Do Small Children Bug You In Church?

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It’s really hard to focus during the sermon when my four-year-old Abby is hanging on me, dropping crayons, or complaining that she wants a drink of water.  How are parents of young children supposed to engage in worship?  And what about the people sitting next to us?

Today, I’m linking up with Michelle DeRusha at Graceful for “Hear It On Sunday, Use it On Monday.”
I was going to link up last Monday for the kick-off, but I got a little distracted during the sermon, and I couldn’t pull my thoughts together for a blog post. It was one of those weeks where Mom Abby was particularly impatient. She kept getting out of her seat to go to the bathroom (she claimed she had a stomach ache) and when the pastor said “Amen” and the church was stone quiet, she blurted out rather loudly, “Is it over yet?”

Why do we drag her to church?  Why make a 4-year-old sit through a boring worship service when her older siblings are in Sunday School?

To start, I for one believe that small children benefit from worship.  Abby knew the Lord’s Prayer before her ABC’s, and she bellows her words loudly and claps her hands and sways her hips to the music. I’ve been in some churches where this wouldn’t be acceptable, but our church in infested with children.  Lots of them.  (Heck, my Pastor Eric has 5 little ones of his own!)  Besides, we usually sit toward the back.

So why isn’t she in the 4-year-old Sunday School class that meets during worship?  The answer is simple.  Yours truly is her Sunday School teacher at the next service, so after worship we’re off to Sunday School.  Together.

What did I learn from the sermon this week?  Lots.  So much that I’ll have to save it for another post.  Instead of worrying about Abby, I adjusted my attitude and expectations.  I decided that for this season of my life, I’m going to enjoy the warmth of a sweaty 4-year-old on my lap who has to go to the bathroom.  And when she prays the Lord’s Prayer at the top of her lungs, I’m going to savor every word. The next time she gets antsy, I might even let her out early to get a drink.

Now, I’m headed over to Graceful.  For those of you who haven’t met Michelle DeRusha, she’s a rocking (not shopping) mom who works at NPR, has her own newspaper column, and blogs like an angel.  And she’s not buying herself clothes for a year!  Sounds like someone I can learn from!  (She’s also newly represented by the extraordinary Rachelle Gardner, and I really can’t wait to read Michelle’s memoir once it’s in print.)

I'm an author who writes about the working mom's struggle to live out an authentic Christian faith in a complex and fast-paced world. I live in constant need of grace, caffeine, and technology -- usually in that order.
  • Jennifer

    I actually started thinking about this idea recently. When I was little, I had to go to church with my parents. I learned to sit still and listen. My children, however, go to children's church. I'm glad they do–they are learning and having fun–yet I do miss the fact that we aren't worshipping as a family (at least together at church).

    I'm visiting from Michelle's!

  • tcsoko

    As someone without kids yet please know that I enjoy watching the kids in the services – they are not a distraction – they are part of the church family. So what if the Christmas tree wobbles as someone explores underneath or the odd rhetorical question in a sermon gets an answer – we are all family.

  • Bonnie R. Paulson

    I LOVE taking my kids to church. I belong to a congregation that has a ton of kids and the noise level can get a bit distracting, but the kids are learning a fundamental lesson – it's important to attend church. If we don't start the "habit" of worshipping early, it is harder to turn to when the times get tough when the kids are younger.

    We have a "church bag" filled to the brim with coloring books, activity books, crayons, markers, hand puppets, water bottles and snacks – yep, snacks, the best are cheerios – no mess or artificial coloring to stain clothes. We also pack flash cards that can also be used as mini fans. Very helpful. All of the items we have are centered around Bible teachings and Jesus but I've seen tons of different kinds around church.

    People overlook the Cheerios flying through the air cause they can hear. Love it. Great post!

  • Joyful Juggler

    I'm with Jennifer, who commented above. My kids go to children's church, where they are learning some really great stuff. But, on the other hand, I feel like they're missing out on something fundamental that I had as a child, which is the entire family worshipping together. Sometimes I pull them out of children's church just so they can get the experience, but I don't do it too often because the children's program is producing good results in my kids. It's a tug of war I'm dealing with, though.

  • Charming’s Mama

    I have heard it said that if you sit right up front with your kids they are more prone to pay attention because they can see whats going on. I have a one year old and a four year old. We sit on the second pew and I'm still waiting for the magic to happen. The kids are dismissed mid service for children's church after a mini children's sermon.

  • Jen

    I struggled for a long time with the need to have perfectly behaved kids so that I would come across as the perfect mother. In the middle of all that, I realized that not only were my expectations out of whack, but that I had so little grace for them or myself. I had to realize that they were children and if I didn't allow them to be, I would never experience those sweet moments that you are talking about here.

  • Michelle DeRusha@Graceful

    Susan, you are the sweetest — thanks for your kind words and for linking up today with your story.

    Ok, so I admit…I hate bringing my kids to church. I avoid it at all costs! Our church doesn't have Sunday School during the summer, and I die 1,000 deaths every Sunday from June-September. I do a hop, skip and leap when Sunday School starts back up again.

    But I am going to take your observations to heart. I agree, I believe they DO get something from being in church…and I just need to learn to relax and go with the flow (and it's all me…my church is really open and encouraging about kids in worship – - and the other kidless congregants are remarkably tolerant…much more so than I was before I had kids!).

  • mrsgleffter

    We so wrestled with this yesterday with a 2 year old in the 8:30 service and no nursery. I want my children to not be a distraction, yet definitely want them to be children and not have to be perfect. I needed to read this and the comments to remind myself that we are all human and the God loves the little children (even when wiggling and giggling during church).

  • Connie Mace

    "And when she prays the Lord’s Prayer at the top of her lungs, I’m going to savor every word."…yes! I love hearing the wee ones pray and sing…but then, I'm a grandma who has taught preschool for so many years:)

  • Amy Sullivan

    So glad to hear your voice!

    Love that Abby knew the Lord's Prayer befoe her ABC's.I think it is amazing that your church is infested with children. . .I think that's the way it should be!

  • Loni

    Our kids have been used to going to the church service with us as well. Our almost four year old would much rather be with us than go to the "nursery". We always get comments on how well behaved our kids are because they are used to sitting still. It's neat to hear later what little seeds have been planted that they talk about.

  • Deidra

    My pastor (who's also my husband) says that the sound of children in church lets everyone know the church is alive. I think it's like music.

    Ours is becoming a pretty vocal conversation. We talk back to the pastor with an "Amen" from time to time. In recent months, our youngest congregants have begun to pipe up, too. It's fun to hear.

  • Lisa Jordan

    My kids have been going to church since they were infants. Our church offers children's church, but that's not until midway through the service. My boys have had their moments where their church behavior caused a loss of privileges at home, but they learned.

    Children need to be in church just as much as adults. They need to know they are loved unconditionally. Also, their childlike faith is great for adults to model.

  • BigD

    Our church takes a compromise position: Once a quarter we have Family Worship where it's everybody in the pool! They specifically design those services to be right at 60 minutes (down from about 75 normally) and they do lots of kid stuff and the kids worship team does most of the leading. The sermon is more of a skit than a stand-up. It works great.
    I really didn't like taking my kids to worship when they were little. Our church offers age-appropriate classes starting at age 2 (nursery care before that). They were getting what they needed, and so was I (peace and time to focus).
    Our church also plans the lesson themes so everyone in all age groups is getting lessons on the same topic (like joy or faith). That way it's perfect for discussing what you learned at lunch.

  • shrinkingthecamel.com

    We used to have kids' Sunday school going on at the same time as church. But then a new pastor changed it, for the same reasons – to get kids to be part of the whole worshop experience – and a whole bunch of families left. Can you believe it? I guess they really wanted the babysitting …

  • Monica Sharman

    And that 4-year-old will probably become the 8-year-old who takes sermon notes and gets as much from the sermon as the 30-somethings around her!

  • Heidiopia

    You're so wise to be in the moment with your children during the service! Having them there teaches them (and us) what worship is all about. God doesn't care if they're fidgety and noisy. He cares that they are there– with you– worshipping Him. :) Bravo!

  • Monica Sharman

    Hi again! Just answering your question: Through the Bible with My Child requires that the child is able to read and write well (we started in 1st grade). There's no age maximum; it's good even for adults.

    By the way, I live not too far from Cook, so I guess I'll think of you whenever I drive by there. :)

  • Erin MacPherson

    Hi Susan- We brought our three-year-old into the service a few weeks ago and I confess: She's going to Sunday School for awhile now. She raised her hand in the MIDDLE of the sermon and said "Pastor! I saw an angel once at school! I made it!" and the ENTIRE congregation was looking at us. Maybe she's not quite ready. :)

  • Laura@OutnumberedMom

    I love worshipping together as a family, even with its challenges. As you say, everything has its season. Enjoy this one!

  • Susan DiMickele

    These are great comments. If I had a "children's service" I might just stick Abby in it, but for now I'm enjoying her in worship. Pretty soon, she won't want to sit on my lap any more.

  • amandatdodson

    It's amazing what little children can learn from big church! :)

  • http://profiles.google.com/gloria.colea Gloria Cole

    I go to a very small church. we don’t have a nursery. we have a small place in the back for the two moms in the church. the eldest baby just turned one. I love that they are there part of our small community. it is something that i feel makes my church special.

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