Recently, on social media, I have engaged in a weekly conversation about worshipping with little people. On Sundays I share what my family and I are up to as we go throughout our morning. Every time I do this, mom after mom will reach out to share a struggle their family is having with worshipping together, ask a question, vent, to say “we do that too!” or to ask for prayers. One disclaimer I always give when I share about our family’s time preparing for and in worship is that our successes are not magic. Tips or tactics that are working for our family come from lots of trial and error and many, many years of practicing and learning together.
During days with newborns, we would be in and out of the worship service as feeding and diapering needs arose. We left a service in the middle once and headed home due to a throwing up incident that we couldn’t recover from due to lack of supplies in our diaper bag. During days of potty training, you might have seen us leaving for the bathroom at any given moment.
We went through a season where I actually spent the service trying to convince my son NOT to fall asleep because it would mess up his nap schedule for the rest of the day. I have become familiar with the location of a broom and dustpan at our church to sweep up the snacks we often end up crushing all over the floor. Just two weeks ago, my daughter came close to knocking over an entire table full of communion elements as she attempted to hang onto the base instead of walking with me back to our seats.
We certainly do not become magically better behaved or less prone to sinful choices just because we are in worship, but over the years, I have gained perspectives and practices that have helped to make Sundays feel less scary and more sacred.
Getting out the door (or to the living room)
If you are struggling with Sunday mornings feeling rushed, consider taking time on Saturdays to prepare what you need to make Sunday morning a little less stressful. With little ones, pack your diaper or activity bag ahead of time. Set out (or have them pick) their outfit for the morning, including shoes, so that everything is in one place. Even if you are worshipping online in your home, I would still encourage you to take these steps. If you are worshipping in your home, consider making an extra effort on Saturdays to pick up the area of your home you worship in and set aside time to minimize distractions so that you can walk into the living room on Sunday morning and be ready to focus on worship and not the basket of laundry still sitting out.
Whether we are going to church in-person or online, it always takes longer than I think it will to get my little crew where we need to go on time. Last-minute trips to the bathroom, finding a jacket or the perfect stuffed friend to tag along, or squeezing in one last cup of coffee . . . all of those actions add up. My kids do not magically put their shoes on faster just because we have worship to attend. By planning for and embracing the time we actually need to be ready I find it easier to start worship on a peaceful note instead of a pressured one.
In the car (or on the couch)
Before worship begins, take time to briefly go over expectations for behavior during worship. If you are worshipping online, set clear boundaries about staying in the room during worship, what participating means, when will snacks or activities be okay, what if you need to use the bathroom . . . etc.
If you are worshipping in person, talk through ahead of time when activities or snacks will be used. When is it okay to talk or make noise, when would it be better to use a whisper voice, when is it okay to stand or sit or walk around, what if you need to use the bathroom, what is the plan when church is over . . . etc.
Talking through these expectations before you are in the middle of worshipping can help you and your little one(s) feel like you’re on the same team as you head into worship instead of trying to come up with these boundaries on the fly as you worship.
The most freeing experience for me when I transitioned to worshipping as a mom was to reshape my expectations around my experience in worship. At my children’s baptisms, God wasn’t the only one making promises to my little ones. I also made a promise, I promised to raise them in the faith. Now when it comes to worship, I have decades of experience in that area that they do not yet have. When they come to worship, I try to keep in perspective that to them it can feel like an hour of unfamiliar words, sights, sounds, and people.
I see worship as a time to intentionally serve and disciple my children. My posture during worship is oriented toward loving my neighbor, and my closest neighbors during worship are the children next to me. Over the years, I found that the more I engage with my children during worship, the more we are all able to grasp from the service.
If you are in person, talk to your little one about what they are seeing and hearing. Encourage them to look for symbols and pictures they recognize or words they know in Scripture readings and songs. If you are worshipping online, pause the service if you need to address a behavior issue or answer a question. Try to seek out ways that your kids can feel included as part of the worship experience instead of only engaging with them to correct a behavior.
As we journey through Lent and Holy Week with many extra opportunities to be in worship and set up routines together, I hope that some of these ideas can give you a fresh foundation for engaging well in worship with your family. For the month of March, we will read through Romans 8 together. Romans 8 is full of concepts we hear in worship. It talks about God’s Spirit, God’s purpose for us, and God’s goodness to us.
Consider using the Everyday Faith calendar download to focus on God’s Word as a family outside each day outside of worship.