Being a seminarian and having a family with four children makes our family stick out usually. “My, that’s a big family these days,” is a typical expression. I don’t know if it’s a compliment or some kind of slight that is supposed to imply something. I usually just agree with the person offering it and move on.
Our family goes to church most Sundays. There are some exceptions from time to time, but generally you can find us at church at some point on the weekend. It really just depends on when the service is offered. And being overseas can complicate the matter a little. We try to find a service in English so the kids won’t feel too lost.
Having our kids in church is important to us. They don’t always want to go, but they do come along and sometimes actually enjoy it.
I know I’m not the only one who takes their children to church – this is not something novel. Elizabeth Rowlings wrote a great article on getting kids to willingly come to church.
Here are my own insights into getting kids to church from a different perspective – a future pastor’s perspective. Here’s what I want to do as a future pastor to encourage families with children and make sure they feel welcome in attending church.
1. A seminary professor once told a class I was in that architecture trumps theology every time. So true. When it comes to children that means we have to think about how to be creative with the spaces we have in church. I have seen many churches do this effectively and I think they do a great job.
Here’s one example from a Kallio kirkko, in Helsinki, Finland:Across the Atlantic in the US, I can highlight my home congregation, Zion Lutheran in Etters, PA, USA. Our pastor had the first pew removed and made a young kids-friendly space. Talk about making it obvious that families are welcome!
2. Kids involved in worship. Not just on youth Sunday either. If we want to send the message that children are important, then what better way to do that than through actions – like involving children in worship as often as possible.
3. Spending time with children – This doesn’t mean I will be teaching every Sunday School class there is – but I can make a time investment in other ways.
4. Speaking of Sunday School, maybe its time to rethink how Christian education happens.
5. Sacramental stuff – I have no theological problem with having children receive communion. Whoever came up with idea that you had to fully understand what was going on in order to receive communion had a nice idea, but really – do we honestly think that most adults fully understand what’s happening in the Eucharist?
6. Confirmation – I’ve seen too many Confirmation programs that just seem physically painful for everyone involved – students, the pastor, parents, etc. Like Sunday School, maybe it’s time to rethink how this happens and when.
So, now that I have that wonderful list, here’s the other part of the list that is important – the consequences.
1. People have to be willing to have noise in church. If you are going to children, then there is going to be noise. There is no way around that. And if there is going to be children in church, there is going to be plenty of movement around the church. Little ones will wander, adults will chase. Other children will be lying around, playing, etc. I saw one church deal with this effectively – Verkosto – it’s a blend of Lutheran and Pentecostal services in Helsinki. The church wants children in the service and no one has any issue with the lively and noisy nature of that decision.
2. People have to be willing to have imperfection in worship. Children don’t have nearly as much experience at doing things as adults. They make mistakes. Guess what, so do adults – it’s just that adults think that mistakes are not allowed in worship. As if we are supposed to hide our humanness from God or something. When children are involved in worship, stuff is going to happen and that’s ok. And it’s ok for adults too.
3. It’s not all about the children. The idea is not to focus on one group of people – i.e. children. The idea is to welcome all to come to worship. Typically children get the shaft on this in too many churches. If we take a little time to see how children can be welcome, then maybe we’ll also think about how we welcome the stranger, the visitor, the elderly, the divorced, the outcast, etc. There are a great many people out there.