Guest Blogger: Jason Helopoulos

I remember sitting as a small child in church sucking on wintergreen mints and drawing battle scenes on the offering envelopes (my mother would always give me a tap of correction when the explosions were a little too loud with my scribbling pencil). And though I might have been preoccupied with my wintergreen mints and airplanes dropping bombs on tanks, I was picking things up. Was it easy for my single mother to corral a feisty little boy and his sister in the pew? No, it is a testimony to her patience and grace! But it was good for my soul.

As the church, let’s be open to the idea of inviting our children into worship again. Let’s be patient, deliberate, and wise, but let’s encourage families to have their children in worship as soon as they are able. Not all families or children will be ready to do this as each family functions under different circumstances. So having said this, let’s not go overboard. I think every church should have a well-equipped nursery at least for children under the age of five years old and even beyond if they deem it appropriate. In addition, we must be sensitive to visiting families and those that just aren’t convinced that children belong in corporate worship. So we must be patient and understanding, but it is something we should be aimed at before our children are driving cars! Even if our children cannot understand all that is happening, struggle to sit still, and even are bored at times during the service they are still benefiting from being in the midst of this divine meeting between God and His people (Mark 10:13-16). And at the very least they will come to appreciate the power of wintergreen mints.

Today, I want to offer a few reasons on why we should encourage the children of the church to attend our corporate worship services. Tomorrow, I will pass along some helpful hints for parenting in the pew.

Why should children attend the worship service?

  1. Our children are members of the covenant community (the church): Corporate Worship on Sunday morning is the primary activity the covenant community engages in together (Acts 2:42; Ephesians 10:24-25). Therefore, our children as members of this community should be included in this crucial aspect of covenantal life.
  2. Our children will be present in the midst of the means of grace: Our children benefit by being where the Word is preached (Romans 10:14), the sacraments are administered (Matthew 28:19-20), and corporate prayer is practiced (Acts 2:42-47). These are the chief means by which God pours out grace upon His people. Why knowingly rob our children of this blessing?!
  3. Our children will be present in the midst of the entire congregation: Our children benefit greatly by being in the presence of Christians of various ages. They are able to see that the faith of their parents is not a faith that they own alone, but is a faith that is important to all of these people who are gathered around them on Sunday morning. This only reinforces what Mom and Dad are modeling and teaching when they see this incredible gathering of people reading the Word together, praying together, confessing together, and singing together (Deuteronomy 31:9-13). They need to see the body in action.
  4. Our children will be present with their parents: Worshipping together as a family helps to counter the current trend in our society  of fragmenting our families. If our children join us in worship from four years of age until they are eighteen they will worship with their parents in 780 Sunday morning worship services! Think about the cumulative effect of a family worshipping together, in the midst of the means of grace, meeting with God for 780 Sundays in a row.
  5. Our children will witness their parents worshipping: It is the Biblical role of parents to disciple their children in the faith (Deut. 6; Psalm 78; Eph. 6). What a benefit there is when children witnesses their mother or father singing with conviction, praying in reverence, listening intently to the sermon, or receiving the Lord’s Supper in joy. In these moments a child witnesses the importance of faith and worship. There are few greater encouragements to a child’s faith then seeing their parents worship God with reverence and joy. (Exodus 12:1-28; Deut. 4:9-11; Deut. 6; Psalm 78; Ezra 10:1; Nehemiah 12:43; Joel 2:12-17; Acts 16:33).
  6. Our children will learn the rhythms of church life: Teenagers in our culture often balk at attending corporate worship. But how many of our teenagers have we setup for this reaction, because we did not consistently include them in worship until they were a teenager? If attending church for years has always meant coloring Bible pictures, singing songs to a cd, playing games, and doing crafts—then we should not be surprised that our young people find worship to be odd, uncomfortable, and even boring. I love good children’s songs—they ring through my house. I love good children’s Christian crafts—they decorate my study. But if this alone is the rhythm of church life we have set up for our children week in and week out, we have done them a great disservice. They must see, know, and learn that the singing of the great hymns of the faith, the preaching of the Word, reading of confessions, corporate prayers, etc. is anything but boring. It is the gathered life of the community of faith. It is our weekly rhythm—appointed by God, designed by Him, established for the ages—this is what we want them to know, because we want them to know and worship Him.
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48 thoughts on “Children in Worship–Let’s Bring it Back”

  1. Bev C says:

    Jason,
    Great post.

    Under the 1st point, “Our children are members of the covenant community (the church)”, you refer to Eph 10:24-25 and it probably should be Hebrews 10:24-25.

  2. Marie Zylstra says:

    Amen!

  3. Jason Helopoulos says:

    Bev, you are right. If someone is looking for Ephesians 10 they may be looking for a while! Thank you.

  4. kpolo says:

    The greatest damage of the “childrens ministry” and “youth ministry” model that forces kids out of the “adult” worship experience is that you have these kids turn into teens into college grads – and they are unaware of what sound pulpit teaching and worship should look like!

  5. Jacob Lee says:

    All our children were with us in church on Sunday mornings as they grew up…I look back with fondness to those days :-).

  6. Bill says:

    One of the big issues discussed today is our children leaving the church. I appreciate Kevin not directly address this point, but I do believe the topic he is discussing today has much to do with it. I can’t recall where I saw it, but there is a great movie out there produced by an eighteen year old who strongly believes his generation is leaving the church because we group everyone together by age (and his age group is not getting fed) instead of worshiping corporately.

  7. Bill says:

    CORRECTION: I mentioned Kevin by name as the author then realized it was Jason Helopoulos who wrote the article. Sorry, Jason.

  8. Jeff says:

    Excellent post, Jason. Looking forward to tomorrow’s.

  9. Chap says:

    Long time reader. First time comments. I agree with this post 100%. Our family and church have been intentionally including our children for 20 years. It is just one part of reinstating family discipleship. I so believe in this practice, I have written a small little booklet that might be of help. You can view it here.

  10. Pablo says:

    Amen and Amen! That’s all I have to say about that!

  11. Benjamin says:

    I would add that having children in church service kind of pushes us to be more interconnected. For example, I really looked up to the older kids when I was a little kid in church, so if I saw a college kid or a high schooler sitting next to me absorbed in service, I would pay much more attention. As a college student now, I wish I had gotten more involved in my local church over the course of my years here, especially by inserting myself in the midst of families.

  12. David Axberg says:

    Amen and amen. If you practice worshiping in the home with the little ones sitting on a lap for a devotional or so then when it comes to a sermon it is not as hard. looking forward to tomorrow’s parenting in the pew. God Bless Now!

  13. Nick Rolland says:

    Great post. Here’s a link to the website for the National Center for Family Integrated Churches: http://www.ncfic.org/

  14. Sam O'Neal says:

    As a parent (and a child who had to sit through hundreds of “big church” services in total boredom), I strongly disagree with this idea. And I do so on the grounds of “unintended curriculum.”

    Sure, children may “pick up” a few tidbits of information while they scribble on the offering folder (or play Angry Birds on their parents’ phone). But behind the scenes they are learning several ideas that will make things difficult for them in the future.

    –They are learning that church is something that must be endured. By extension, they are in danger of coming to the conclusion that a relationship with God must be endured.

    –They are learning that things associated with the Bible are boring. And they are in danger of concluding that the Bible itself is boring.

    –When they are chastised for speaking too loudly or wiggling during a service, children are learning that church is all about obeying rules. And they quickly make the jump to associate Christianity with making rules.

    Yes, children are a legitimate part of the Body of Christ, but including them in services designed for adults tends to make adults feel better — not children.

  15. LaughingLady says:

    Sam, I really feel that the only reason children learn church are merely something to be endured, that the Bible is boring, and that sitting through a service is all about following a bunch of rules, is because that is what’s portrayed by their parents’ lifestyle. It’s not simply because their parents took them to church.

    Sure, they may not understand most of what’s being said, but if they see their parents WANTING to be there, if they see their parents WANTING to pay attention and HUNGERING for the Word of God and, most importantly, LIVING IT OUT on a daily basis, LOVING their relationship with God and living out their gratitude for it by joyfully serving others, I don’t think those children will ever grow up with negative impressions of the church experience.

  16. Joshua says:

    Excellent post! I greatly appreciate this. As a child I benefitted greatly from worshipping with my parents.

  17. Bob says:

    Jason, Thanks for your thoughts. I just hope that people are gracious enough to bless churches that still have children not in the adult worship but in their age appropriate worship. I am reformed and covenant believing and see the positive side of separate worship. It is a neat picture of God’s family raising our children together. As one who has 4 children who were raised in separate worship places until 4-5 grade they love the Lord, His Church, are members and positive about there experience in discipleship. My children from 4th-5th grade up were able to learn, observe and experience all the things spoken about in the post. I just ask us all to be positive and affirming of both sides of the issue. They are seeking to glorify God and make disciples.

  18. Susan Endo says:

    Our children were raised in the service with us, and now our grandchildren are being raised in the same way. Most of the children sit with their parents. However, one of my daughters, with five rambunctuous youngsters, under the age of ten, was struggling to control them during the services. Her husband, a chef, usually works on Sundays, and can’t be there to help her. Recently our pastor asked several older couples in the church to each have one of her children sit by them during the service. We have our 4 year old grandson. This arrangement is working very well, and the children are made to feel special by their care-takers.

  19. As a mother of two who are home and one who is currently in Taiwan but will be home via adoption sometime this summer, I love this.

    As a special needs ministry coordinator, I see one crucial point missing, which may be addressed in tomorrow’s post with practical tips: what if the child has a disability? Given the rates of disability, we need to be considering how to include people with disabilities so that they may worship too in unity with other believers in our congregations. All of the six points still apply if a child has a disability, but the way in which the child is included and supported in church may be different.

    One cool thing about this, though? I find that churches who welcome children are more likely to welcome people with special needs, because both demographics might make noise from time to time or exhibit some degree of atypical church behavior. If a church already accepts that from children, they are often more likely to be patient and grace-full in their reactions to someone with a disability who isn’t worshiping in the same way as everyone else.

  20. sara says:

    I love this post, Jason! Thank you. I want to add a factor I’ve not yet read here: The personality and characteristics of the child/ren in question. My brother and I were given a choice as to whether we would go to “children’s church” or stay in the main worship service after our age-appropriate Sunday school class. I was shy, so I opted to stay with my parents and grandparents. Did this work for me? Yes, because I loved associating with adults! It made me feel grown up! I did doodle on the bulletin til I was old enough to listen and understand, but even so, there was benefit. I could see my parents and grandparents paying rapt attention; I could hear them all singing out their praises to the Lord – and for this reason alone I know hymns! I think I could make a case even for saying that my cognitive skills were honed early on, as I fought to track with the pastor’s sermon. I’m now 36, and my father and grandmother are both with the Lord, and I am so grateful for these precious memories from childhood. I have great appreciation seeing folks of all ages worshiping together.

  21. Jeff says:

    Sam, it looks like you and I are the only dissenters to this post. While I appreciate the idea of all ages together, I don’t think a traditional service, aimed at adults, is a good fit for children for all the point you mentioned. But a family ministry service that is actually aimed at kids, but includes adults does work. North Point Community (Andy Stanley)in Atlanta pulls this off quite well.

  22. Well written post and thanks for being willing to put this out there. Having been in children’s ministry for 12 years – volunteer and paid – this is a hot topic that comes around from time to time. I like how you base your ideas on God’s Word…which is the ONLY thing that should determine our views on this! Preferences and “our ideas” don’t really matter when it comes down to it. With that in mind, do we see youth or children’s ministry anywhere in God’s Word? That move that Bill mentioned is called Divided – http://dividedthemovie.com – and is worth watching. Also the companion book “Weed in the Church” gives some great historical insight into where age segragated programming came from.

    Dr. Rob Rienow just wrote an article that I think plays into this discussion as well: http://www.missionfrontiers.org/issue/article/the-essential-role-of-the-family-in-world-evangelization#.T1GrRGG-5jc.facebook

    This part is like a 1-2 punch:
    ________________________

    Evangelism and discipleship are in dire crisis, and it is a generational crisis. We’re losing more of our own children to the world than we are winning adult converts to faith in Christ. As a result, the percentage of Bible-believing Christians in the United States is in steady decline.

    How could this be happening? This is the age of mega-churches, mega-programming, mega-budgets, mega-conferences, and mega-leadership training. We have Christian books, DVDs, and curriculum for every age group on every subject. Our outreach events, service days, retreats, and short-term mission trips are never ending. We are doing more than ever before, but are we making disciples more than ever before? I am convinced the answer is no.

    When it comes to youth and children’s ministry, we must acknowledge that the “new experiment” has failed. The new experiment is age-segregated, church-building based, evangelism and discipleship of children. Parents drop them off. We split them up by age in different rooms in the building and “disciple” them. In terms of Christian history, this is a brand-new idea.

    Slowly but surely, we abandoned the biblical model of family discipleship and delegated the spiritual training of our children to “professionals” at church. I led this model at a large church for over a decade. One of the unintended consequences of my ministry approach which systematically separated children from their parents was that parents were free to remain spiritually passive at home. After all, they were making sure that their son or daughter was involved in a “great youth group.”
    _________________________

    The family is essential to the spreading of the gospel into the world, and the Church has intentionally replaced the role of the parents! It’s time the Church stop, exhale, apologize to families, and let them know they are the ones who will disciple their children. The Church cannot and should not do it! The common objection of “Well, most families don’t worship or disciple their children, or are uncomfortable with it. We can’t expect them to do it” doesn’t hold Biblical water: if families decided that giving / tithing to your church was no longer something they couldn’t do or were uncomfortable with, would we just say “That’s ok, we’ll do it for you.”? I doubt it, we would teach and preach that giving is Biblical and important. Why should family discipleship and worship be any different?

    I’m a bit unorthodox and controversial – and have even lost jobs because of my views – but am not sure what other conclusions we can come to when looking at the whole council of the Bible. Lessings to everyone…

  23. Craig Schill says:

    I think it is important to acknowledge that this is a sensitive area that has been a divisive point in many churches, including our own.

    I have heard stories on both ends. One of our members went to a church where the usher tapped them on the shoulder to let them know that were “supposed to” send their kids off to another service. A forced separation – when the family wanted to stay together. But also, I have heard from young parents, who use a “children’s church” program, and are looked down on by family-integrated parents whose kids are with them at all times. They almost instinctively feel sorry that the “separated family” does not have the level of spirituality they do. And the church is, again, divided.

    So in our church, we have a class during the second half of the worship service that is intentionally optional. Every week we tell parents, “If this class is a blessing to you, you are welcome to send your children now with so-and-so in the back of the sanctuary, however, if you prefer to keep your children with you, that is fine as well. It is your choice as a parent.”

    About half use the class, and half do not. We want both to know that they are supported by the church. Neither is exalted or looked down upon. What a joy to worship in unity and not to be divided over being too dogmatic on such an issue.

  24. Woody says:

    To both sides: why not both and? Why not provide children’s programming during the school year and have children participate in the worship services during the summer/other regular school breaks?

    To Sam/dissenters: I’d have to suggest that sometimes church is to be endured. Sometimes you will perceive the Bible as boring. Some of our relationship with God and others is following rules. Mature faith can accept these as part of a holistic relationship with Christ and the church; a church culture that *perpetually* says to children “we will put the cookies at your level” is a perpetuation of immaturity. And I disagree that having children in church tends to make adults happy. It just as often makes them miserable. That’s good for them too. I can’t get behind the idea of an abandonment of children’s ministry (ministry specifically directed to children). I have been in that professional field for over ten years. But to never enter adult worship? Can’t get behind that either.

  25. Donna says:

    And the church is reminded to come to our Father as his little children.

  26. Dana says:

    I have to wonder if the thing keeping children out of the worship service is logistics/convenience more than anything.

    I grew up in a church that had 8:00 worship, 9:30 Sunday School hour, 11:00 worship. If parents wanted their children to attend Sunday school, parents had to attend Adult Sunday school. If parents wanted to attend church, children had to attend with them, or stay in the nursery.

    The church I now attend has 8:00, 9:30, 11:00 worship. All of the children’s Sunday school classes are at 9:30, as well as most of the adult classes. You can guess what happens. The most popular service is at 9:30, and all the children are in Sunday school while their parents are in worship service. Adult Sunday school attendance is low.

    It seems to me easy to talk about why children should be in worship services, but to *not* talk about Sunday morning schedules ignores a large part of what goes into the parent’s decision.

  27. Pam says:

    Let’s lovingly and nonjudgmentally provide care for children who for whatever reason cannot sit still or be quiet while the pastor is preaching. And let’s not make – “sucessfully” keeping one’s children with the family during the preaching,- a measure of one’s holiness.

  28. Well, if our church services are not “appropriate for children,” maybe it’s time something changed in our services?? The Bible is chalk full of stories not considered appropriate for kids, but reading the Bible is a minimum for families to do with kids – should we stop doing that as well?

    We have gotten so far off track in how effective and Biblical discipleship is done. We think we an pluck kids and teens out of their families, do some training, “relate” to them, and tell them now go and be good! That is what in essence the church has become! We no longer expect day in and day out obedience of God’s Word, so long as you look god on Sunday morning! It’s a social club…so of course we need programs that are targeted towards kids and youth! We couldn’t possibly expect parents to actually obey the award of God?!

    Kids being in worship with their families is so important because it speaks directly to the theological issue of what the church should be about: strengthening and calling families of all sorts to faithful obedience to God. If parents are unwilling to worship with their kids, what else are they unwilling to do?

  29. Pam says:

    Hearing the sermon is also important. It grieves me when people talk while the pastor is talking.

  30. Great stuff! And great discussion here too! I’m glad to see that no one is riled up and yelling back and forth.

    For my wife and myself, it is somewhat miserable on many Sundays having a toddler and 7 month old in service, but that is how we have to do it in our church plant while we are small, but we also don’t mind it at all because we want our boys to experience all of worship.

    I have seen the both/and model done and I think it is best at the end of the day. One church that we were in allowed for parents to drop off their babies and toddlers before service began if they wanted to, but just before the sermon gave space for anyone else who had toddlers/babies to take them down to the nursery and this was the time for children’s church to occur also. This church being one that celebrated the eucharist every week, all of the children were back at the end of the sermon to be part of that aspect of the service.

    So, for those whose kids were a bit too much to handle (babies and toddlers) they had the option from beginning to Eucharist to have their children in the nursery with time to take them down before the sermon if they wanted. Children’s church was during the sermon and everyone was back for the last part. I think that is a great model and everyone liked it that I know of.

    My wife and I occasionally dropped our toddler off in the nursery before service, but usually kept him in until the sermon so that he could experience that part of worship and knowing that he would mostly not pay any attention as a 2 yo to the sermon. However, now that he is almost three, he does like to sit and watch our preacher and I really think that he is paying attention to him for the most part, which is a good thing!

  31. Kevin Glenn says:

    While I respect the passion of the author, the piece is a great example of flawed either/or reasoning. This is not a problem to be solved, but a tension to be managed. Optional children’s worship provides the opportunity for parents, children, and the church community to share in the nurture of these little ones. Those that prefer their children stay – so be it. Those with children that would better benefit from a children’s worship setting – so be it. I assume a children’s worship setting will have adults, no? Likely, these will be adults who were / are parents and grandparents? So the child is still exposed to worshipping parents, godly adults, faithful teaching, and church rhythms (assuming a children’s setting will include empasis on Christmas, Resurrection, missions, etc…)

    My church offers the option after the congregational singing. So children are in “big church” for some, or all of the time, depending on the decision of the parents.

    I’m a product of children’s worship. It is through children’s worship that I learned from adults in addition to my parents. Those men and women, those songs, lessons, and stories provided a robust faith foundation.

    Rather than an either/or proposition, what if we instead equipped and enabled parents to apply wisdom toward a both/and – win/win opportunity?

  32. Kevin Glenn says:

    Oops, I forgot to mention that I’m a pastor … something those adults from way back in Children’s church might be surprised to know :)

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Kevin DeYoung


Kevin DeYoung is senior pastor of University Reformed Church (RCA) in East Lansing, Michigan, near Michigan State University. He and his wife Trisha have six young children. You can follow him on Twitter.

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