I am a people-person and a pastor’s kid, so I grew up in the pews. I love church; it’s an opportunity to share life, hear God’s word and encourage each other in faith. But I must confess, since having a child two years ago I have often found church services to be stressful, emotional and tiring events.
Having a baby changed my perspective. My eyes were opened to the needs of families around me—both in church and in the community. How do families manage a Sunday service? How do parents encourage their children to love communal worship? How can we support families to worship God together?
More experienced mothers have been an invaluable resource for navigating Sunday services. Their lived-out examples speak loudly, with grace and encouragement. The best spoken advice always comes with gentle encouragement and kindness, remembering that each family is unique and children are not robots.
Here are some of my favourite tips to help you enjoy quiet moments during Sunday services:
Practise sitting quietly and reading at home during the week; one way to do this is to sit and listen to a talk, podcast or audio book together as a family. Talk with your children about how this is preparation for sitting quietly on Sunday.
Setting expectations allows you to begin as you mean to carry on. Pray for and cultivate an eager heart towards Sunday worship. Share your excitement with your children—let them see your enthusiasm and prayerful preparation for meeting together with your church family.
Get a good sleep (as much as waking babies allow!) and give yourself time to get organised in the morning—consider prepping snacks and activities the night before.
Involve kids in the service
Try gently whispering to explain the service to your children. Don’t be afraid to show them affection and encourage them to join in praising God.
A great way to involve kids is to illustrate the sermon by drawing on paper; a technique Edith Schaeffer called ‘translating’ the sermon. Even stick figure sketches and basic words can convey a wealth of information.
Young readers might enjoy following the text in their Bible, or listening for key words mentioned by the speaker. I recently heard a story about a child who was so delighted to hear the memory verse he had been learning was part of the sermon text.
You are uniquely equipped by God to manage a Sunday service. You know your kids—what they love and what they hate. Pray for wisdom and ask for creative inspiration to help navigate a Sunday service.
I’ve seen parents use a number of quiet activities in creative ways. Stickers, etch-a-sketch, dressing paper dolls, threading with wool, ‘quiet’ books, colouring in books, crochet or knitting—these are some great activity-based techniques. I’ve even seen a young boy make intricate fishing lures during the sermon!
What does your child enjoy? Developing a bag of quiet activities (try keeping them only for use on Sundays) will give you a moment or two to concentrate on the sermon.
Food, glorious food—a mother’s best friend and a handy tool for navigating four hours out of the house on a Sunday morning.
Do you ever get ‘hangry’—hungry and angry at the same time? I know I do! Kids are certainly prone to acting out if they’re not well-fed and watered. Variety is the spice of life and this certainly applies to snacks.
Our toddler loves receiving things one-by-one: pieces of fruit (I stick to the non-messy varieties), crackers, little sandwiches, biscuits or raisins. When a friend’s wedding went on a little longer than I’d expected I even resorted to a container of mini M&Ms in desperation. A little chocolate went a long way!
Welcome the distraction
I get a little teary when I think about Jesus’ loving and welcoming attitude towards children. ‘Let the children come to me’ he says—and he means it!
Consider how we can similarly welcome the little people in our lives. Kids are made to wriggle and jump, be curious and fun-loving. Yes, sometimes they can be a little noisy. I’m not advocating for outright anarchy, but for an attitude of grace.
This may mean welcoming families with an encouraging smile, offering to hold a baby (and not being offended if the answer is ‘no’), making a cup of tea for a breastfeeding mama, greeting children by name and offering a high five or handshake to the littlest member of your congregation.
Jesus’ welcome was counter-cultural back then, and it’s radical now. We live in a world where some cafes try to put a ban on customers with kids, and where parents get dirty looks when boarding flights with small children in tow.
I pray the Church will be different. Let’s aim to worship together on Sunday with glad and forgiving hearts. Let’s aim to encourage our kids to love meeting with their church family each week. Let’s point people to Jesus, remembering that through him we—both old and young—are welcomed to God’s table as children.