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Children in Church

CB066288I’m not a fan of the adage, “Children are meant to be seen and not heard.”

We want our son to worship with us at church.

We don’t prefer for him to spend the entire morning in a daycare setting at the church nursery.  We love the nursery, and we love serving there. We’d just prefer to have Calvin learn to sit quietly with us during church.

When he was a newborn, our son would sleep contentedly in our arms throughout the entire service.  Then, he got older and more aware of his surroundings.

He’d get easily distracted or he was overly irritated since church always falls at a time that is most inopportune for babies and small children.  It’s right, smackdab in the middle of naptime.

Young mothers (and fathers) are all too familiar with this plight.  They might be seen pacing the back of the church, or a hallway trying to soothe a tired baby.

There are parents who think children should just chill out in the nursery or children’s church (or Sunday School, or similar separate service) until they’re old enough to sit still and pay attention.  It’s less of a distraction for others around them, and the parents can worship in peace.

On the other hand, there are churches and parents who think that children and parents should worship together as part of the corporate body.  Children learn by observing adults worshiping through prayer, singing, and listening to a sermon.

How are they to learn that behavior unless they’re exposed to it repeatedly, beginning at a young age?

If they’re not trained to sit still when they’re little, at what age are they suddenly supposed to do so?  Must they pull seven hour stretches of attention-span throughout the day as soon as they’re in kindergarten?

If they don’t learn to sit still so that they can absorb and listen, won’t they most certainly miss out on valuable learning opportunities at a young age and in the future?

Why can’t a toddler understand and learn what’s going on at church?  I’m amazed, daily, at how much my son understands of our words and speech.  It won’t be long, another year, perhaps two, before he understands many of the words in a sermon.

I don’t underestimate the innate learning ability in children. I’ve been told by some parents that children aren’t old enough to pay attention to a sermon when they’re toddlers.  If they’re fussy and talkative, they should just stay in the nursery.  After all, they’re sooo young!

Sometimes, not always, but sometimes the very parents who share those thoughts with me are the ones whose children haven’t been taught to sit still and listen.  They’re the ones that run through the aisles or twirl in circles throughout the service.  Those very parents subtly imply to me if my son happens to cry aloud once or twice during the service that he’s far too young to sit with us during the service.

We prefer to have our son with us when we worship.  Some weeks it’s a long and difficult time.  We take turns leaving the sanctuary to work on training our son.  We’ve learned that we MUST attend early service because the late service is too late for our already tired boy.  Big picture, we’ve learned that our son CAN be trained to be quiet and still in church.

It’s been a tough balance between working on training our son to not be a distraction to others in church by not being a distraction.  It does not happen overnight.  It’s been through consistent teaching, training, and love.  Oh, and this is still a work in progress.

Trying to keep him quiet with raisins was a tragic mistake.  He soon learned how to raise his voice to get what he wanted and manipulate the situation.  As soon as we trained him at home with the expected behavior, and we reinforced that behavior during church, it was only a matter of weeks before he responded the way we expected of him.

There are weeks that it’s trying for all of us, but 90 percent of the time, our son relaxes on my husband’s lap or in my arms throughout the service.

When it’s time to stand up and sing.  He joyfully claps his hands and sings, too.  At the conclusion of a prayer, he exclaims, “Amen!”  Sometimes, when everyone is quiet and still, and the only voice that can be heard is the pastor preaching a sermon, sometimes you can hear my son’s voice in a room filled with over 500 people.

Because, sometimes he roars like a lion.

Well, that’s happened only once.  My husband and I could barely stifle our own laughter at such an unexpected sound.


Do you think children should be allowed to worship with adults in church?  Or, do you think everyone benefits more if children worship in their own separate service?  At what age should children be expected to sit still and pay attention in church?

–By Dr. Dolly
Twitter me: drdolly

7 Responses

  1. Yes, I think it’s a good idea. Sometimes it’s good to work your way up to the time limit that is used at church. For instance, start with singing time. At our church most of the singing is happening first. This a bit easier to sit through. Then when the preaching begins, many times they are ready to relax and rest or they may need a potty break or just a change of scenery. As they get older they will become better and better.

  2. I love having my kids with me during worship time and even if the service if they can be quiet and are engaged. But if they would rather be in their own class, I am happy with that, too! I like having the option.


  3. wow, this is certainly food for thought. i admit we definitely fell into the all too easy pattern of just putting our daughter (20 mos) in the nursery, probably mainly b/c it made church a little more enjoyable/less anxious. but i do want to be a parent who trains her child appropriate behavior. i;m not entirely sure how to model this at home b/c i’m not sure my daughter will totally get it if i say pretend we’re at church. i am thinking though, even as i write this, maybe i could just try to make it a game and set a timer for an hour and see how long we can go…hopefully gradually the time will increase! thanks for the encouraging words 😉

  4. Great post! We take Noah into the sanctuary with us as we listen to the great music and worship, but shortly after the instruments are put down he wants to go hang out w/ the other little kids in that ministry. You have given us a great idea of actually practicing and teaching him at home how to be quiet and still for church and other places…why didn’t we think of that. 🙂 thanks!

  5. My son is only a year and he does stay with us for services. However it is difficult and I would prefer to leave him in the nursery. We are looking for a new Church with a better nursery. I think children enjoy learning in Sunday school the Bible “stories” and making new friends. As they get older Sunday school classes change and begin to require them to be quiet more and sit still. many Church’s start Sunday School class after the praise and worship so that families can stay together. I feel that on Sunday’s I want to be able to focus on God and not keeping my son still and checking for bathroom breaks. I want him to make friends and learn at Church as well. However everyone has the right to do what they want and I never stare at the crying kids in Church. It only makes the parents feel bad.

  6. I do tend to lean on the side of having children in worship with you and training them to be able to do so, but I want others to think of other sides to this issue. What is right for one family is not always able to happen for all families. I kept my oldest in service with me from birth until my husband stopped going to church. From then on, I needed the help of the nursery! I now have 4 kids and the youngest two are age 2 and 1. I have found that I was not able to get anything out of the sermon, when I was always the one to have to get up and leave or calm a fussy little one. . . . and to have two little ones in the service now would be impossible for me! I had to find a church with a GREAT children’s ministry to help me out when I find myself alone with 4 kids every Sunday morning. I do like the idea of training them at home and I need to start doing that so that I do have the option to have them still when I need to be somewhere with them. Any ideas on how to keep 4 kids (8,5,2, and 1) still at the same time with only one parent?

  7. I would love to see more people in churches come along parents with young children to lovingly help them. Whether that’s NOT making faces and egging on a kid to act out for attention (c’mon….what parent HASN’T dealt with this?) or just helping to hold a fussy baby, or gently and lovingly whisper to a fidgety child to sit still and listen to the wonderful words, or to count the number of times the pastor says a particular key word…whatever the case…help a parent out…encourage a kid to become engaged in the beauty of worship. It’s more than just about a micro-family…it’s about helping parents shoulder the burden and growing a child to love and appreciate going to church.

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