Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Children in Worship, Again

In the congregation where I serve as pastor, we've been thinking and talking (and struggling just a little bit) with the place and role of children and parents in worship. 

In our June newsletter (we publish a monthly newsletter designed to connect folks to our life together as church), the article I wrote was focused on this topic. 

I'd love to hear any feedback that my seven (ten?) readers might have.  Since it's written to a particular congregation, I'll edit the article so that, hopefully, it makes sense here in this context.

... many of you have noticed that "children in worship" has become a topic of conversation in this congregation.

From what I’ve heard, the conversation has typically been focused on how children behave in worship.  I think that, for the most part, we all agree that it’s good for children to be in worship.  I think most of us agree that there’s a certain amount of noise a child can make, and a certain amount of moving around that a child can do before that child becomes an inappropriate distraction to folks around her or him.  And I think most of us agree that if children can’t behave well, if they move around too much or make too much noise, it’s best for them to be taken into the narthex (foyer/lobby) until they’re calmed down.

The trouble that we identified the other day at the church council (governing body in the congregation) meeting is that each one of us has a different definition of “too much”.

We are a varied and diverse group of people ~ I question whether we’ll be able to come up with a radius of movement or a decibel level that everyone can agree to.

So I started wondering ~ what if we re-frame our conversation?  I’m sure we already think in these terms, but what if we start saying out loud to each other, “How are we raising up children in the faith?”, and “How are we fulfilling the promises we made to young people when they were baptized?”

To that end, I’d like to think for a moment about we do well as a congregation, rather than worrying about what any particular individual or household does poorly.

1) Among other things, this congregation has a tradition of inviting young people to a front-row seat to watch baptisms, which allows them to be surrounded by a whole congregation confessing their faith and praying for each other. 

2) This congregation has a tradition of welcoming children to hear a message geared to them during the worship service. 

3) This congregation has a tradition of pairing confirmation students with adult mentors for conversation and worship during the season of Lent. 

4) This congregation has a tradition of providing children a safe place to make friends with other children and with caring adults.

I wonder how our conversation would be different if our concern was less about what other people are doing during worship and more about how we as a congregation can best raise up children of faith.  I’m excited to continue to hear from you, and to continue to have this conversation. 
My hope for the congregation I serve, and for this forum as well, is that this can be a start to conversation about who we are and how we are as children of G-d. 



  1. A very good way to reframe the conversation. We've been working on that same notion in our congregation here in Utah. Thanks for the boost and for the additional insights. I don't comment often (not much at all) but I do keep up with your posts here. So, thanks for that as well.

  2. I have become convinced that one of the most radical, revolutionary things a church can do is to welcome children fully into its life together - especially worship - without any pre-conditions or reservations. A while back there was a viral blog post on fb about kids leaving the faith (or something like that), and one of the key insights that resonated with me was, "They've never actually been in worship anyway." I.e., we silo them into SS or youth group or confirmation and discourage them from actually being a part of the worshiping body... and then wonder why we don't see them after confirmation and/or graduation.

    As a preacher, I am 150% more distracted when I see older folks sleeping or whispering among themselves or flipping through the announcements than I am when kids stand up in the pews or whisper (just loudly enough for everyone to hear) to their parents about something they see or hear that is interesting or confusing. They may be noisy, but I find they are soaking things up like sponges while many of the folks who are exhibiting a more traditional "decorum" are barely paying attention.

    I also wonder why Paul never addressed this issue... after all, between circumcision and eating meat sacrificed to idols, you think he would have found time to comment on the presence of children in worship. Or, maybe, the dirt-floor house-church full of smelly peasants and a goat or two was a bit more understanding of the occasional outburst of human life and wonder than our well-managed red-carpeted pew-filled sanctuaries are used to.

    I'll only give this one $0.01.

  3. I think, if we don't welcome them, if we don't find a way to reframe the conversation, then forget the 20 and 30 something's coming back to church. When we talk about bringing them back, this is critical. A problem I see is that people want children raised the same way they raised their children in church. But that won't work. From other people I know, it seems many congregations are struggling with the same type of thing... True of many churches.