Children and Worship – Separate event or family experience?

Mondays on the blog are reserved for me to share a quote or insight from a book on Sunday School, church leadership, small groups, etc. The book I’ve chosen for today’s blog post is a classic, must-have book on children’s ministry. Enduring Connections, written by Janice Haywood and published by Chalice Press, has become the go-to book for many lay leaders and church staff leaders who provide oversight to children’s ministries. Haywood wrote the book while serving on the state staff of the North Carolina Baptist Convention; she was also an adjunct professor at the same time. Today let’s listen in on Haywood’s strong advocacy for children to be included in the worship service of the church:

What are the benefits for children being in a ‘family’ worship service” (one in which children regularly worship alongside their parents).

  • Children see their parents and other adults and youth engage in significant worship of Almighty God. Parental modeling and conversation are the most powerful influencers in faith development. A worship service may be the only time that children see their parents engage in worship.
  • Children need to experience the church in all of its expressions – baptism, communion, deacon/elder ordination, parent-child dedications, mission trip commissioning, etc. They will raise many questions….and perceive the importance of the moment. Children who are not present in ‘big church’ may not experience those special ‘family times’ full of meaning and emotion.
  • Children need to feel the welcoming of the church at large – they need to feel that they are part of something bigger than their own age group ministry. Children who are not with ‘the whole church’ may not sense that they are part of a church ‘family’ that has faith grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins, as well as brothers and sisters.
  • Children need to hear the testimonies of mature Christians.…They may not understand all of the meaning, but they do sense the importance of the testimony of the working of God in the lives of others.
  • A congregation is reminded about the future. The presence of children keeps a church from becoming self-absorbed in meeting only immediate needs. A balanced congregation needs the presence of the past (senior adults), the present (parents and other adults), and the future (preschoolers and grade-schoolers).

What about parents? Because parents have an enormous responsibility and because this is such an important time for the formation of their child’s faith, they need to consider two things:

  1. Most aspects of worship/faith are not taught – they are experienced and modeled by people significant in the life of the child. Just because children are ‘sitting still and listening,” we cannot assume that they are not paying attention.
  2. You have a window of opportunity in children’s development during which they are especially sensitive to what their parents think and believe. Many times parents must sacrifice their own desires (like having the children in a separate worship experience) to meet the needs of their children, and this is one of those times. As parents involve and encourage their child in worship, the child will begin to connect emotionally to a powerful corporate worship experience. Many churches are experiencing children who grow up in ‘children’s church’ have no emotional connection to the larger family, and thus choose not to attend as teens because it is ‘not for them.’

Convicting? Challenging? Haywood’s philosophy, backed by decades of ministry, observation, and research demonstrates the enormous influence that decisions made for children and families have on them. If your church is “splitting out the kids” so that the parents can worship in peace, or because the kids “won’t get it” if they sit in the corporate worship of the church, you may want to rethink those positions. I’d start by picking up a copy of Enduring Connections and listening to the words of someone who has dedicated her life and ministry to preschoolers and children, plus their families.


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