What is your biggest worry or fear when you think about taking your kids to church? Does it make you anxious or even stop you from going to church altogether? Join Kyla as she shares some wisdom to soothe these fears.
Have you ever seen the popular TV show that follows the lives of a set of triplets navigating the complexities of parenting and adulthood? There is a husband and wife on this show who like to play a game called “worst-case scenario.” In this exercise, they speak out their fears, stresses, and anxieties as they relate to the situation they find themselves in. After they complete this, they exhale and move forward into whatever they are facing, because they know what the absolute worst-case scenario could hold for them.
If you were to play this game, what would be the “worst-case scenario” when you take your children to church? Would it be that your child would scream the entire service? Would it be that they talk while the pastor is preaching? Would it be that they run laps around the church? Would it be that they storm the altar area and knock something over? Would it be that they rip a page from a hymnal or Bible? Would it be that they will need to use the bathroom one hundred times? Would it be that they will turn the sanctuary into an obstacle course? Would it be that they take the frosting from the donut and smash it into the carpet?
Now, together let’s exhale. *breathe* Let’s move forward now thinking together about taking kids to church, because we know what the absolute worst-case scenario could be.
How to Tackle Midweek and Sunday Services
As we look to the beginning of a season in the Church Year called Lent, we add a series of midweek services to the calendar. I would like to offer you some thoughts to consider as you navigate choosing to attend worship this Lenten season with your own family.
First, as you look at your list of worst-case scenarios, or generally consider what is keeping you from taking your family to worship, you will likely find that your list of worries can woefully reveal the condition of your own heart. Are your worries rightly placed, or are they worries that are bubbling up to cover your own sinful nature? What I mean to ask is, Are you really worried about your child’s behavior, or are you actually worried about what your child’s behavior says about you? Our sinful nature leans toward wanting to be in control and look good, when instead our focus should be on loving and serving our neighbors (which, in the case of children in worship, can be a messy, tiring, and thankless task).
Bring the Kids ... Forward?
Second, are you someone who usually sits towards the back of your worship space? On one hand, this seems like an easy way to buffer against your list of worst-case scenarios. (If my child cries, I have a quick route out; it makes knocking things off the altar area less worrisome; etc.) But have you ever paused to consider that sitting in the back might be making worship harder for your little ones?
Follow this with me. Have you ever considered sitting up front? (Or maybe sitting up front is on your list of “worst-case scenarios.”) From a practical perspective, children have a difficult time seeing what is going on from the back of a church. Everyone in front of them is taller and bigger and all of the “action” is happening in the front. By moving up, kids will actually be able to follow much more of the service, which might capture their interest! Sitting where your children can see what is happening certainly exposes your family to the eyes of everyone around, but it also allows others to see your struggles and come around you in support. If you are in the back, people around you experience the cry of your child without getting the whole picture. It’s a different perspective when those sitting around you might see a tired baby rubbing his or her eyes and have compassion on the efforts it takes to engage little ones in worship. Sitting toward the front with my own little ones has been the most useful step in helping them participate in the service. It far exceeds anything that a book, coloring sheet, or well-timed snack can provide. What is the church if not a place where sinners gather to receive grace? Our little ones are not an exception to this rule.
Practice, Practice, Practice!
Last, consider midweek Lenten worship services as opportunities for you and your family to practice going to worship together. Any skill your child has learned up to this point has been preceded by much repetitive practice. Going to and participating in worship isn’t any different. Usually, you only have one time a week for an hour (or so) to learn about participating in a worship service. Imagine if that was all the time allotted for your child to learn other skills, like putting on their own clothes, learning to walk, or learning to eat goldfish without crushing them all over the house, etc. One hour, one time a week (at most) is really such a small amount of time for learning.
I hope and pray that each of you reading this right now attends a church that understands the “worst-case scenarios” a family fears when bringing their children into worship. Jesus certainly does. In Matthew 19, He rebuked the disciples for trying to keep children from coming to Him.
If you feel like your church isn’t welcoming to families, I also pray that you would be willing to share your experiences. It can be easy for others to forget the challenges facing a young family if they themselves are long past that season of daily life. The desire to “fit in” and do all the right things at the right time, the pressure to not draw attention to yourselves, the plan to hide in the back of church so you can slip out at a moment’s notice ... these are all very real experiences to navigate. The best way to kindle a desire to be with your family in worship is through God’s Word. The more we know God, the more we want to know God.
Read My Book about Church with your little ones to introduce and explain the basic activities they will see in church.