along with the preachers as the Bible was read. Those 'precious' moments helped shape New City's openness to having our children in worship with us. But for my family, the reality is that it wasn't always precious. Some Sundays were spent with one parent in service and one parent out of service with a fussy child. That too has helped shape New City's ministry to children and parents.
Here are some simple guidelines that I hope are helpful to parents in determining when it is good to have children in the main worship gathering and when it is not.
Good: When Children are disciplined enough to allow mom and dad to participate in worship.
Are you able, mom and dad, to sing joyfully? Are you able to follow along with the teaching? Amy and I often brought a coloring book and crayons (available at the Connect Table) to church for our little ones. Later that became bringing one of their favorite books with them. For the most part, with a little help from us, the kids were able to color quietly, read or do some other activity that allowed us to participate in the worship gathering and at the same time exposed them to what worship was like.
Not: Children are not all the same. Despite our best efforts, sometimes our children become a distraction to us in worship. If mom and dad are unable to participate in worship through singing and studying the Bible, then having a child in service is probably not good. The child isn't learning, and neither are the parents.
Good: When children participate in worship.
When children can learn the songs, read their words or even 'dance' while mom and dad sing, it is a good thing. As children get older, following along in their own Bible is good. Taking notes is good. One of my children highlighted every verse that we covered on Sunday mornings, and it was a great way for them to engage and participate.
Not: I have found that as some of my children have gotten older, discipline in the gathering does not equal participation. The amount of participation is often directly connected to their age, but as a parent I think it is good to ask, 'Would my child learn more and grow more in an age appropriate class or by being here with me in worship at this age?' A child can be 'good' in the gathering and because they do not participate, learn absolutely nothing and benefit little or none.
Good: When children are disciplined enough to allow others to participate in worship.
Not: When children distract others from participating in worship. Mom and dad, you need to be aware of how children might affect others in the gathering. Are they hindering others from worship? Are they distracting those around them during singing or the teaching? Sometimes, moms and dads, you are able to shut out the cries, screams, laughter and talking of your children while others are not. The chances are very good that if your children are making noise, even in during the singing (other than their own sweet singing), the people around you will be hindered from worship. This is simply a matter of considering the needs of those around you.
While we love our children experiencing worship with us at New City, we recognize that sometimes this is not the best option for them, for mom and dad, and for the rest of the church. This is why our classes are now ready to receive kids for the entire service and why we will ultimately include classes for children through 5th grade on Sunday mornings. We love our New City kids and families. If you want to talk through your kids and worship let me or Patrick know. We'd love to help you navigate this!