Where do kids belong in church?
Lisa wong | AUGUST 29, 2019 | 3 MIN READ
As a chatty children’s minister, I have conversed far and wide on the topic of where kids belong in church. Some folks say kids belong with adults, worshiping God and learning His Word together. Others say kids belong in a children’s program, worshiping God and learning His word with their peers. With either model, a church can fulfill biblical goals that relate to children’s ministry: making disciples (Matthew 28:18-20), teaching the next generation to love and obey God (Deuteronomy 6:7), and growing to maturity as a church (Ephesians 4:11-16).
“Big Church” vs. “Kids Church”
By including children with the adults in the worship service, a church may communicate that kids belong to the entire fellowship of believers. They have souls, they have spiritual needs, and they don’t have to wait until they are adults to use their gifts to build up the body. Moreover, by worshiping God alongside adults, children can naturally grow into worshiping adults themselves.
On the other hand, a worship program just for kids can be more engaging. They can hear and respond to the Word of God in ways that are fun, relevant, and easy to understand. Children can form relationships with peers that last a lifetime. They can ask questions and receive personal attention that will help them grow into worshipful adults.
Here are three factors to consider when choosing a model for where children will worship on Sundays.
1. The Parents
For the past decade, children’s ministry folks have emphasized the role of parents as the primary spiritual leaders of their children. Rather than replacing parents, the church should partner with them in discipling their children.
So think of the parents at your church. Are they willing and able to guide their children, modeling worship and continuing conversations begun in the worship service? Or would the church be a more effective partner by offering a children’s program?
Some churches prioritize welcoming kids from unchurched families on Sunday mornings. If there are many kids who do not have caring adults to sit with during the worship service, consider having a children’s program. This separate program might have a small group component during which kids can develop caring relationships with Christian adults.
3. Worship Service
Let’s face it. Some worship services would really struggle to connect with kids. Maybe the preaching style is abstract or maybe the children don’t speak the language. Other churches might excel. I once attended a church where the praise leader included in his set the children’s song “My God is So Big,” relating it to the sermon on God’s sovereignty. It was glorious to join in as children and adults proclaimed God’s greatness together. But not all churches have that ability, and that’s okay.
The Key to Success
Regardless of which model you choose, the key to effective children’s ministry is collaboration. So if kids are in the worship service, work with the worship service leaders to make it accessible to them. Charge the whole congregation to be role models of Christian worship. Support parents in helping their kids engage in the service. Check in with kids to make sure they understand their role in the worship service.
On the other hand, if kids have their own program, collaborate with the youth or young adult ministry as well as the worship service leaders on how to transition the kids well into “big church” when they are older. Sadly, some kids drop out of church when they age out of the children’s program. So recruit congregants to serve in the children’s ministry so that kids can have caring role models and see familiar faces around church. Support parents in their role as primary spiritual leaders of their kids by keeping in touch. Equip the kids to serve so they are not always on the receiving end of ministry, expecting everyone to cater to their needs and preferences.
Collaboration can make or break children’s ministry strategies. One Sunday, in anticipation of kids joining the adults in the worship service, I made puzzles. To solve the puzzle, kids had to listen to the sermon, fill in the blanks, and arrange them to form a message: “Today is Andy’s Birthday. Wish him a happy birthday.” Unfortunately, I had not collaborated with the parents. Unused to having Andy with them, his parents just wanted to keep him busy and gave him schoolwork to do during the service. He had no idea why his peers were wishing him a happy birthday.
The above-mentioned example is just a one-time incident. But imagine a kid who sits in the worship service week after week, ignoring the sermon and doing schoolwork. Imagine a kid whose parents don’t know what happens in her children’s program and never ask. Children’s ministers and directors must do the hard work of prayerful collaboration with worship service leaders, congregants, parents, and kids in order to disciple the next generation. So let’s team up and get to work.
Lisa Wong Barrios (Th.M., Talbot School of Theology) loves to encourage folks who serve their churches. She was the Director of Children’s Ministry at Alhambra True Light Presbyterian Church until 2018, when she resigned to focus on raising her own kids. Lisa remains at ATLPC where she volunteers in the girls fellowship group.