Is your church kid-friendly? I’m not wondering if you sanitize the nursery toys, put stools in front of the water fountains, and have enough Sunday school teachers. I’m wondering if your church — the people, the leadership, the services — are really friendly toward children. Here are four things that might be affected if we had more kid-friendly churches.
- People would stare less when kids make sounds. Kids sometimes make noise, just like adults sneeze, yawn, or cough. You just get used to it. You don’t stare down the elderly gentleman who has a loud sneeze (okay, well you shouldn’t). Neither should it be necessary to turn your eyes into flamethrowers over at the family whose son whispered that he needed to use the restroom. Babies hiccup (sometimes quite loudly) and whimper, children drop books, whispers can turn into hoarse shouts, and it’s all simply part of worshipping with children present. And it’s okay. One of the first objections to children being present is that it creates a “distraction.” This is understandably a challenge. But let’s not allow our low tolerance for “distraction” to lead to the exclusion of an entire group of people. There is no one perfect setting in which to worship God, and perhaps the best solution to the “distraction” is just to endure it.
- The speaker may try to better engage the attention of the children. It is difficult to communicate effectively to a wide range of ages. Nonetheless, a kid-friendly church would endeavor to communicate big truths to young hearts and minds. For example object lessons can help to engage everyone’s attention. Inviting the active participation of the children is also a helpful idea. In one church I visited, the pastor invited all the children to the front of the church while he told them a short Bible lesson. It was their special time, and they were totally focussed on what he was saying. Children who were too young or shy to go up by themselves were accompanied by their parents. If we are a church that consists of young and old — and most churches are — we can employ creative ideas to engage the young.
- The services would be of a bearable length. The length of the average church service is 1.5 hours, start to finish. As you consider and plan your service, keep in mind the attention span, patience, and endurance of the younger generation. There is no perfect solution to the time span, and it is not necessary to pander to the shortest attention span present. Nonetheless, there is a happy medium regarding service length — a duration which expresses sensitivity to the children, while at the same time delivering value and truth to all who are present.
- There would be more opportunity for parents and children to worship together. Think about your services for just a second. Is there ever an opportunity for the entire family to worship together? Why or why not? There are, of course, compelling reasons to allow very young children to remain in the nursery. At the same time, it may be a good idea to introduce the idea of keeping the family together through at least a portion of the service. Some churches allow children be part of the singing time with their family. After that, they’re free to go to their respective classes. In a culture of fragmenting families, the church can stand for the unity of families, even through the simple act of keeping them together during services.
This is not an issue of “family-integrated” churches vs. traditional churches. This is not an attack against children’s programs or children’s church. This is a suggestion for churches to proactively minister to children, rather than tolerate their presence until they are “old enough” to be involved.
In our culture, it’s revolutionary to think of kid-friendly services. It changes everything. We are a culture of being kid-friendly in all the wrong ways. Our kid-friendliness unnecessarily sanitizes kids into segmented classes, and corners, making them less intrusive, less of an inconvenience, less of a distraction, and less of a bother. But it’s not just our culture. The disciples had the same hangups when Jesus was thronged by the kids. They tried to shoo the kids away, claiming that Jesus was too busy to be bothered by them (Mark 10:13-15).
Jesus thought differently about it. In his mind, the Kingdom of God consisted of children. He welcomed them. Shouldn’t our churches do the same?
Maybe we need to reintroduce the messy, authenticity of family life. The church is a family. Kids are part of the family. Let’s invite them back with all the honesty, challenge, and blessing that they bring. Like Jesus did.