As we slowly ease out of quarantine, many of us are excited to head back to our church campuses. While we have been grateful for online worship services, nothing can compare to worshipping together with our brothers and sisters.
However, there will still be some restrictions and changes in how we are able to meet again. One of the things church leaders are having to consider is whether or not there will be any type of children’s ministry activities. If we’re all being honest, we know it will be impossible to have any type of social distancing on the preschool hallway.
Therefore, for now most families who choose to go back to church will be worshipping with their children in the service. For some families, like my own, this is nothing new.
For other families, this will be a new experience, and the idea of having children in the service with them can invoke feelings of anxiety and dread. This can not only be a hard situation for parents, but also for children who may experience a worship service for the very first time.
If you are healthy and comfortable attending services as churches reopen, don’t let the thought of having your children in the service with you deter you from attending. Fight the urge to stay home, and make the effort to go to church.
It’s wise to prepare yourselves and your children in order to have the best experience possible. Whether you are parents who will put on your brave face and take your children to church when the doors reopen, the pastors who lead them, or fellow church attenders, I hope these ideas will encourage and help you.
Pastors, make them welcome
It’s vital to have your lead pastor speak from the pulpit (and ideally before you even meet again for the first time via email or the church website) about how he wants children to feel welcome in the worship service. It’s important for parents, children and everyone else to hear the pastor acknowledge that children are not simply present, but are wanted in the service. It’s helpful to hear the pastor say that he understands that children will act like children — they’ll wiggle, make noise and answer rhetorical questions — and it’s not only tolerated but welcomed.
My children hear this every week from our pastor, and they have no doubt that they are an important part of the worship service. It takes pressure off parents to feel they must have perfectly behaved children. It also reminds everyone else that they shouldn’t be bothered by children acting like children, and it may even do them a bit of good and add a smile to their day.
Have realistic expectations
Don’t expect your children to sit quietly and respectfully for the entire service. It will bring so much freedom for you and them. Yes, there will be times you will have to correct and teach them. And you can assume that you will have to get up at some point and take them out of the service for a while.
It may take a few weeks to figure out what works best for you and your children, but it’s worth the effort. As you work through some of the rough spots, you will be amazed at what your children can do and how much they truly will rise to the level that is expected of them.
Prepare in advance
Familiarize your children with how the worship service flows. What is the service order? When do you sing, and when do you listen? When do you sit, and when do you stand? Explain and set clear expectations for your children.
One thing my family has found to be beneficial is that our worship pastor sends out a link to the worship songs before Sunday. We spend the week learning or reviewing the songs together. On Sunday morning when we start singing, my children already know the songs and can join in more easily. It’s one less thing that seems foreign to them.
Fill their tummies
Feed your children a large breakfast, and bring a snack. That sounds elementary, but it makes a difference. If your house is anything like mine, Sunday mornings are chaotic. It’s all too easy to be halfway to church and realize one of the kids didn’t eat that morning. Try to make a good breakfast a priority. When little ones don’t have growling tummies, they can focus better and have a few less wiggles and whines.
Also, pack a snack for your children. We try to avoid sugar/candy and choose something that won’t make a mess. And it’s usually in a zip-lock or reusable bag so they won’t make so much noise opening it. The snack isn’t essential, but it keeps them busy for a few minutes while they are still listening, and it improves their behavior by satisfying their hunger.
Use the restroom before the service
Make sure your children use the restroom or have a clean diaper before the service begins. Occasionally I forget to do this, and I regret it every time. Keep in mind that based on health recommendations and guidelines, some public restrooms may not be available as churches reopen, so you may need to take care of these needs before you arrive.
Model worship for your children
Teach your children how to participate during the service. Help them open their Bibles and find the passage. Whisper to them and explain what is happening and what is expected at each stage of the service.
Consider sitting near the front of the sanctuary so your children can see what is taking place with fewer distractions. Also consider allowing preschoolers to be held or to stand in their chair during the singing time. Children who can’t see or hear will naturally lose interest and start acting up. When we model worship for our children and they see, hear and experience what is taking place, they learn that worship is important and also learn how to worship.
Provide quiet activities
Make sure children always have something to keep their hands busy. Start with plenty of writing utensils and crayons, along with a preprinted kids worship bulletin that your church may provide each week. My church’s kids bulletin includes questions like What is the date? Who is preaching today? What book of the Bible is he preaching from? What words do you hear that you don’t understand? What questions do you have?
Books or small, silent toys can be helpful. Consider purchasing dry erase activity books and dry erase markers. Another mess-free alternative is water coloring books. For older children, have a notebook and pen for them to take notes and encourage them to follow along in their own Bible.
Have a backup plan
Ask if your church has a designated room or area that is a safe place for parents who do have to get up and take their children out to regroup. Some children will find this time super challenging, especially if it’s the first time being in the worship service, and they may not be able to make it to the end.
If you have to step out with a crying baby or children who are melting down, it will be tempting to just leave and go home. Instead, if it’s available, utilize the designated room. Hopefully, you can access a livestream of the service so you won’t have to miss it entirely.
Embrace the culture shift
The idea of having children in the worship service with adults is a big culture shift for a lot of churches. We need to move away from viewing the worship service as an event for adults that children aren’t ready for. Instead, we can choose to view worshipping with our children as part of our God-given role in discipling them by seeing them as a valuable part of the church whose inclusion in services is vital.
A big part of how this new experience will go for your family is how you as the parent think, talk and interact with your children about it. Sure, it also matters how your pastor and fellow church attenders think, speak and act, but as the primary influencer of your children, this can be a defining moment. Instead of seeing this time as inconvenient and frustrating, view it as a blessing and a privilege. You get to be —not have to be — the one who shows your children what worship to God is, how to do it and that worshipping Him is important to you. What an honor!