People sitting on pews in church, smiling

People sitting on pews in church, smiling

Jesus was rather pointed when it came to the importance of our treatment of children.

Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin,[a] it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea. (Matthew 18:5-6)

So when it comes to the means by which humans relate to God for eternity, namely corporate worship, we say to our children, “Go away!” Really? Oh, I know we would never present it like that, and we legitimize separating children off as being for the “good” (aka convenience) of any and all involved, trying to convince ourselves it is best for the children, best for the parents, best for everyone for children not to be in the corporate worship gathering with everyone else. Really? How is that working out?

Our Thinking: If we give children their own worship they will love church and want to come more! We can give them treats, songs just for them, and put only the fun people in the room with them so they will love it, love it, love it. As an “added” bonus, children will not be disrupting “our” worship service.

What Happens: Children get the message that church is supposed to give them what they want the way they want it (not exactly the Gospel). Children become bored when it’s time to transfer to “big church” and continue to want what they want. They grow into teenagers wanting what they want, and so in many instances we split them off too in order to make worship fit an image we think will be appealing to them. In similar fashion utilitarian formula for church worship morphs into what leaders think people will like and want, all the while watering down the value of heritage, biblical liturgy, and the truth and power of the Gospel itself. How is that going?

All indications are that in the U.S. church worship attendance in our day continues to decline. Those who have grown up with this “Burger King theology,” meaning worship based on the idea of “Have it your way,” are the very ones who leave the church, leaving the treats, the songs, and the fun behind. Meanwhile, people are less and less familiar with the hymns of the ages, less patient to prayerfully hear scripture, engage less in active worship participation like singing, and demonstrate little grasp of the power rooted in the ordinances and rites of worship. Is it any wonder fundamental biblical understandings of such bedrock institutions as marriage are up for grabs, or that so many question basic Christian doctrinal truths?

One author, blogger, and former pastor notes three key things we have forgotten as we have segregated out children from the gathered corporate worship environment:

  1. A promise. When Peter first preached the gospel at Pentecost, he argued that ‘the promise is for you and your children….” (Acts 2:38-39). There is a tightly woven connection in God’s eyes between preaching, parents, and their children. The very first gospel appeal given after Christ’s ascension at the start of the church culminated in a call to action for parents AND their children.

  2. A Warning. ‘Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven’ (Matthew 19;13-15). Jesus said that wherever two or three are gathered together in His name, he would be present in a special way. (Matthew 18:20) If a worship service is a place we gather expecting to experience the presence of our Lord, don’t we come dangerously close to imitating the short-sighted disciples when we discourage children from coming to experience His presence with us?

  3. A Process. Scripture tells us that our children will be moved to question us as part of their learning process. When they see the things we do in worshipping God, they will ask us about it. And they will learn. ‘When your children say to you, What do you mean by this service? You shall say…’ (Exodus 12:21-28). If they’re not present to experience the Lord’s Supper, the New Testament Passover, how will they ever be moved to ask about it? How will they learn? How will they know?[1]

I have three grown children who have families of their own. We are blessed with seven grandchildren and more on the way. I know the challenge of sitting with a child in church worship. On the occasions I get that privilege I do not get to sing every note of every song or hear every word of the sermon. I have struggled plenty with the internal debate of “Do I continue attempting to point to words in the Bible to keep up with the pastor’s sermon points and show the child this is how we do it?,” or “Do I cave and hand them my cellphone, on which I have loaded so many child games I had to up my plan to accommodate?” Although I confess to having done both, I have also found myself immersed later in conversation about the meaning of baptism and Lord’s Supper with a five-year-old. I have prayed with a toddler for the family of friends whose grandparent died. I have sung songs of Zion with a three-year-old who could not match pitch much less know what it might mean to be “marching through Immanuel’s ground.” There is no better place for my grandchildren to feel the calming touch of a grandparent’s hand on the shoulder, or to observe as Dad sings a hymn of praise or lament with meaning and passion, than in the place of gathered worship with Christian family all around. This thing we call Christian worship or church worship is a powerful force in a child’s development toward Christian discipleship. I am a proponent of letting them experience it next to parents, grandparents, and church family of multiple ages when at all possible. How about you?

But when the chief priests and the scribes saw the wonderful things that he did, and the children crying out in the temple, “Hosanna to the Son of David!” they were indignant, 16 and they said to him, “Do you hear what these are saying?” And Jesus said to them, “Yes; have you never read,

“Out of the mouth of infants and nursing babies
you have prepared praise’?” (Matthew 21:15-16)

Other reading on children and worship:  Value of Children’s Music Training by Mike Harland

Children in Worship by Jason Hulopoulus

Thoughts from John Piper on Families Worshiping Together

Parenting in the Pew by Robbie Fox Castleman

[1] Bill Blankschaen Why I’ve Stopped Singing in Your Church: Answers to Questions You’ve Been Afraid to Ask about Church Issues © 2014.

Explore posts in the same categories: Church Music, Congregational Singing, Leading Worship, Music Ministry, Singing Worship, Spiritual formation through singing, Worship Leaders, Worship Pastors, Worship theology, Worship thoughts, Youth Worship

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  1. martha kirkland Says:

    Thank you, Paul. I’m totally with you…for Intergenerational worship.
    Blessed are the children who get that opportunity every week.
    Martha Kirkland

  2. i8ajellybean Says:

    Why would you EVER give a kid a cell phone to play games on during a service? My kids can do that at home. They need to be in a learning/growing environment! Not to mention we have lost all sense of teaching children respect for God if we are allowing them to “play” during church!

  3. Sylvia Says:

    I say Amen to this as far as children are concerned, which of course is what you are addressing. But babies–now that’s a different story. I am a firm believer in babies being put in the nursery during worship services. I have seen far too many services disrupted by screaming babies or by cute well behaved babies that people sitting around them want to watch and focus on instead of worshiping the Lord.

  4. Bradley Says:

    I have two children of my own, 5 and 6 months. Our 6 month old goes to the church nursery every week and this gives my wife a chance to worship and hear God’s Word without having to worry weather the baby will get upset and begin to cry. Our 5 year old sits with my wife until halfway through the service when the children all leave for what we call “Children’s Church.” This again gives my wife the ability to listen attentively to the sermon and enables her to respond as God leads her. She doesn’t have to worry about a 5 year old asking for paper and a pen, rolling all over her lap, or ask to go to the bathroom.

    Now, in our Children’s church our children hear a Bible lesson that is on their level and easy for them to understand. We often ask our 5 year old after church what she learned in Children’s church and she is able to tell us. So she is learning about God and from God’s Word in Children’s church.

    Now, you may have picked up on the fact that I said our five year old sits with my wife and you may think, “Why are you not there to help out with your child?” Well it’s because I am standing behind the pulpit, I’m the pastor.

    So, take it from a pastor who has children and cares about the spiritual condition and depth of the children in the church he pastor’s, if I did not see children’s church as a beneficial thing we would not do it.

    I leave you with this, you mentioned that only when children are in the sanctuary worshipping with parents and grandparents can they learn and ask questions about what is occurring. Church is not the only place that learning is to occur. Deuteronomy 6:7 says, “You shall teach them (God’s law, God’s Word) diligently to your sons and shall talk of them when you sit in your house and when you walk by the way and when you lie down and when you rise up.” We should take every opportunity to explain baptism, the Lord’s Supper, salvation, God’s Word, etc. to our children and not just in a corporate worship service.

    • Bradley,
      The post is not intended to infer that corporate worship substitutes for teaching our children “when you sit in your house and when you walk by the way and when you lie down and when you rise up.” I think you have misread if you think the post is saying “only when children are in the sanctuary worshipping with parents and grandparents can they learn and ask questions…” Rather this post is just that, a blogpost (not a book or full treatise), and is intended to prompt consideration of issues related to worship, in this case regular corporate congregational worship. Believe me, I understand the situation with your family as a pastor for I, too, spent my first 26 years of ministry on the platform while my wife was in the pew with our three children who are now all grown. I, myself, was a “P.K.” (preacher’s kid) and sat on the second row so my mother could see my brother and me from the organ bench.

      The post is intended to prompt church leaders and parents to consider what happens when we separate children out from public gathered worship, and especially to confront a common practice of offering “Worship Kids Style” throughout the childhood years, leaving a chasm where intergenerational worship is outside the regular experience for children or adults. So thank you for adding your reminder to us that what takes place in corporate worship is most effective when consistent with what is experienced in the home.

      • Bradley Says:


        Thank you for your comment/reply. I understand what you are saying about people coming to church with a “Burger King – Have it you way” mentality. That consumer mentality is a product of the world in which we live. We are constantly bombarded with messages and images that tell us, “This is your life be who you want, do what you want, ect.” Now, I will admit, if the church is not careful it can aid in feeding that consumer mentality. When church members say I want worship this way or want it that way and church leadership listens to them rather than following God’s leading in that church it does feed the consumer mentality. For our church, however, offering Children’s church is not seen as something to please or entertain our children, it is seen as another avenue for us to present the gospel to children you might not grasp it in a cooperate setting. With that in mind I pose this thought to the discussion: Churches should look at the cultural context around them and determine the best avenue(s) they can use to present the gospel. Understand I am not advocating changing the message of the gospel merely the style in which it might be delivered. The apostle Paul practiced this himself: “To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak; I have become all things to all men, so that I may by all means save some” (1 Corinthians 9:22).

        I understand that it may be different in other churches but for our church Children’s Church is about reaching kids with ththe gospel message in a way that they can understand and respond to it. It is not about simply offering “Worship Kids Style.”

  5. zech Lumpkin Says:

    As a worship leader for 4th and 5th graders in a large church, I think it’s better for the kids to be separated most of the time. It’s not just about the worship, but also about the message. Very few 4th and 5th graders (8th grade and below for that matter) will understand the message in the larger gathering, which is why they call it boring. The children’s ministry at our church does not replace our command in Deuteronomy 6; rather it is a partnership with parents. Ultimately, it’s still up to the parents to act on the scripture and engage in age appropriate dialogue with their kids discussing, what they’ve learned. We’ve been at this church going on 10 years now and have not seen the kids with the entitlement mentality of which you speak. (They may be around, but I haven’t seen them) Rather, I see maturing kids, preteens, adolescents, high schoolers, and fully devoted (adult) followers of Christ…we watched these kids grow up, and now they contentedly sit in the large group gathering by themselves or with their families. What you’ve laid out here COULD happen, but in our experience is the outlier.

  6. David E. Lentz Says:

    I submit that if you were just interested in starting a discussion then leaving “no millstone for me” out of the title would help. Those of us who are dedicated to children’s ministry are carrying on the tradition of Christ teaching by parables-talk in language they understand so they will get the WORD.

  7. Rebekka Wright Says:

    Not all Children’s Church services are as you described. In our church the children are taught in a manner more suited to their age. They hear bible stories, sing, and have a lesson that they also bring home for parents to see what they are learning. We usually go over these at bed time. My four year old definitely would not understand the same lesson she learns in children’s church if she were to hear it in a sermon in “big church”. It is definitely not only about “treats, songs just for them, and fun people”. These children are learning.

  8. […] Paul Clark digs into the question of whether we gain anything by having the kids worship apart from …: […]

  9. Janet Says:

    I am a pastor’s wife in a rural, small town church. We often have kids from the community whose parents don’t come yet. The kids stay downstairs with us for song time and go upstairs with me for Children’s church on Sundays. Even here in the states, many of these kids have never heard basic BIble stories such as David and Goliath and their ideas of heaven and who God is are all tangled up with the movies or TV shows that they’ve watched. In Children’s church we spend time teaching the beginning doctrines of who God is and what He is like. We want to clear up the confusions and help them understand. For the kids whose parents come, those parents are able to stay in the service and listen. It’s a way for us to minister to them as a family.

  10. Tina Neilsen Says:

    I think both sides are ok. I remember sitting in a church one day behind a family of seven. Nice family till the sermon began. when it did a ruler appeared from Mum’s bag. She was focussed on the toddler and every time he made a noise or moved from his allotted position he got slapped with that rotten ruler!! This was thirty years ago and I often wonder if he knows the Lord or goes to church after that introduction to the Love of God.
    I watched with horror at how she was training up her child and honestly wanted to grab the ruler, slap her on her behind a few times then break the stupid thing!! Sorry, I was a lot younger then, way more feisty, and less likely to stop and think ‘What would Jesus do’.

    I had my toddler and new born with me, my husband and my dad and the babies just cuddled throughout the entire service.
    I know the mother was way over the top with her discipline, but I’d rather send my kids out to Children’s Church if they wanted to go. If they didn’t. Fine.
    God can plant His seeds of love in little hearts anywhere there is someone to tell them, especially when their parents who love the Lord are their main teachers of the wonderful and awesome love God has given the world thru Jesus.

  11. Denka Says:

    We raised 4 children in church with the blanket on the floor between our feet method keeping quiet and under control with the occasional walking out of the service to settle them down if there was a disturbance and came back in when they had settled. Please don’t say we were just lucky we ” trained our children in the way they should go” ? They all have grown well adjusted and no they were nit exceptionally or naturally behaved or quiet but they learned to be.please don’t say they were exceptions because it took consistency and determination on our behalf to achieve this.

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