I sincerely appreciate the heart many of my brothers’ and sisters’ have toward children, and I do not wish to attack what they are seeing as liberty and wise stewardship of their time with kids by having a “Children’s Church” each Sunday during the preaching hour.
I know what I am addressing is a touchy subject simply because it’s a deeply ingrained practice in many places. If you are in a church that has “Children’s Church” I get it. You cannot even fathom how you would do without a children’s church of some sort. In your mind, you see chaos, screaming, and maybe even something on fire!
My desire in this post is to honor the Lord. I want to speak forthrightly while maintaining compassion and unity. I do not wish to divide over this. But I do think what I am writing on is an important matter. I hope you will listen first before constructing a response.
I believe churches in America are better off to do away with children’s church completely. When I say “Children’s Church” I am referring to the intentional segregation of ages that happens routinely on Sunday Mornings during the main gathering of many churches.
Children ages 4 all the way to 5th and 6th grade sometimes are sent off to a “Church Lite” service where they can get snacks, sometimes a lesson (or video), and kept from disturbing the important things the adults are doing down the hall.
I do not subscribe to the Family Integrated model of ministry. I think it helpful in some areas, but that it goes too far in others. What I am arguing against is the intentional segregation of ages that happens routinely on Sunday Mornings during the main gathering of many churches.
Here are a few reasons I think this way.
An Exegetical Argument
I think we can make a case from Nehemiah 8:2 that “and all who could understand” refers at least to older children. This is an example of children hearing from God’s Word in the assembly of God’s people in the Old Testament.
In the New Testament, we have two explicit verses addressing children personally: Ephesians 6:1-3 and Colossians 3:20. In these passages, Paul assumes that children gathered with the church as the pastors read the letter. He did not feel the need to write one letter to the church and another to the “Children’s Church”.
Of course, one of the most famous passages in Scripture regarding children is what Jesus says in Matthew 19:14. “Let the children come to me.” I would argue that we are actually obscuring the very point Jesus is making when we say the “adult Jesus” in corporate worship is too much for children. The gathering around Jesus in Matthew 19 was full of adults, and it was in the context of some difficult teaching on divorce! And yet, Jesus says the children belonged there.
A Historical Argument
Not all that is new is wrong, but we must be wary of practices in the church that are less than 100 years old. I don’t mean to say that we must reject all such practices, but we should do due diligence in weighing them carefully to see if they are a help or hindrance to true worship and must test all things in light of Scripture.
From my historical understanding, “Children’s Church” is quite new. In the history of the church, we could say that 95% of the worship gatherings included children. Only recently has there been a movement to remove children to a “more suitable” environment.
Now, the church has a long tradition of catechizing children. Calvin did this in Geneva. Edwards had services in the afternoons at times to talk with children and teenagers. Spurgeon wrote his own catechism.
So, children have always been important to Christ and His church. However, because they have been important, they have not been segregated from the main gathering of the church historically. Yes, extra time has been given to teach them (as it should be) but they were not separated from the weekly main worship gathering of the adults. (Also, historically, family worship has been crucial to the health of the church. Read more on how to do that here.)
I am not against having age-appropriate classes for children during Sunday school or on Wednesday nights. Classes for children have been around for a long time (source). My argument is not against having a Children’s Ministry. What I am suggesting here is that separating children from adults in a church’s main gathering for corporate worship is not supported from Scripture or history. And as we’ll see in the next point, it causes children to miss out on some valuable learning.
A Teachable Argument
Oh, the things our children miss when we send them away to children’s church! They miss knowing and hearing from the pastor(s) of the church. They miss seeing moms, dads, uncles, aunts, grandparents, and people of all generations worshiping together.
When we relegate children to children’s church, we may “teach” them about the things of God. But, we fail to show them in practice what the main gathering of the church is to be. Children are little sponges that absorb so much information. It saddens me that so many are missing out on the main gathering of the church during such formative years of their life.
Furthermore, when children remain in the main gathering it challenges pastors to make sure they speak at times to their level! Pastors can and should instruct children during sermons.
A Practical Argument
Is it really possible to have young children sit in the main gathering of the church without causing a distraction? Sometimes.
Sometimes they can’t because they are children. They might need age-appropriate materials such as colors where they can color perhaps a picture of what the preacher is preaching about. Maybe they can draw to the best of their ability what they think the sermon is covering.
Sometimes parents need to discipline children for misbehavior. This might require leaving the gathering with them at times for a minute or two. Sometimes older congregants need to help young moms and dads with encouragement or appropriate assistance in helping with the children.
While it’s true that children today have different toys than they did 2,000 years ago, the nature of children hasn’t changed. A child is still a child. We may have to get creative, but there are ways to help our children remain in the service while having them, and us, and those around us, still glean much from the Word sung, preached, and prayed.
I might also suggest that this takes consistency. Consistency in boundaries and consistency in attendance. But children can learn to sit still. They are capable of benefiting from corporate worship.
Let me appeal to my readers to seriously consider phasing out children’s church in your local church. Don’t do this overnight. Take time to discuss it, to pray over it, to consider what Scripture says. More important than what this or that couple might think is what Jesus thinks. Seek to subject all things to the head of the church, even if it doesn’t seem like it would “work” to you at first.
And if the carpet gets muddy or a child cries or a pew gets torn, give God praise for membership in a place that prizes children and that your church seeks to know God together in such a way that the next generation might know and many more to come.