Over the course of the next few months, most families will return to church. If your church is anything like mine, it is going to look different for a while. Currently at my church, children’s classrooms are closed and all children must accompany parents into worship. If your children are new to corporate worship, here are a few suggestions that may be helpful as you train your children to worship corporately:
- Discuss worship expectations with your children. Jen and I use to tell our children that we expected them to be calm (because we have three boys who couldn’t sit still), quiet (because we children who do not understand what an indoor voice is), and pay attention. Three things. That’s all we needed them to remember. Calm. Quiet. Pay attention. Some of our children learned quickly. Others tested boundaries and needed loving guidance with a whisper in the ear, a squeeze on the thigh, or even an invitation to join me in the hallway to be reminded of expectations. Children who did well were praised generously. If children are brand new to corporate worship, expect that quick learners will do well after a few weeks and slow learners will take a few months.
Provide tools not toys. We want children engaged, not occupied. It’s great that children are present, but our goal is their participation. Rather than bringing cars, coloring books, or legos bring a notebook, Bible, and pen. We encourage young children who cannot read to draw pictures of what they hear. Older children are expected to take notes and listen attentively. For accountability, we often have our children go down to the senior pastor and show him notes. We attend a church of 5,000 people, so this can happen in small or large churches.
- Teach your children the music you sing at church. We purchase songs that we sing at church and listen to them at home. It’s not forced, but informal. We play worship music while children eat breakfast or clean and in the process they begin to become familiar with the worship music. Guess what happens at church when they hear music they know and like? They sing! You can help your child by sitting in a child-friendly location so they can clearly see the front of the worship space. We allow our smaller children to stand on a chair when we stand to sing.
Suckers! Our goal for children was always busy hands and quiet mouths. When the pastor began his sermon, we would pass out a sucker to each of our children. The sucker usually helped a child pay attention for about ten minutes. If a child was particularly squirmy, we would provide a second sucker or even a piece of gum. We would also strategically place the youngest children closest to a parent and the older children at the end.
- Say no to bathrooms and screens. We learned quickly that some of our children suddenly had to go to the bathroom and couldn’t hold it during the sermon. We made it a practice to encourage children to go to the bathroom before the worship service and only gave permission to use the bathroom in rare instances. We initiated the “Are you going to wet your pants?” test to determine if the bathroom was necessary. We also do not allow screens during the service, unless it is to access the Bible or use an app to take notes. As parents, we try to set a good example by not texting, using social media, looking at fantasy football scores (particularly hard for me during football season), or checking email. Our children learn the value and form of worship by watching us. We want the affection of our heart and the focus of our mind to be on worshipping Christ and; therefore, we try to eliminate all distractions.
Ask questions on the ride home. Invite your children to share what they liked most about the sermon or a comment that stuck out to them. Sometimes our children will laugh about a funny story that was shared and this is fine! It means they were listening. Other times, children will ask a clarifying question about what a word or concept means. This is simply an opportunity for you to see how your children are processing the sermon and to see what really grabbed them.
Like learning anything, it takes time for young children to learn how to worship corporately. If worshipping as a family is new to you, just getting your children to sit quietly without embarrassing you or distracting others is a big win! As a father of five, I’ve been there. I’ve been given the evil eye as someone glanced over their shoulder at me due to a loud child. If that happens, just smile and don’t take it out on your child. Be gracious to yourself, your children and others who have children. This is a season where extra grace is required.
While we need an orderly worship service, the sounds of children are a sign of health for families and churches as it is a means to pass on faith to the next generation. If you are willing to do the hard work to teach and train your children to worship corporately, your children will reap the benefits of being part of the larger church body and learning to worship.
If you want to learn more about worshipping corporately as a family I encourage you to purchase the book Parenting in the Pew, which has many practical and helpful ideas. Truth78 created a children’s worship notebook that helps children follow along with a sermon and our children have found this resource helpful. Of course, if you haven’t purchased a Bible for your child, consider getting one so the child can bring it to church for worship. May the Lord bless you as you train a child to worship God!