Thomas Edison reportedly tried to invent the light bulb 10,000 times before he found success. In reference to his long-awaited achievement, a reporter asked, “How did it feel to fail 10,000 times?”
“I didn’t fail 10,000 times,” Edison answered. “The light bulb was an invention with 10,000 steps.”
Parents of young children likely feel that getting their kids to behave in church is a lot like inventing the light bulb. A small container of cereal transforms into a pile of crushed crumbs underneath the pew. Crayons and a coloring book give way to a freshly illustrated hymnal. The new board book magically becomes a Frisbee. After innumerable trips in and out of church with an unruly little Christian in your arms, you cannot help but wonder, “Is all this effort worth it?”
Just as the light bulb was worth every step, so are your efforts. You are not failing, but instead trudging up and down the hilly path to success. While my three oldest usually display appropriate church etiquette, there remain those Sundays when I feel I must go back to the drawing board. Even so, I humbly offer the following steps that have served our family well, in the hope that they may guide you as you travel toward the goal of raising an engaged and respectful little church goer.
Step 1: Serve a filling breakfast or bring a small snack.
Hungry children have shorter attention spans, especially later in the morning.
Step 2: Dress your child in something special.
Teach that church is something unique and important, requiring specific clothes such as “church shoes.” Explain that just as you wear your best to Jesus’ house, you likewise act your best in Jesus’ house.
Step 3: Sit in one of the front pews.
Children are short and need all the help they can get seeing the action. Holding them in your arms gives them an even better view. While they are watching the pastors or other participants, whisper words of simple explanation; “Those are words Jesus said,” or “Jesus likes to hear us sing.”
Step 4: Bring along a few books reserved only for church.
Find books that point out different objects and actions children can expect to experience in church. My Church Words Book is a good one that allows kids to match the pictures in the book to what they are seeing. You can also read Whisper, Whisper before coming to church to help prepare children for what will take place during the service.
Step 5: Enlist fellow church members to sit with your family.
This is especially helpful when you have several small children in tow. Many older members of your congregation would be thrilled to hold your little ones and help them pay attention. Take advantage of their experience of raising their own children as well as their desire to pass on the faith to a new generation.
Step 6: Practice at home.
Just as kids often play house or school, join them in playing church. Take turns acting out the roles of pastor, choir director, reader, banner bearer, person in the pew, and so on. Show them how you would like them to act at different parts of the service, and hopefully they will remember on Sunday.
By bringing your children to church each week, you are familiarizing them with the sights, sounds, smells, and rhythm of worship. You are acknowledging they are valuable members of Christ’s family now, instead of only when they are older. You are teaching them that every week begins in God’s house: thanking, praising, confessing, and praying to Him who made us and saved us.
Edison’s hard work paid off, and so will yours. May your efforts, inspired by the Holy Spirit, illuminate your child’s many steps with the gracious light of Christ.
Rhyming text, in-sanctuary tips, and engaging, colorful illustrations help children understand the rituals and routine at church.