It seemed to be a great church. The staff was friendly. The facilities were well kept. However, I wasn’t so sure about the church’s policy regarding children. As the daddy of two little girls, I am all about worshipping with my family. However, I was told that children under the seventh grade are not allowed in the auditorium during worship. Since I wasn’t there for an official Sunday service, I decided to check out the kids facilities. Woah. It looked like an ecclesial Disney World, complete with inflatable jump toys. My two-year old daughter loves inflatable jump toys. But still, the no-kids-allowed policy irked me, because I kind of like being with my kids, believe it or not…even in church.

In some churches I’m aware of, the situation is even worse. Take my friend’s church, for instance. The policy there is the same: no kids allowed. One couple decided that their kids were important enough, and decided to bring them in the auditorium. The kids were well behaved, causing no distraction. In fact, no one would have noticed the kids. No one would have noticed, that is, if the pastor had let it go. But he didn’t. Instead, he publicly humiliated the family, openly addressed their violation of the policy from the platform, and asked the ushers to escort them out of the auditorium to deposit their kids in a nursery.

Over on the other side of town, there is another church, much different. This church is all about kids being in the main service. In fact, they are part of an international movement, founded upon the principle that families should be together for worship. No age-segregated Sunday School. No children’s church. This church is distinctive for it’s “family integration.” Again, however, I had questions about the church’s approach to worship, ministry, and their accommodation to people’s, especially visitor’s, needs.

It seems like we have two pretty different takes on church ministry. On the one hand, Church A has children’s programs to beat the band, just as long as you don’t mind bidding farewell to junior while you worship in the adult service. On the other hand, Church B avoids nursery problems and Sunday School favors, since everyone from ages 0 on up are meeting in the same room, at the same time, for the same purpose. And, of course, there are a myriad of churches in between, many which welcome children in the worship, many which practice the time-honored tradition of age-segregated Sunday School, and many which are simply stumped about where to get qualified nursery workers for all the babies. When it comes to children and church, it seems we have a problem.

How did we get here?
If you stop and think about it for a moment, judging from the perspective of the culture at large, babies seem like kind of a nuisance. Most American parents buy expensive and colorful objects to hold our babies for us—hopping, jumping, swinging, and spinning objects—so we don’t have to hold them. Babysitting is a big business all its own, with moms and dads paying big bucks for a few hours of relief from the exhausting little creatures! Daycare centers are overflowing with kids, since both parents have jobs that provide them with a level of income to pay the bills and satisfy the needs. Whether junior came along by ‘accident’ (an issue all its own) or ‘on purpose’ (another issue all its own), once he’s here, he’s a whole lot of work. And, truth be told, he’s just a bit inconvenient, too. Okay, no one would come right out and say “kids are a nuisance!” but sometimes our actions speak louder than our words…and our actions are saying something.

Migrating now from the culture at large to the Christian subculture, what do we see? Not a whole lot of difference. Why should there be? A burden is a burden. And, as it seems, kids land in the “burden” category sometimes. Ever ready to help, churches have an arsenal of options to help parents with this burden. Nurseries. Cry rooms. Nursery paging systems. Feeding rooms. Playgrounds. Children’s “church.” Youth group. Five-year old’s class. Junior high groove group. Beginning walkers nursery. Already-walking-but-sometimes-falls-down-for-girls-only class. And on and on.

But not all churches offer the smorgasbord of options. Some churches choose to reject the age-segregated approach, and advance a one-big-happy-family approach to church ministry, effectively doing away with the accouterments of child maintenance, which reek of the kid-nuisance pandemic from which our culture seems to suffer.

So, what should we do?
Complex problems defy tidy, simple solutions. Here’s why.

Introducing kids into the service introduces a host of problems. Kids cry. How is that baby’s wailing going to sound with the worship music? Kids have diapers. Diapers get messy. What kind of an effect is that going to have during the middle of a sermon? Most of us don’t have angelic one-year olds who are able to silently and sweetly sit through an entire homily, never fidgeting or crying, but paying rapt attention with open Bible in their lap. If you’ve ever tried it, caring for kids is an attention-arresting task. Which means, quite obviously, that it’s hard to focus one’s attention on the sermon, robbing you of your blessing for the week. And what about the kids themselves? What are they going to learn? Can your pastor preach in such away that the Bible PhD, and the two-year old will understand and apply the Word? If so, he is a remarkable preacher, but he’s also probably pretty rare.

But does taking kids out of the service solve all problems? Apparently not. Is the church contributing to the disintegration of the family by consigning each age group to a separate class? Is it really a good idea to have Johnny learning about Daniel in the Lion’s Den, Suzie learning about Noah’s Ark, and Mommy and Daddy learning about Handling Your Finances God’s Way? What about the nursery problems? We’ve all heard about the tragic accounts of neglectful, or even worse, abusive nursery situations and scandals. Nursery programs introduce a whole plateful of problems. Just ask a pastor, “So how’s your nursery going?” and he will either faint in a sweaty heap, or lunge at you, crazed with rage. (It’s okay; I’m exaggerating.) But let’s step back and look at the whole theology of the thing. Did God intend for His church to be a segmented weekend childcare facility, or a place where families can be nurtured as families?

Answers, Please!
Are you ready for me to pull out my silver bullet solution and solve the controversy once and for all? Um, no. Not going to happen. Not today, at least. As usual, this article is not a campaign for a particular position, tactic, approach, strategy, or pat answer. It’s a plea to think. And to think hard. Tough issues demand rigorous thinking. But tough issues demand more. They demand biblical thinking.

The answer that you and your church develop, by God’s leading, may differ from what another church and their leadership come up with. In such polarizing issues, we must behave charitably toward those who do things differently. Let’s make sure we have the big issues–things like right doctrine, and the centrality of Scripture–settled. For those who may come to different conclusions than you, it’s fine to dialogue, question, explore, and even charitably disagree, but never to malign. So, as you deal with the issues, keep these points in mind.

  1. Consider Jesus’ view of kids. Jesus encountered people who wanted to shoo away the kids. Here is how he responded: “Jesus said, ‘Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven.’ And he laid his hands on them.” Jesus made a point to welcome the children, and declare that they, too, have a part in the kingdom of heaven.
  2. Consider the early church’s response toward children. If you do a study on children’s ministries in the early church, you’re not going to come up with much. This doesn’t mean that children’s ministry is wrong. It simply means that it’s not in the Bible. However, when you consider the topic of children and the church, you find that children are implicitly accepted as participants in household conversion accounts (Acts 16:33-34; 18:8).
  3. Consider the church’s radical integration and boundary-smashing power. The church is a supernatural community, crossing cultural boundaries, obliterating racial divisions, and cutting down class distinction (Eph 2:11-22; Gal. 3:28). The church is a place where the poor man can stand next to the rich man, and both can worship, rejoicing in their equality before God. It is a place where all races should be able to join together, without fear of ostracism or prejudice. (Is it too much to ask, then, for children to participate in the church–even the local, visible manifestation of the church universal, meeting on a Sunday morning at 10:30?) To disallow any segment of the church seems problematic.
  4. Consider the others-serving, grace-saturated context of the church. As a church, your goal is not to pander to every consumer appetite and satisfy every member’s felt need. However, the church should be a place where accommodation is made, if needed (Eph. 5:21; Philippians 2:3-5). What does this look like? If a family wants to worship together as a family, babies included, let ’em do it. However, if a couple prefers to put their baby in the care of a qualified nursery work, perhaps you should provide for that, too. Some churches may pressure families to have their kids ‘pew-trained’ by age 1. Maybe that doesn’t work for the visitor who comes. Maybe she’s a single mom, grappling with life’s challenges, and on the verge of giving up. Maybe she just wants to hear the preaching. But if the church has no means of helping her care for her three young kids, how might that change her visit? A grace-saturated context means taking people where they are–nursery-loving or nursery-hating–and accepting them in the same way we were accepted by Christ (Romans 15:7).

About The Author

Daniel Threlfall

Daniel Threlfall has been writing church ministry articles for more than 10 years. With his background and training (M.A., M.Div.), Daniel is passionate about inspiring pastors and volunteers in their service to the King. Daniel is devoted to his family, nerdy about SEO, and drinks coffee with no cream or sugar. Learn more about Daniel at his blog and twitter.

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19 Responses

  1. Rev Julia Alliger

    There is one important issue left out here: how are children supposed to learn about worship if they’re not there? We bring children to the dining room table and they’re disruptive, but that’s where they learn how to act around the table. In the same way, when children hear the creeds, hear the hymns and songs, watch and listen to adults pray and read the Word, they are being formed. We have a nursery in our church for the really little ones, but our desire is that children come to worship and we celebrate them as part of the body of Christ. And yes, that even means I have to consider them when I write sermons!

  2. Sherri M

    Every day I feel blessed by our Pastor, Church, and our Church family. Several years ago my family left a “no kids allowed” Church, yes the Pastor had even asked a young mother to take her child to the nursery from the pulpit. He did not pay attention to the fact she was very new to the Church.

    Our Church has taken on the “Acts Church” philosophy in all we do. In other words when it comes to how we do things, if it can’t be found in the Bible, then it does not belong in our Church. We do offer a nursery which is NEVER mandatory and even childeren’s Sunday School classes during one of our services if you want it All of these are fully staffed by volunteers joyfully serving God.

    What the Teachers and the helpers do isn’t mandated, those who are there with them aren’t mandated. It is All About God.

    Keep Him on the solution and you can’t go wrong.

    Many Blessings

    Sherri

  3. Renee Michno

    We pastor a small international church in Saint Petersburg, Russia – focused on those who don’t speak Russian (but also have local Russians who are part of our congregation). Children’s Church is an important part of our church – it gives our children a chance to learn Gospel truths at their level; however, we believe that children need to be a part of the church family. We do three things that encourage this.
    1. All children are in service for worship time – who cares if a baby cries while the worship team and the congregation is singing?
    2. My husband, the pastor, does a children’s sermon based on his sermon topic (also helps the ESL people in the congregation understand the topic better) – the kids know their pastor. After the children’s sermon the children are dismissed for 30 minutes of children’s church.
    3. – This is the UNUSUAL part – our nursery/toddlers meet in the back of the conference room we meet in (we rent a conference room in a hotel). Parents sit toward the back of the room – kids can go back and forth to parents if necessary – or mom/dads can check on thier kids – teachers are part of the service – and kids not only have an area for them – hear a lesson, and do fun “Sunday School activities” – they learn to be very quiet during the “sermon time” & hear their pastor’s sermon – even if it is “over their head”!

    Now, I know that “mega churches” or even very large churches just can’t do something like that – but, perhaps that’s the beauty of a church of about 80 people.

    Not only do we value our children & provide a program just for them – everyone knows they are part of the family!

  4. Jason Snackenberg

    While I see merit in all the points addressed above. I think age appropriate teaching is neccesary. I am not part of a church that has a “NO CHILDREN” policy, at least that i know of. However we do offer Childrens church for children up to 2nd grade, past that they are taught to be part of “Big Church”. I think the teaching level should be different for small group because how a 40 year old learns and understands is much different thn how a 5th grader learns. I think the music time should be brought together and the a age appropriate mini sermon for kids should be taught and then those kids released to learm their way, whild the big kids go deeper.

    • Randall Plemmons

      “I think age appropriate teaching is necessary.” So did the disciples, it would seem.

    • Lulu

      Moses refused to leave unless the children went to worship with him. The church has to be careful that it is not seperating families in the services. Children learn also by example. Parents have to learn to control their children,teach them to honor the house of God. I’ve been exposed to both train of thoughts. I like to see families in the church.

  5. Robin Forrester

    Like many pastors who have been in the work for decades I’ve certainly thought about it. Presently I pastor an Anglican village church in NW England with attendance of about 35-70 adults and 10-30 children (they have an invisible attendance rota). Very elderly to new babies and all in between. I like many of the kids and many, especially those I know well I love. Here is my take (as brief as I can):
    1. It’s an issue everywhere and there’s no easy one size fits all solution.
    2. People new to church (and those not good at managing their children)need time to adjust or just be accepted.
    3. Bawling or noisy kids, or those who bring or bang noisy toys (surely we only provide soft ones?) exasperate even the warmest hearted older person as they move from seat to seat trying to tune their hearing aids into the deaf loop sound system!
    4. Analogies with babies/ children attuning to meal times at home don’t work because there are rarely the numbers and varied upbringings to synchronise – ever been in a children’s care home???
    5. In the UK the stats I have seen show that those attending without children e.g. childless, singles, children left home are usually in the majority so why do children’s lobbyists call the tune?
    6. I don’t think worship in church should be, every week, like an open air meeting with the minister trying to teach over the noise of the traffic and passers by.
    7. Putting together old and new testaments –
    (a) children seem to have participated in the feasts – but that was largely about sacerdotal activities – killing animals up front but they were not expected to learn there about the faith at their level.
    (b) the expectation was that the adults would experience God in their lives and be taught by the teachers, AND the parents would teach the children (Deut 4:9-10;11:19;Josh 4:6;Ps 78:5 etc etc). For the big gatherings for teaching the law – it was for the men & women AND those that could understand e.g. Neh 8:2,8,12 helped by the Levites moving around helping those learn who had the possibility of understanding Neh 8:7-8. Not for the kiddiewinks.
    (c) This didn’t need to be re-taught in the NT e.g. Acts 16:33f & 18:8 don’t help the ‘kids in church all through’ case as they were able to understand and believe and be baptised (and there is little scholarship that would go for infant baptism in NT period).
    7. So, does this mean? –
    (a) we should seek to make converts from actual and near adults; and
    (b) teach them the faith and what to teach and how to teach their children; and
    (c) include babies/ children in part of the services e.g. singing & praying, plus fellowship activities (BBQs, quizzes, games, sharing in our homes etc) and the occasional big church event.
    (d) what about kids from homes where no one is saved and wants to share the life of faith in Christ with them? Their behaviour needs come as part of rules enforcement at home (Prov 22:6) and law enforcement outside (look at Romans 13:4 where such enforcement is the ministry of a ‘servant of God’ – διάκονός – like preachers and like Christ the mediator) until they are able to understand – when evangelism then reaches them. Better than Junior Churches where often they are taught morality because they are too young in understanding for the gospel to mean much to most? – (altho we all know exceptions!).

    Have I managed to achieve this anywhere? No, it’s hard for people to do it! But, I’m fairly sure it’s right.

    Thanks for raising this topic. It’s hard to satisfy everyone in this. Quote from Hezekiah 3:16 “No one ever said it would be easy!” (Ironic humour). The Lord is with you all. RF

  6. Troy Heald

    Amen, I apprecite this article. Especially item # 4 on you recommendations “As a church, your goal is not to pander to every consumer appetite and satisfy every member’s felt need.” Our church allows our attendees and guests to do what is comfortable for them. We even have a family with a disabled adult son that will occasional make noise. At first I am sure everyone noticed but nobody made issue of it. Now it seems that it isn’t even recognized when it does happen. I praise God for our church and our church leaders for doing everything possible to respond appropriately to circumstances and not just react to them.

  7. Mark Jones

    Hi,

    Please so not think I am saying this is the right approach as each church must do what they believe God would have them do.

    Our Church’s approach is a little of all the previous posts.

    On a Sunday the morning service is open to all i.e. a family service and billed as such. Our junior choir, worship group and junior band take part, as do our senior choir and band.

    We have a table laid out to the side of the room which has activities for younger children. (e.g. colouring pages, soft play toys etc) the approach is age inclusive from young to old.

    As the sermon is about to start (during the hymn/song before) the children 0-13 leave for their own age tailored bible teaching. This is staffed by volunteers who have been CRB checked. (police checked)
    (Although no pressure is applied on anyone to have their child attend this)

    Whilst the children are out the sermon is delivered and is adult themed. this is followed by a devotional/prayer period.

    Our evening service is teaching based and is advertised as very much an adult centered service. (although children are often brought to it and that is no issue)

    Our appraoch is based on the premise that children are not the future of the church, they are part of the current church and every bit as important in God’s eyes.

    As I said, not a ‘we do it best’ comment just a ‘we do it this way’ comment.

    God Bless

  8. Charlie Johnson

    Daniel, I appreciate the thought that went into this article. You drew attention to the cultural status of children in America and the consequent influence of that on the church’s attitude. I think deep reflection on this is in order.

    Our age is the most insistent upon properly caring for children and upholding their rights as individuals. Yet, this concern tends to manifest itself atomistically. We want children treated well, but we are not similarly concerned about upholding the integrity of family units, probably the most significant factor in a child’s upbringing. I think your church A illustrates this cultural mindset. They are extremely focused on children, but in a way that does not take into account the whole family.

    This paragraph contains thoughts for further refinement, not firm conclusions. Is there a noticeable difference in how Baptist and Baptistic churches on the one hand approach children, and how more covenantal traditions do on the other? If so, is there a causal correlation? It is my suspicion, though I cannot confirm it, that Christian traditions that emphasize covenantal solidarity through family lines are more likely to view the family as the basic unit of worship; whereas Baptistic traditions see spirituality more through an individual lens, tipping them to prioritize worship around the perceived needs of individual age/gender groups.

    • Randall Plemmons

      “They are extremely focused on children, but in a way that does not take into account the whole family.”

      I think you could also say that they do so in a way that is not taking into account the whole child.

      Charlie, I find your conclusions interesting. I would love to see your suspicions expounded upon.

  9. Raina P

    I attend a synagogue which highly regards children, respecting them, and the parents are never commanded to sequester them from the congregation. There is no place for them to do so, although a room is provided for sleeping or nursing children, should the parents want to use it. The children’s little noises and the occasional cry are sure signs that we have received the blessing of children and that we are growing.

    Some parents have gotten up to leave when a child has gotten noisy, but often, the leader will tell the parent that we love the children, and they are welcome to stay with the child, unless they really want to go into another room. Most of the time, they stay, and the people around them make it obvious that they and the child are very welcome.

    I work for a church that offers classes for children through their services, but the children are never — ever — commanded to go, even from the earliest age; the classes are merely available. A little noise does not bother them either.

    I think that the bottom line of most of the attitudes regarding children staying with the congregation is based upon the adults’ disrespect for them. How ugly. G-d has given them to bless us, to be our delight, to lovingly guide, yet we send them off so that we can have an hour’s peace in the service. That was never meant to be.

    As a senior citizen, one of my greatest delights is to know that the children are in the service, playing on the floor in little groups of two to five, In The Service With Us! (If some older persons are bothered by that, they need to get over themselves!)

    During the congregation’s teaching, we have a roving mic that is taken about to persons who raise their hands to ask questions or challenge the teachers. One of my delights is when a child, who had been playing on the floor, pops up and raises a hand. The mic is taken to the child, and the child asks a question or makes a statement, intelligently! –fully based upon what was being taught! The children are amazing! Children are capable of learning with the adults. They are not as unintelligent as many want to suppose, for the sake of selfish adult convenience.

  10. Pauline

    I have struggled with this very topic recently. My spiritual gift is teaching and it has been my privilege to use this gift throughout many years.
    In the churches I have attended Sunday School used to be before church services began. It was an outreach tool and was used this way. My sister and I attended such a Sunday School without our parents who were not Christians. We then stayed for the Church Service and understood whatever our age level and intellect would allow us to understand.We were a welcome part of the service.
    Now Sunday School is part of the Church service. In most churches this option is offered and taken up by the majority of families. However it is no longer an outreach based ministry. This is the case in the church we presently attend. Some children go and some stay. All are from christian homes and as a teacher in this situation I bemoan losing an opportunity to reach unsaved children for God. I no longer take part in the teaching ministry simply because we live so far from it now.
    My concern is that by providing so many age group based based activities e.g. Sunday School, youth groups etc, we are contributing to dividing the family even more. In our effort to teach in an effective age appropriate way we are asking parents to spend yet more time transporting their children to yet another activity outside of their family.
    In many cases parents are no longer equipped to parent. They no longer understand what their task is and even if they did – they would not know how to accomplish it. Perhaps “the church” needs to evaluate its approach so that a whole family might be served Perhaps rather than age related activities we should look more at family nights. Perhaps offer parental training classes of some sort where parents could learn necessary parenting skills.
    I don’t know the answers but society now has changed and with the change comes a different set of needs and challenges. As servants of God and of each other we need to pray through these issues and make changes as God leads.
    Thanks for a thought provoking article on what is a crucial area of concern in the modern church.

    • Lulu

      You it nailed down. Parents are coming to church now without good if any parenting skills. The church answer to the problem and yes it is a problem is to seperate the family. We need to teach them how to fish.

  11. Randall Plemmons

    I have been thinking about this a lot. Someone mentioned that Reformed churches tend to treat children better. I think the author also alluded to the NCFIC. I find it interesting that most of the NCFIC is made up of those who are also very heavily tied with Vision Forum Ministries, which is well known for it’s promotion of what they call “Biblical patriarchy,” as well as emphasis on what is often termed “Biblical discipline.” They included many reformed churches in their organization, and many of their leaders would also appear to be quite reformed. I am wondering if anyone, or Charlie, could explain how these connect?

    I agree, balance is good. This is a helpful, thought-provoking article. I would venture to say that most pastors and church leadership ask how they can have a good children’s ministry or a good nursery, but that few ask if a nursery or children’s ministry is actually the best way to minister to the families. They go with the status quo flow.

  12. Susie

    I have mixed feelings on this topic. On one hand I’m all about families being together in worship. On the other hand it depends on the children and the family, as there are many parents who lack good judgement with what their children do during worship. I have sat in front of crying babies, toddlers having tantrums, children folding paper airplanes out of the bulletins, in front of children who snacked the entire hour, rattling their chip/cookie bags, and I have sat in front of a child with a grocery bag sized sack of crayons digging and digging for that ONE color she was looking for and took her 10 minutes to find it. While it may keep them occupied and deter them from running up and down the ailes, it is VERY disruptive to everyone else and I personally cannot focus on a sermon with constant noise. If a child can sit quietly and draw, write, whatever, that’s fine. But if they are disruptive and a parent cannot or will not train them on appropriate church behavior, please – out of common courtesy, have them go to children’s church or the nursery.

  13. Eugene Peete Jr.

    Please send name of author;
    great article! I want to post in my church

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