I was at a presbytery meeting recently, and, because all of our options for childcare fell through, I brought my 10-year-old son with me. He approached the whole affair with no small amount of dread and (as I came to understand) with good reason.
After a rather long, sober, liturgically driven worship service within which almost every unrecognizable hymn was drawn from the new Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) hymnal, my son began to fidget intensely. Finally, when we broke for lunch I asked him what he thought of everything. “That,”he said deliberately, “was the single worst church experience of my life.”
The late Mike Yaconelli, the godfather of modern youth ministry, once said, “It’s a sin to bore a kid.”He was talking about youth ministry, of course, but I would take it a step further. I believe that it’s a sin to bore a kid in church. And at my church we aren’t going to do it any more.
At our fastest growing worship service —a casual, contemporary-style service —parents are free to keep their kids with them if they wish, but the bulk of our children’s programming happens while the worship service is underway. We offer high-energy worship for our children, followed by age-appropriate, interactive lessons and activities for kids in pre-school to fifth grade.
We’ve learned over time that this is the model that most parents prefer. It’s the kind of approach that enables parents to worship freely without having to corral, entertain or shush their kids for an hour, and it also actually makes children want to come to church.
Listen, it’s hard enough to get busy, young families to attend church anyway —why do we need to make it any harder?
In our traditional worship service we have finally begun to make the transition to a similar model. Up until this point, we have kept elementary aged children through most of the worship service, dismissing them to a short time of lessons and activities after a children’s “sermon.”Over the last few years, the number of families and children participating in the service has dwindled down to almost none.
When I spoke to our children’s director about making the shift to the model we use at our casual service she was visibly relieved. “It’s getting harder and harder to keep them in the [traditional worship] service,”she told me. “They’re so bored.”
I realize I will probably be roundly criticized by those who have fallen in love with the notion that “children’s church”or alternative children’s “Sunday school”during regular worship is anathema. So be it. If that approach keeps working for you in the 21st century —kudos. I’m getting off of that train, though.
You see, I would rather that children have positive, exciting and warm feelings about getting up on Sunday mornings and going to church with their family. I would rather that parents have the opportunity to focus in worship and learn from the sermons than spend their entire morning worrying that their kids are behaving.
One day the children in our church will grow up —and far too quickly. They will no longer want “childish things”and will be ready to take the next step in their spiritual development. But until that day, we’ll meet them where they are, do our best not to bore them to death and try to help them fall in love with Jesus in the process.
Leon Bloder is a preacher, a poet, a would-be writer, a husband, a father, a son, a dreamer, a sinner, a pastor, a fellow-traveler and a failed artist. He is talentless, but well-connected. He stumbles after Jesus, but hopes beyond hope that he is stumbling in the right direction. Leon has been married to Merideth for 22 years, is the father of three awesome boys, and serves in ministry at the First Presbyterian Church of Eustis in Eustis, Florida.