...there was a church that truly enjoyed children? All churches seem to want more kids (usually stated as "we want/need to attract more young families"). And then, having declared that, children are relegated to the sidelines of church life, it seems. We love to see them in Sunday School, Vacation Bible School, Children's Church, and (on occasion) "performing" in the worship service.
The last two churches I have served have had a good number of children and have been especially adept at knowing how to welcome them into the life of the congregation. Here at the Dille Parish, they have been welcoming children so well and for so long that they don't even seem to realize how well they do that and how unusual it is!
Last Sunday, there were probably 20 kids (maybe more) in the worship service, about 1/4 of the congregation. In something we have occasionally, called "Sunday School Surprise," the 2 & 3 year-old Sunday School class (there were 4 little kids) sang a song they have learned "The B-I-B-L-E" (with congregational help). The congregation was delighted! We also celebrated, using the UCC liturgy, the adoption of a Chinese-born toddler.
Throughout the service, there was a low background noise of children--whining, talking, walking around. The parents were attending to them, but with kids, there is some "buzz." At times, it was distracting, and even humorous. This sanctuary has no sound system, so I tried to make sure to use a very big voice during my worship leadership and preaching. I was wondering if anyone actually heard the sermon (which I thought was pretty good and definitely worth hearing!), and I was especially concerned that the kid noise might be bothersome to people without kids of their own. Though we have all those kids and their families, most of the congregation is empty-nest.
So I asked around to a few people and figured I would "step into" how people REALLY felt about the children. I expected to hear some irritation and frustration, and (I confess) I thought those feelings would even be kinda reasonable, given the numbers of kids and the constant noise.
Here's the amazing part: NO ONE even hinted that there was one thing negative about the children's presence, for them personally, and certainly not for the worship service or for the church. One very wise woman in the church put it this way, when I asked her if she could actually hear the sermon: "Well, I could hear just fine, and there were empty seats in front of me. If someone is having difficulty in the back, there are many options for them up front."
OK--so it bruises my ego just a little to figure out that maybe my voice wasn't the most important voice in the worship service last Sunday (maybe not ANY Sunday!?!). It's not the the first time I have made that discovery. And a little ego bruise goes pretty well with a warm heart!
My take on this: I don't know that any program (or lack of program) will make children feel welcome in church life. They either are, or they aren't, welcome, and I think they know the truth of that, no matter what we tell them. But I do believe that children only learn to worship "like we do" IN THE WORSHIP SERVICE! If children and youth can't worship there, we need to find out why. And, if we really want "young families" (with their kids) in our church, we might be willing to change the worship service so that children and youth can worship with us. OR...use this church's model: Let children and youth know that they are welcome (no matter what, all the time) and encourage them to participate (at their level) in the traditions we hold dear.
That's the church part. The parent part is simple--and even more important: Bring your children to church, regularly. Teach them, each week, to worship, by encouragement and example. And talk about where God is in your life and theirs, regularly.
And the pastor part (I think): Love them all, enjoy them to the max, and leave "what ain't broke" alone.