Keeping kids in church may not be easy, but it is worth the effort! Here are ten tips for keeping your kids in church from a mom who has been doing it for years!
We attend a family integrated church. Which is basically to say that for better or worse, our children are a part of the entire service, from their very first Sunday.
Having one baby in church can be difficult. Having a baby, a toddler, a preschooler, and a first grader in church can feel like a marathon on some days.
I mean, just getting out the door with all the bags packed, clothes buttoned up and shoes slipped on (I avoid kids’ shoes with laces like the plague), and everything else that goes into a smooth church service is a feat. If I arrive at church looking like a deer in headlights, it’s because the previous hour was spent bouncing from one child to another, from one room to another, doing all the things.
So then, once arriving at church, wouldn’t it be easier to just drop our kids off in nursery and slip away to a quiet church service?
Well, yes. It would.
But, as with so many other instances in parenting, we believe that the hard route is worth it. And in this case, we believe that making the effort to teach our children to join in corporate worship from a young age will pay off in dividends that will surpass the initial investment.
I am in my seventh year of having small children in church. I know the sacrifice of not being able to sing every hymn and not being able to give the sermon my undivided attention. But I have also seen the rewards of hearing my children answer (often rhetorical) questions from their seats because they are listening while they draw. I relish the moments when my toddlers want to stand and hold their Bible next to me during the corporate reading.
And even when I have to grab my baby around the waist for the tenth time to stop him from crawling out of the aisle, even when my toddler needs another reminder to sit still, I know that all of the training does pay off. I know because I now have three kids who (generally) sit quietly during church.
Keeping our children in church is valuable work, friends. I love the way John Piper puts in in his podcast (the whole episode is worth listening to):
“Why wouldn’t parents be jealous to model for their children the tremendous value that they put on joyful reverence in the presence of Almighty God? Of course it’s over their head! It’s supposed to be over their head. They’re beginners. The English language is over their head as soon as they come out of the womb…Long before children understand fully what is going on in worship, in what is sung and what is said, they’re absorbing tremendous amounts of what is valuable…Children hear and remember remarkable things.”
I have put together a list of ten things that we have done to make the process of training our children to both behave in church and to begin to join in and benefit from corporate worship.
Keep scrolling to read all the tips. I was going to share a couple free printables to make a church book for your kids today, too, but this post got pretty long on its own. So check back soon for a great resource to help your kids get more out of the service! You can also follow on Facebook or subscribe to the newsletter if you think you might forget!
Ten Tips for Keeping Kids in Church
1. Be enthusiastic about having your children in church.
I am starting with this tip because it is arguably the most important. Ideally, this is a tip for the entire church, but most importantly for you as the parents. You set the tone, the expectations, and the environment.
There are times when having your children with you in church is HARD. It can be noisy, messy, distracting, and so on. But, if you KNOW why the effort in teaching your children is WORTH IT, then you will convey that to your children. They will see that you do want them there, in the midst of the training and correcting, and they will see that they are welcome and that their presence is important.
2. Keep your expectations high.
There is a purpose for keeping our children with us in church. And it has nothing to do with wanting to avoid the germs in the nursery. As John Piper says, these are our children’s most formative years and we should want to use this amazing time to model and immerse them in the teaching and practices of church worship.
An important component of keeping children in church is teaching them to esteem the value and importance of singing together, corporate Bible reading, and the preaching of the Word. One way we can do this is to keep our expectations for their behavior and participation high.
Even young children, toddlers too, can learn to sit quietly, to hold their questions, and to stand and sing or listen when appropriate. Resist the temptation to “quietly” read books to your children, to let them sprawl on the floor with a dozen toys, or to allow other behaviors which would prove to be distracting to themselves or others.
As long as there are children in church, there will be unexpected noises and interruptions. The point is not harsh discipline with a goal of complete silence. The goal is passing on a sense of awe and understanding that leads to fear of the Lord and the hope and joy of the gospel taking root in their hearts.
3. Practice at home.
Practice makes progress.
Begin setting up times when you and your children can practice sitting still and listening quietly at home. Have your children sit on the couch or on a bench while you read to them. Or join them on the couch and listen to a sermon together.
You can begin with shorter increments of time and build up to longer stretches. Keep your expectations similar to how you expect them to behave in church. If you don’t want them laying down in the pew, then don’t let them lay down on the couch. Same thing for talking. If your children are older and you want to help them practice active listening, then talk to them after you read or finish listening about what they heard.
We allow our children to look at books or draw during church until they reach a certain age, so our afternoon book time also serves as a great practice opportunity.
Developing the habit of being able to sit patiently and quietly will benefit your children not only in church, but in any number of other situations that require waiting and/or listening!
4. Practice songs at home and read the sermon text together before Sunday morning.
If our goal is for our children to benefit from being in the service with us, then what we do in the days leading up to Sunday can make a big difference.
Learning the songs you regularly sing together will help children participate in corporate worship long before they can read the verses on a screen or in a hymnal.
Making it a habit to read the sermon text together before Sunday morning is another great practice which will help everyone in the family get more from the sermon. Mothers and fathers who may be distracted with tending to children will be better able to follow along when they are already familiar with the text. And young children will get excited to hear verses and phrases they know, and will feel more a part of the service even if they are only listening off and on.
5. Provide engaging, quiet seat activities.
Right now, we have a 10-month-old, 3-year-old, 5-year-old, and a 6-year-old in church. While each child is expected to be quiet and (relatively) still during church, their options of staying engaged vary.
Other than my baby, our children are expected to sit in their seats. We do not allow them to bring toys, but they are encouraged to pick out a few books each week and to bring along a sketchbook and pens. Now that my eldest child is more capable of sitting and listening, we are encouraging him to put his books away during the sermon and learn to pay attention.
Every child is different, and figuring out what will keep your child occupied will vary from child to child. Our kids could sit and draw all day. We have found activity books and “look & find” books to be helpful, too. In the toddler stage, a quiet book is another great idea for occupying little hands.
Babies can, of course, be another story. I think recognizing that each stage, as easy or challenging as it is, will only last for a short time has helped me in the past. I can enjoy the sleeping stage and the sitting-but-not-crawling stage for their easiness during a church service, and I can remind myself that the screeching stage and the wanting to escape the aisle stage won’t last forever.
Generally, during church our baby is either napping in a baby carrier, playing with a handful of toys at my feet, or sitting in my lap.
6. Use baby carriers.
After having babies in church for seven years, I don’t know what I would do without baby carriers. They have meant not skipping naps, happy(er) babies, and occasionally still being able to take notes while holding my baby.
A ring sling and an Ergo are my personal favorites. I prefer the ring sling for naps when my babies are 4-months-old or younger, and then switch to the Ergo after 4 months. I am currently in a stage where getting my baby to sleep in the Ergo takes a little more work (you can find me pacing and butt-patting and shushing in the back of the church), but the effort is worth it because it means a baby who isn’t exhausted and the chance to sit and listen while he naps.
7. Offer a snack if allowed.
Snacks can be a perfect way to break up a long service. Keep the snack time consistent so that your children will know exactly when to expect it, and will have a general idea of how much time is left in the service after snacks.
Non-messy snacks are important, and snacks that won’t cause a spike in sugar levels then a crash are good for preventing behavior issues too. Our kids favorite snacks are layered snack jars— they are fun and keep them occupied longer than other snacks.
8. Use the bathroom before church starts.
I have zero problem getting up during church if I need to, but any time we can avoid unnecessary interruptions is a good thing.
9. If you need to step out for a moment, return as soon as your child is calm.
This is something we have tried to put into practice since our firstborn was a baby. There will always be moments when you need to step out with a child to handle a disruption or some disobedience. It can be tempting to linger out of the service to talk to other parents or let your child play for a bit, but returning to the service immediately helps to reinforce the importance of the service and to teach them that stepping out is not a reward for misbehaving.
10. Don’t be self-conscious.
This one may be easier said than done, but it is so true! When it is your child who is making noises during the sermon, or who is being carried out screaming, it is easy to feel like all eyes are on you. You want to crawl in a hole and you question whether the embarrassment and (literal) headache is worth it.
But let me encourage you that we have all been there. If not in a church service, then in a grocery store or at the park. No one’s children behave perfectly all the time– or ever, really. Keep on keeping on, and know that the rest of us are cheering you on for the good, hard work you are doing.
To the rest of the church– please resist the urge to turn around and look. It helps no one and can make a child more agitated or a parent feel worse. If anything, just offer a pat on the back and a word of encouragement after church.
These years while our kids are little are great opportunities to lay a foundation that will last for years! For all the moments of struggle, there are glimpses into how God is sowing seeds in their little hearts. Let’s keep up the work and keep praying for fruit!
More resources on keeping kids in church ::
- Should Children Sit Through Big Church? :: Ask Pastor John
- 4 Reasons Your Kids Should Sit with You on Sunday :: The Gospel Coalition
- Dear Parent with Young Kids in Church :: I Am Totally That Mom
- National Council for Family Integrated Churches
Do your kids sit with you in church? How do you help them learn to sit quietly and join in the service?
Do you have any funny stories from your kids staying in church?