As a mom of two little children, I often dread Sunday mornings. It’s definitely hard to listen to a sermon while the toddler tosses her Cheerios down the pew. But let me tell you something: It is WORTH IT! It’s worth it for your kids to hear the Word of God spoken to them (even if they’re throwing a fit). Taking your kids to church is not so much about following the rules and behaving, it’s all about how Jesus calls them to come to Him. Here are some tips to help you through this season of parenthood.
After a Sunday morning, I usually come home, exhausted from social interactions, keeping my kids from running down the church aisle, and simply just being away from home. I often wonder if I should even go to church with my kids.
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Set realistic expectations when you bring your kids to church
First and foremost, be age appropriate and set realistic expectations. It is nigh impossible to get a two year old to sit still. But it is a reasonable expectation to have your 5 year old sit, stand, kneel, and fold hands when appropriate. Start with low expectations and grow from there. They may regress at times, but they might also impress you!
It is very very hard for kids to focus, much less for ME focus the entire service. It’s unfair to have an expectation of our kids when we as adults cannot stay focused throughout the entire worship service.
Secondly, you know your child the very best. What I have written here are only suggestions and ideas that I have gathered through my experience from growing up in the church as well as the fact that I have kids that I bring to church. Furthermore, every church is different too. You might have more or less help, more or less criticism, or more or less other families with young children.
Things you can prepare before you take your kids to church
You will have to help your kids grow into the different parts of worship, one step at a time. Because, boy, can it be overwhelming. There’s so many different prayers, LATIN, weird sounding songs, AND a sermon that can last up to 20 minutes.
Besides discussing your expectations on the drive to church or the night before, here are some ideas to help things be a little more manageable when you take your kids to church.
Practice the liturgy and hymns at home
Practicing church at home can help your kids be familiar with little parts of the service. For very little kids, you can play pretend church at home. Bring home a bulletin or open your hymnal to the liturgy section. Get them familiar with the flow of the service.
Include parts of the liturgy or hymns during family devotions or bedtime. That way, during a worship service, they can feel included when they can recite The Lord’s Prayer or sing along to a practiced hymn. Let them know when the part they know is coming up. Be a good example and participate along with the congregation, soon they will follow!
Decide on some “cue words” that your child can listen for during worship. Examples can be: Jesus, love, “Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,” sins, forgiveness, and grace. To make it more interesting, bring some Tic Tacs as a reward for pointing out these cue words. Start with one word and build up from there. Or have a different cue word every week.
One family I knew growing up would start and end back massages throughout the sermon every time the word “Jesus” was mentioned. This is good for those wiggly kids and also great theological practice to listen for Jesus to come up, hopefully multiple times, during a sermon.
Pack a Church Bag
Set aside a bag (or one per child) that is for church ONLY. It’s up to you what you want to include in your child’s Church Bag. Toys, snacks, coloring books and crayons, etc.. You can let your child pick out what they want in their Church Bag. Make the toys exclusive to church like Push Pop Bubble Poppers. However, don’t bring “noise making toys” like anything that plays music, jingles, or crinkles. Also, consider a toy’s “bounce factor” and “roll factor” if dropped. A silicone pacifier can be lost quickly when it falls on the floor. Those things are bouncy! If your church has slanted floors, avoid balls.
Books are also a great quiet activity for your littler kids. I recommend the My Church Words Book” target=”_blank” rel=”noreferrer noopener sponsored nofollow”>My Church Words Book.
It might be a good idea to hold out on the snacks until the sermon begins. We like to bring applesauce pouches and Teddy Grahams or Fruit Snacks for maximum yumminess. Cheerios mixed with Froot Loops could keep a little one busy hunting for the good stuff.
Siblings might fight over toys and snacks, so you may have to set limits. You could do one spiral notebook and a pencil per child and one simple snack. Or, honestly, if it’s out of hand and is consistently a problem, don’t bring anything until your kids can figure it out. If they NEED something to fiddle with, especially as your children get older, doodling or taking notes in the bulletin is my personal recommendation.
My last tip for things you can do to prepare your kids for worship is to let them explore the sanctuary off-hours. Get to church early, or pick a day during the week to bring your child to the sanctuary. They’ll get to see things up close. Explain to them (or ask someone else to explain) what the different areas in the sanctuary mean and what they are used for. Point out all the crosses and other symbols. Help your child realize the importance and holiness of this space and guide them to a respect for the things that happen there.
Tip for during the service
So you’ve prepared all you can, set realistic expectations, and now you’ve arrived at church. Maybe you’re late. Or perhaps the children are already protesting. Try not to worry. You have already succeeded at entering the sanctuary with your children. Good job to you!
To start, don’t be ashamed of taking your screaming or wiggly kid out of church and spending time in the provided nursery or narthex. It’s a great resource that the church has provided to help you and your child through this stage. There will be a point, however, that your child might have to break the habit of retreating to the nursery to play. You will know when your child is ready to participate more in church.
Secondly, ask for help. Get yourself a Pew Buddy. A Pew Buddy could be a responsible teenager or “substitute grandma” that can sit in the same pew. These people are helpful, especially if you are either solo parenting or outnumbered by your children.
Wear your little ones
If you have a baby (or even a toddler) bring your baby carrying device, like a Ring Sling or ErgoBaby carrier, and free up those hands of yours. Plus, your child might be happier in the carrier. When my son was very little, I would wrap him up in a Moby Wrap and he would take a nap sometimes.
Try out the front row
If you decide you want to be brave, try sitting in the front row. Being up close and right in front of the the pastor and all he’s doing might help your child to pay attention better. Plus, they’ll be further away from the exit, making it harder for toddlers to make a quick escape.
Remember, taking your kids to church is about training, not controlling and being legalistic. The idea is to create an appreciation for worship, not strict rules for “proper church behavior.” They will not be perfect. Just like you cannot be sinless. So, it’s all the more important that your children hear the Word of God spoken to them at church and have God’s Words of forgiveness enter into their lives every week. Bringing your children to church is important for their faith.
Lastly, take care of yourself spiritually
I have to constantly remind myself that this season in parenthood can be spiritually dry. It is hard to fill someone else up, when you are empty. This is why is it so important to make time to study God’s Word. Don’t settle for emptiness when you walk out of the church.
To catch what you missed during church you can set aside time to re-listen to sermon via the recorded service they put online or save the bulletin to look through later. Finding a small group or online bible study can help to keep you accountable in your spiritual walk. Even just five minutes a day of intentional prayers is worth it to remind yourself of God’s grace for you.
Don’t worry about what other people think when you take your kids to church
If the literal sound decibels from your children’s mouths are preventing people from hearing what’s going on in church, then it would be respectful to remove the culprit of the noise. But, generally apart from that, try you best not to think about other people and their judgements. You cannot control what they think, you cannot control your children, but you CAN control your thoughts and actions. And that’s what matters.
Each family needs to do what’s going to work best for them. Keep on keeping on. Every Sunday will be full of surprises. Each Sunday will be full of grace. And know that just by bringing your children to church, you are doing an excellent job. Jesus wants the little children to come to Him, so let’s bring them (even if they’re wiggly).