My family and I recently started attending a new church. It’s closer to our house, the kids are learning God’s word, and my husband and I feel like we can get more involved there. So all-around, it’s a wonderful church for our family. However, they do one thing differently from our old church that threw me for a bit of a loop at first.
This new church asks parents to bring their children (ages 6 and older) to the adult service with them. The kids also have time with their peers while mom and dad are in adult community groups, but they’re expected to attend the service as well.
When I learned of this, I wasn’t 100% on board. I mean I remember going to adult services when I was a kid. Where I grew up we called it “big church.” But haven’t we evolved since then?
Was it really reasonable to ask my six-year-old, very active, boy to sit through an hour-long service, which is geared entirely towards adults, when I can barely get him to sit still for twenty minutes to do his math lesson?
Wouldn’t he be bored?
Was it a waste of time? Would he get anything out of the service?
Would I miss out on learning because I was constantly attending to his needs?
Would this very talkative child drive everyone else crazy with his questions and commentary?
The more I thought I about it, the more the Holy Spirit showed me that my worries were unfounded. He opened my eyes to the many blessings that can come from bringing children (once they’re past the very young age) into an adult service.
So we brought my son to “big church” and we have been bringing him ever since. It has not always been easy, and there are times when it would, no doubt, be easier to simply drop him off at the children’s center. But I quickly realized that the difficulties we’ve noticed (namely, his short attention span and need to be entertained) are actually areas where he needs to grow. Where we, as his parents, need to be leading and training him.
On the other hand, the benefits of bringing him with us are so compelling, that those little areas of weakness hardly bear comparison. Here are some of those benefits:
Discipleship and Modeling
This might be the number one reason to bring a child to an adult worship service with you. A child seeing his father and mother worship God together is a powerful image that will stay with him forever.
When he sees his father sing worship songs or his mother bow her head in prayer, he sees their faith in action. The words and teaching from home become real to this child as he sees them lived out in front of him.
In Deuteronomy, we, as parents, are called to teach our children God’s word.
“Fix these words of mine in your hearts and minds; tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Teach them to your children, talking about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.” Deut. 11:18-19
One simple way we can begin doing this is by including our children in our worship experience each Sunday.
Another simple but wonderful benefit of bringing kids to big church with you is the time you get to spend together as a family. Spending time together reinforces the idea that family is important. That you desire to be together.
Now, when your children are smaller, especially as babies and toddlers, I fully understand the need and desire to GET AWAY from them for an hour or two. And that’s great! Send those little ones to the nursery and feed your soul with some child-free time. But as they mature and grow, their demands on you will diminish. At this point, you may actually enjoy the time you get to spend with each other at church.
In addition to the time spent together, if you attend services with your kids, you’ll all be hearing the same message from your pastor. The sermons can spur family discussions later, maybe around the lunch or dinner table. If you’re not sure how to begin talking about spiritual things with your kids, this is a great jumping off point.
It’s so easy to ask your child or husband what he thought of the sermon. Or how they would apply some principle that was discussed to their everyday lives. Pastors today are generally quite good at leaving their congregations with a few choice nuggets to think on during the week. Take advantage of these as you draw your family together in faith.
You can also use this communal worship time to establish family values and expectations based on God’s word.
For instance, if you all hear a sermon about generosity, it will be easier for your kids to participate in your yearly donation purge, picking out toys they want to give to other children in need. They might remember learning that God loves a cheerful giver, so they will be more eager to participate. Or you can refer back to the sermon if they’ve forgotten.
Listening to the Word together makes it simpler to get everyone on the same page, rather than forcing mom and dad’s rules down everyone’s throats.
If you’d like more ideas about how to begin discussing God’s word with your children, take a look at another post I wrote a few weeks ago. It’s full of simple, non-awkward ways to introduce the Bible to your child’s life.
Learning Self-Discipline and Attentiveness
This is where I come back to the idea of areas of growth for my child (and maybe yours as well). We live in a culture practically bursting with entertainment, multi-tasking, and self-centeredness. It’s extremely difficult to raise children in our world who are giving, compassionate, focused, and contemplative as adults. But that’s part of what we’re all trying to do, isn’t it? To build real and lasting character in our children.
Bringing your child to worship with you gives you an opportunity like no other to develop all kinds of remarkable character traits in one setting. It may take time and practice, but I’ve seen our son grow little by little in his attentiveness, self-control, and responsibility. I firmly believe that the more we practice these skills, the more natural they will become for him.
Simply by being there, he is learning to be self-governing, saving his questions for a more appropriate time and keeping relatively still. He’s learning to occupy his mind when concepts are beyond his understanding and how to be aware of and respect the people around him. He’s distinguishing times for movement and energy from times for listening and prayer.
Most of these character traits all come down to self-control, a truly rare quality in many people today. But the other side of this coin is attentiveness. In our homeschool world, there is a lot of talk of what we teach our children to attend to.
Are we encouraging them to stop and focus on the things that are true, good, and beautiful?
Or are we inadvertently teaching them only to pay attention to the entertaining, the flashy, and the temporarily satisfying?
In this world of go, go, go, bringing a child to an adult church service can help them stop their little brains and bodies, while they learn to focus on all that is true, noble, right, pure, lovely, and admirable.
In addition to their parents, children benefit immensely from seeing other adults, grandparents, high schoolers, and complete strangers worshiping God.
Again, our culture has shifted over the years and, instead of multiple generations living under one roof, we tend to segregate ourselves more and more by age and life stage. In school and almost all extracurricular activities, kids are always with other children of the same age. They have play dates with their peers. They attend age-appropriate groups in children’s programs at church. They play on sports teams divided by age group.
Now, there’s nothing wrong with kids spending time with other kids. There are some wonderful things about socializing with your peers and making friends.
But we have to acknowledge that kids today tend to spend a majority of their lives with people their own age and at the same maturity level. And they might just be missing out on some wonderful benefits of spending time with people from other generations.
But by bringing them to big church we can introduce them to a whole range of ages. Let them see and interact with all kinds of people. Let them learn from their elders and feel the solid foundation of their church family.
Though they may not realize it, seeing faith that spans the generations gives weight and validity to that faith. It’s not a passing trend or popular fad. It is not easily tossed aside and replaced by the next big thing. It is lasting and reliable, something bigger than just one person or family.
Feed them Good Spiritual Food
Now, if you’re thinking to yourself, my child would never be able to sit through an adult service, I want to encourage you. That’s completely normal. You are training them in a new area of growth, so don’t expect perfection right away.
It’s okay if they don’t get it right at first. If they fidget or talk or get bored. Although we want to be respectful of those around us, it’s not necessarily our job to bring perfectly well-behaved children to church. If that were the case, there would be very few children in big church at all.
Instead, like we saw in the passage from Deuteronomy, our job is to present God’s word to our kids whenever we can.
Even if it seems like they’re not paying attention.
Even if they are too young to understand it all.
To draw once more from my homeschool experience, we, as parents are not called to ensure that our children understand every principle of education the first time they hear it. We are simply called to present the truth to them, without watering it down or pandering to them.
Indeed, most of what they hear in a sermon at a young age will be completely beyond their comprehension. But our job is simply to expose them to the truth and depth of God’s love for them. To do it again and again and again. Allowing the Holy Spirit to work in his own timing.
We continue to present the feast of God’s story before our children and let them nibble at what they are able to. As they grow and mature, they will pick up more and more. They will dive deeper as the Holy Spirit prompts them.
In truth, this is what were are all doing, isn’t it? Who among us can claim they fully understand the wonder of the gospel or the miracle of Christ’s resurrection? We are all on a journey, taking from the feast of God’s word the pieces we can digest, one bite at a time.
We do our children a great disservice if we deprive them of God’s truth simply because we believe they won’t understand it.
For all of these reasons and many more, I believe that, yes, children of an appropriate age can and definitely should attend church with their parents.
So go ahead and bring those kids to “big church” with you. Invite them to worship and learn with you. Trust the One who created them to bring all the pieces together in his perfect timing. Set high expectations and let your children rise to meet them. They may just surprise you.
Let me know if you bring your children to adult church services with you. I’d love to know what your experience has been like. If you have any tips for the rest of us, please share!
If you enjoyed this post, check out these other inspiring ideas from other bloggers: