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Sometimes our children sit in worship service occupying their minds (and their hands and feet and entire bodies) with everything but worship. Does that mean they shouldn’t be there?

By Judy Crockett
, Children’s Ministry Director

My young son asked what was the highest number I had ever counted to. I didn’t know but asked about his highest number. It was 5,372. “Oh”, I said, “Why did you stop there?” He replied, “Church was over.”

Sometimes our children sit in worship service occupying their minds (and their hands and feet and entire bodies) with everything but worship. Does that mean they shouldn’t be there? 

Parents, I want to encourage you to shepherd your children into full participation in Lakeland’s Sunday morning worship service. Children learn to worship by worshipping with the family of God. But involving children in worship goes beyond that. Worship is what we should be doing every moment of our days as we revere the Lord, speak with Him continually and seek to obey Him. The task for parents, then, is to model and teach and train children into a lifestyle of worship. Including children in church worship services is part of a worship lifestyle. 

Valuing Worship

The place to start training our children in worship is with our own valuing of the worship service because we can only pass on to our children what is first established in us. Know that your joy in worship speaks loudly to your children. 

On communicating the value of worship to children: 

  • Show your children that you value worship by having family times of worship during the 
week. Sing together, pray, share from the Word. 

  • Show your children that you value worship by making it a priority. Begin preparations on 
Saturday night by getting clothes and Bibles ready for the next morning and having an early enough bedtime. Be on time for the service—allow time to find seats and get settled before the service begins. 
Show your children that you value worship by how you talk about it. Let your children hear you talk about how much you look forward to our gathering. Share what you learned or how the Lord met you in worship. Emphasize what you love about your church family and your small group

Readiness for the Worship Service

At what age should parents have their children join the adult worship service? Often by the age of 5-6 years a child is able to sit quietly through a worship service. But parents know that all 5 year olds are not created equal. We must also take into account the temperament and personal development of the child as well as any special needs. 

On the readiness of the child: 

  • A child does not have to be able to understand all of the service to learn about worship nor 
does everything have to be put on their level to be beneficial for them. Observing adult role models and the experience of participation helps even the young child understand and practice respect and reverence for the Lord. 

  • Beginning worship service attendance when a child is young may be more effective than waiting until the early or late elementary years. I read of one family who brought each child into worship service at age 4. They made this a special and important part of celebrating the 
fourth birthday. Each child knew that when they turned 4, they would begin to sit with the family in the “big people service” and they eagerly anticipated it.
  • If your child is more active/restless, don’t assume they cannot sit in the worship service.
  • Structure, boundaries and routine are beneficial for them when offered with patient shepherding. 

We should always keep the goal in mind. “Training children to worship means that they are asked to pay attention and helped to do so. Simply telling children to ‘be quiet’ is not the way to draw their attention to the worship that is taking place. The purpose of parenting in the pew is to train a child to worship, not to be quiet. Quietness at certain times may enhance their ability to worship, but quietness is a means to this effort not an end.” (Parenting in the Pew) 

Participating in the Worship Service

Participation is the goal—we want our children to worship not just learn to be quiet. Many parts of the service are easy to involve children in such as singing, praying and giving. The sermon can be a challenging time for children. We need to teach our children that sermons are an important way to learn and grow from God’s Word. I tell children that there is worship involved in trying to understand what they can and then, by their behavior, allowing mom and dad to concentrate on the teaching of the Word. 

On participating in the service: 

  • Encourage your child to sing with the congregation. Talk at home about the words of the 
hymns and choruses we sing. When the congregation is standing, hold young children up in your arms or steady them as they stand on a chair so they can see the front. If a child doesn’t know the words and can’t read, encourage them to “la la la” along with the melody.
Children can be encouraged to listen for a repeated word or phrase in a song and then squeeze your hand when they hear it. Let your child clap and move (within the limits of his space) to the music. Occasionally we sing songs for which the children have learned motions. Let them do the motions. 

  • During prayer time, teach your child to bow their head and close their eyes so they can concentrate on what is being said and pray along silently. (“ talking to God with your thoughts”) Let children share their prayer concerns with the church staff by turning in written prayer requests during the offering. 

  • Giving is an important act of worship. Children have opportunity to give to missions in their Sunday school classes. They may choose to give their money during worship service instead and parents should explain to them why we give and how we use God’s money. It is best if the money given is their own from allowance or chores. Handing coins to a child as the offering basket is passed may be participatory but it does not teach the child about the worship of giving. If the child has no money to give, allow them to help in passing the offering basket. 
  • Review the sermon after the service. Young children can draw pictures of what they heard during the sermon. Older children can be encouraged to take sermon notes. (Sermon note pages are included in the bulletin.) Review these drawings and notes with your child. Let them have a special “sermon notebook” in which to keep all their drawings and notes. Over the course of several years such a notebook could become helpful as they reflect on their spiritual growth. Take sermon notes yourself and plan ahead with your child to have a question and answer time at home during the week. Instead of feeling like a “test”, this could be a fun activity for older kids as they try to anticipate what mom and dad will ask. Reverse the roles and let your children ask you questions about the sermon. Encourage your children to listen and learn.

Behaving during the Worship Service

Behavior is important during worship service because it is a demonstration of the state of our heart. Sunday morning is the time and place we have dedicated to the gathering of God’s people for the purpose of worship. It is an opportunity for training our children to show reverence and respect for the Lord, eagerness to hear the Word of God and care and concern for our fellow worshippers

On worship service behavior

  • Do not simply tell your child to be good; have clear expectations. It may be necessary to review these each week before the service.
  • use your soft voice only 

  • no noise or movement that distracts others 

  • listen carefully to learn about God 

  • bow heads and join in prayer time.

Walking in and out of the sanctuary during worship is distracting to others so, except for emergencies, a child should wait to use the bathroom or get a drink until after worship service. Making sure the bathroom (but not the water fountain) is visited before the service is part of our preparation to worship.

Parents must also enforce the expectations they set. This is the time consuming (and sometimes exhausting) aspect of training that God has entrusted to parents. Whatever method you use to respond when your child does not comply with what you’ve asked, should be applied in private and with absolute consistency when your children disobey the boundaries you set.

Baptism and Communion

Lakeland practices two ordinances, baptism and communion. Scripture informs our practice and participation in both. Leading children to participate in either of these requires prayer and discernment. First, you should understand what Scripture says about the purposes and requirements for baptism and communion. Then you can discern your child’s understanding of these things and their readiness to participate.

Communion (or the Lords’ Supper) is a time of remembering the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross for our sins. Only believers (those who have trusted Jesus for forgiveness of sin) should take communion. Scripture warns against taking communion in an unworthy manner. (I Corinthians 11:27-28) At Lakeland we celebrate communion once each month. Baptism is an outward sign of our decision to trust Jesus for forgiveness and to live in obedience to Him. (Romans 6:3-4) Candidates for baptism meet with an elder or deacon to determine their readiness

It is important that our children understand these practices and participate in them as believers. 

  • Children should be able to verbalize, in their own words, their faith commitment to Jesus. 
They should understand the basics of the gospel. They do not need to use and understand all the theological terms we might use, but they need to understand the basic concepts. Children need to have an understanding of the substance of these acts. 

  • A good guideline is waiting for your child to ask to participate. Their interest is where the conversation should begin. You can then have a number of conversations/teaching times with your child to discern their readiness. 

If you know your child is not ready to take communion, how do you help them through that part of the service? I would encourage parents to not let communion be seen as something that is being denied but rather something that is of high value and worth waiting for. It can be anticipated. You may need to talk with your children each month before communion Sunday. You can remind them that on Sunday we will be remembering how special and important it is that Jesus died on the cross to take the punishment for our sin. Let them know that you are looking forward to the time when they will join you and the rest of the church in participating. Until then, it is important to wait until they have understood and made their own choice to trust Jesus to forgive them. 

If your child has professed faith, you can prepare them each month to take communion by reminding them what it is for and how we participate in it. It is a time to pray and thank Jesus and it is also a time to confess sin and ask forgiveness. They may not be as meditative as adults but children can participate in communion with age-appropriate reverence. 

If you would like help in involving your child in worship service or to discuss your child’s readiness for communion or baptism, I would be glad to talk with you. Please call me at my office extension. (847.856.1240, ext. 228) 

Judy Crockett, 
Children’s Ministry Director

Parenting in the Pew Robbie Castleman, InterVarsity Press
“Let the Children Come to Me”, “Will the Next Generation Know”, “The Family: Together in God’s Presence” Articles by John Piper, available at www.desiringgod.org/library/topics/family “Teaching Children Attitudes of Reverence and Worship” BSF International, home training lesson, available from Judy Crockett
“Children, Worship, and Learning”, www.elca.org/eteam/resources/ChildWrshp.htm
Faith at Home, “Tips and Ideas” www.faith-at-home.com/tips/sundays.html.