Over the years, I have gone to various-sized churches—big churches, small churches, and tiny churches. Every church had some parents who had their younger kids sit and worship with them. Due to some churches not having a children’s ministry, my kids sat with me sometimes. It can be a beautiful, precious time of worship, and other times it can be an anxious, distracting time of worship. But if you enjoy and value having the family together during church, here are some tools that were always helpful when I had my kids with me.
1. Come armed with food.
We know we come to church for spiritual sustenance, but with little kids in the main service, make sure you come with real food. Pack snacks that don’t crunch in bags that don’t crackle. It’s fun to have the kids with you in worship, but hungry kids are not happy kids. This is a trick not only for church but pretty much for anywhere and everywhere you go with young kids. A bottle of water and snacks will help immensely. (Side note, please don’t bring gum. The church janitor will thank you!)
2. To screen or not to screen?
OK. I’m just going to say it. I’ve done this myself, but I’ve always wondered what the benefit of it was. Giving our small kids screens and things to watch while we listen to a sermon may have the family all together, but how is it helpful, other than keeping them distracted? I don’t know the answer to this one because you can’t always find a babysitter and sometimes, you just want to get through service without a hitch (no shame there). But there’s got to be a better way. At the very least, can they watch Buck Denver or Veggie Tales or some Bible-based show? (Do people still watch Buck Denver and VeggieTales? Those were my kids’ favorites.)
3. Pack activity bags!
This tool takes some preparation, but some parents really enjoy this part. Make a grab bag or folder of word searches, coloring books, and/or crosswords that are Bible-based. Or even better, make one that goes along with the current sermon theme. Find out what the passage for the week is on and correlate it with your activities. Doing this will at least have the whole family on the same biblical themes for discussion over lunch. Maybe even have a prize available later if they finish or complete them all correctly. Make it a fun experience for your kids so they don’t dread going to church.
4. Teach self-control.
Depending on the age of your kids, self-control and patience are good tools to teach them. My parents did this with me—we simply had to learn to sit quietly. People have mixed feelings about this one, but sometimes we, as parents, are too inclined to skip over this idea because we think our kids can’t handle it. It’s definitely difficult for some kids to sit still and be patient, but other kids can do so more easily. You know your kids, and sometimes you can expect them to try to listen and follow along in their kids’ Bible, especially if the sermons are more narrative-based.
5. Find balance.
There are two schools of thought when it comes to children and church. One says, no matter what, consistently going to church (to children’s church, main service, or watching online) will create habits that will stay with kids as they mature into adults. The other school of thought says kids need to always have a fun and enjoyable environment for them to appreciate church when they get older.
Find the balance. Find your family’s balance. Habits are important, but if your kids dread church, something needs to change. An enjoyable experience is important but learning a disciplined life is also a valuable lesson. Both schools of thought are true to a certain extent. But you know your family and your children best and what they need in the way they need it. And God knows your heart, and He is at work in the hearts of your children.
In the end, what is most important is that you are daily leading your family to follow Jesus and Scripture. Sunday mornings are helpful, but if you are not emphasizing following Jesus, studying the Word of God, and growing in the fruit of the Spirit throughout the week, Sunday mornings won’t help that much after all. If you are worried about your kids, know that God is at work in their lives and has a unique journey for each of them. You can only live out your faith as an example and prayerfully ask that God would lead them on His paths in His timing.
Y Bonesteele lived on mission in Madrid, Spain, for six and half years. She has her M.Div., with an emphasis in evangelism and discipleship, from Talbot School of Theology. She currently resides in Middle Tennessee with her husband and four children and wonders where they sell “jamón ibérico” in Tennessee.