“Aw Mum, I don’t wanna go to church!” Few things make it harder to get to church on a Sunday morning than a reluctant child. Not many things make it harder to build those genuine relationships over morning tea after church than a small person hanging off your arm and pleading, “Can we go now?”.
But what can we do? Church services usually just aren’t ‘kid-friendly’, and those that try to be can end up losing the adults instead. But we are right in persevering and not giving up. Believers need to stick together and support each other, in facing the challenges of parenting as well as any other kind of trial. As the writer to the Hebrews urged the early Christians,
Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another – and all the more as you see the Day approaching. (Hebrews 10:23-25)
How can we encourage our kids to see the value of sticking with church? How can we involve them in a way that helps them see why meeting together is so integral to being part of God’s people?
Start with a change in mindset
I think the answer starts with us and the way we think about kids. Do we see them as a noisy nuisance during our time of quiet worship and reflection? Do we get irritated when that kid in the pew behind asks his parent a question that little bit too loudly? We need to see that children are part of the church, God’s redeemed and gathered people. They are not the church of tomorrow, though they will be the leaders of tomorrow. They are part of the church family now.
We need to pray for the children of our congregation.
Pray that God would help you to value and appreciate the contribution kids make. Pray that God would be at work in their hearts to know his love. Pray that your church would be a place where children hear God’s word and see God’s love amongst his people.
We need to welcome the children.
Do children get welcomed at the entrance to your church or just passed over? Do the children get nametags as well as the adults? When a new family arrives, how are the children welcomed into the regular programs? Perhaps there could be a service outline for the children, with a simple order of service, a word puzzle and something to colour in. Perhaps there could be a handout for visitors that outlines the what, where, when and how of the Kids program, just in case the Sunday school teachers are not on hand that day. Perhaps we could even train our own children to look out for visiting children and have a go at welcoming them. Imagine that.
Involve children in the service and help them to understand why we do what we do.
I’m thinking of more than just a five minute Kids Talk fitted in between the prayer and the announcements. Next time it is your turn to pray in church, how about talking with your child about it as you prepare. Talk about why we pray, what you’re going to pray and why we pray out loud together. And then, take your child with you when you pray. Maybe they’ll just stand beside you and hold your hand, maybe they’ll cling like a koala, but you’re teaching them something, and it’s a small but oh so valuable step.
Children who can read fluently might also be able to read the Bible. It’s amazing how other kids will listen so much better because they are hearing another child read. Many might be shy, but reading the passage together in advance and talking about it is valuable, even if they end up just standing next to you while you read.
There is also a place for other parents or friends without young children (oh what a blessing these people can be!) to mentor and encourage our children in specific ministries like music or sound and tech. My son learns guitar. I don’t. I can’t even understand the music they read. But it is wonderful when one of the guitarists from the music team comes and encourages my son to get involved and have a go.
Rrecognise that we can learn from the kids too
Children are a gift from God, not just to their own families but to the whole church. If our hearts are humble and soft (let us pray they might always be), we can learn and be greatly encouraged by the faith of children. It is wonderful to see the trust of a child as they pray with simplicity and honesty, with no thought what others might be thinking. It is a privilege to see that spark of understanding when they grasp a new concept from God’s word or to see their passion for Jesus when our own is rather faded.
So who are you going to be praying for? Which children in your congregation can you encourage in service? Maybe your own is a good start. Maybe your friend’s kids, because she seems to be so tired just keeping it together since the baby keeps her up all night. Maybe you have godchildren. If no one springs to mind, may I encourage you to look to the edges? Look for the single mum and her children, or the kids that come without parents. Let’s make church a place where all kids feel welcomed and at home. A place where friendships grow across the generations and cultural divides. A place where children are a loved and valued part of the big family of God. Amen to that.
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