And I just realized how appropriate that first column is. It's titled "Transitional Insanity," and you can read it here. The reason it's appropriate is that I'm stepping down as its editor, and matriarchs Ann and RevHoney are going to take it over. I'm moving on to somewhat bigger and definitely stranger things, which you can read about in this post on my newish, married-name blog.
But we're not here for that news--I just wanted to note it. We're here for the children. At least, I think we are:
We have suddenly had a population explosion of small children and babies. This is great but now what to do with them? Some want the kids in church for the whole service, some want them to just be in the service for a short time, others want them out in Sunday school or their own service during the main service. What do you do? And why?
I've seen just about everything done in the three different churches I've attended regularly as an adult, none of which dovetails with the experience I had as a kid myself (that is, a member of the junior choir from the age of 3--because my mom was the choirmaster).
So: the matriarchs say:
Ann has the most amazing sources. From them, we get:
Well, we have Sunday School from 15 minutes before the service starts until the Peace. We do it that way because those without children are positively, absolutely sure that people won't come if we don't offer Sunday School for children. We've done it for a few years that way, and that equates to "we've ALWAYS done it that way." Of course, we have only a few children who attend now, so I am not sure the logic holds up.
For the last few years I have been telling Godly Play stories during that time, which I love and the kids love. (The adults love them too when I get a chance to use them in the "big" church.)
I think I would like to have the children attend the entire service. We do that monthly, and involve the kids as lectors and worship leader and pray-ers. Our service is fairly casual, and that lends itself to kid participation. THE book that motivated me the most is "Children at Worship, Congregations in Bloom" by Caroline Fairless. I think it's out of print, unfortunately, but you can join their website at http://www.childrenatworship.org/
Now, some families prefer to keep their kids with them when they worship. One of my churches has a cry room that's separate from the sanctuary but has windows through which you can see into it, and audio is piped into the room. Helps a lot with some of the issues Jan notes--and it's something that's included in her suggestions:
Great problem to have, but it creates lots of mini-problems:
- what about screamers?
- what about squirmers?
- what about clueless parents?
- what about cranky non-parents?
Just last Sunday, we had a parent/child wrestling match (on the third row from the front no less) with a four-year-old crawling over the second row and back under to return to family (over and over again) and the 6 year old sibling loudly protesting his presence with us in the first place.
I was (miraculously) able to keep preaching, but I could tell that some of the worshippers around this family were wishing they'd take them out. (As in "out of the sanctuary," not as in some kind of wild west shootout.)
I don't know about you, but I totally laughed out loud when I read that. As in nearly snarfed soda all over the monitor, but I digress. As Jan continues, some parents see their kids so rarely because of long work hours that the last thing they want to do is banish their toddler yet again. Other parents are nervous about respiratory and other bugs that can get passed around in nurseries making targets of still-developing immune systems. "Kids in worship no longer sit erectly in the pews with little bow ties and patent leather shoes with nary a peep from any of them," she says, to which I think, was that what i was supposed to be doing instead of drawing pictures on the visitor feedback cards?
Some suggestions from Jan:
Bottom line: Hospitality is important, and for every tolerant worshipper who doesn't mind the cute toddler waving at him/her throughout the sermon, there will be an intolerant worshipper who is distracted and frustrated. Try to make policies/plans to respect both kinds of people.
- Have awesome, regular nursery workers who are paid well, vetted thoroughly, and have CPR training and sweet spirits.
- Have "worship bags" for pre-schoolers who will be staying in the sanctuary. They can be simple brightly colored cloth bags with handles with Bible stories, coloring books, crayons, children's bulletins, etc. inside. We keep ours in a basket in the lobby for kids to pick up on their way into worship. You'll need a volunteer to clean out the trash and replenish the bags each week.
- Have programs during at least part of the worship time that are age appropriate (like Godly Play)
- Create a "crying room" which is also handy for nursing babies, crawling babies, and squirmers. Be sure it's equipped with a way to hear/see worship and include those parents as much as possible (e.g. be sure they are offered communion, etc.)
- Remind the congregation that "We love babies and children." I know of one congregation that stops everything when a baby cries, not to embarrass the parents but to recognize that that child is speaking out and deserves to be heard.
After all, the spirit does move in mysterious ways. Sometimes it's not just the spirit, as when a three-year-old offers in a semi-outside voice, "Mommy, I have to go number two" and the entire congregation has to hold back a giggle.
As Peripatetic Polar Bear notes:
That's a hard question to answer for someone else. There are several variables.
First of all, what is your theology of childhood? What do you think --on a philosophical and theological level?
Second, what is the custom at this church? I won't be surprised if the two are totally different.
My recommendation is that you do this as a church--talk through the developmental and theological aspects of the decision. It would make a great adult Sunday School. And then come up with a solution that represents what you as a church believe about childhood and children's ability to experience worship. The only piece of caution I'd throw out is this: if you do Sunday School during church, what happens to the children whose parents want them in worship? I get nervous about solutions that make parents choose between worship and education. If you opt for something that happens during worship, you also will want to consider at what age children should be attending worship, and how will that transition take place?
My parent's church, with many, many kids does this:
9 a.m. early service. no child care.
10 a.m. sunday school for all ages.
11 a.m. later service. childcare for 2 and under provided, as well as children's church for kids 2-10.
This way, parents can choose what works for their beliefs. But of course, that's a larger church that has more staff and options than many.
My personal belief is that kids need to experience worship. I think kids that attend worship are more likely to be teens that attend worship. But I think having kids in worship is not as simple as saying "come on in, be quiet, have a crayon." You have to think about how to become child-friendly. How much noise do you tolerate? What is your liturgy like? Are there parts of the worship that repeat every week that someone who can't read can do? What are your sermons like? Are there parts that invite a child's imagination? Do you ever sing hymns or songs with really easy refrains? Can you involve older children in worship leadership? How do you feel about kids sitting separate from their parents? Who will sit with kids whose parents are in the choir? Or are the pastor? How ready is your congregation to welcome, REALLY WELCOME kids? (And of course, this gets longer---how ready are you to welcome the elderly, the single, the disabled....) I think it's a great conversation to have.
But that's just me.
Singing Owl offers the perspective of a church without a lot of small children:
We don't have lots of children, so we don't have Sunday School, but we do want even the small ones and babies to have a positive experience at church. So we have Children's Church for the older kids, but we do have nursery for the babies and toddlers. Many of them love music and come into the service during the music time and then go to their little nursery classroom. Others go to the nursery right away. The little ones get more than babysitting. They hear music (and sing it if possible) and they play, and they learn simple prayers and they have simple stories and crafts, coloring and so on. The nursery area is well-stocked with age-appropriate books and music and toys. It is much more enjoyable for a squirmy toddler to be able to walk around, and it is much more likely that mom and dad will actually get something out of the service if Toddler Timmy and Tina are not climbing over the back of the pew, or crying, etc. Of course, some parents just won't put the little ones in a classroom. I strongly believe that toddlers and even babies are learning about church, and love, and so on. It is very important to make their experience a positive one. Grown-up church is not designed for little ones. That said, we do have children with parents once a month—not till they are four though.
And RevHoney's is a larger church with a lot of kids—and a lot of choices:
We have a bright nursery that is well-staffed and secure for infants through age 2.
We encourage families to sit toward the front of the sanctuary so that the children can see what is going on. When I conduct baptisms, I will often invite the children to sit on the floor in front of the font. I teach them (and the congregation) as I baptize.
We have fabric bags filled with quiet toys and things to occupy children. These things are frequently rotated in and out so kids find something new every few weeks.
We offer children's church for children age 3 through second grade, but only during the lessons and the sermon. They come back into the sanctuary at the time of the offering and are there for communion.
Many parents find our contemporary service in our Christian Life Center most child-friendly, because there is space for the children to play quietly and even to run a bit in the back of the space. Parents can sit at tables with their families there and sometimes the children will come to the front and dance together during the sending song.
Our next step to be more welcoming to our children is to welcome them to communion at the point when their parents think they are ready. We are providing texts for the parents to use at home to talk with their children about the sacrament, sharing the responsibility of readying their children for the table with them.
And if all else fails, stick them in a junior choir and make them sing very loudly every week for a decade or so. They might wind up growing up and editing an advice column for priests for a couple of years. :D