Monday, February 12, 2007

Helping Little Ones Learn to Sit in Church: A Few Practical Suggestions on Moving from Nursery to "Big Church"


One of the challenges every parent faces is teaching their small child to sit through a worship service. Although temperaments and dispositions vary, there are some very practical things you can do to help make the transition from the nursery to “big church.”

· The best training begins at home. Having regular family devotions will do much to teach active listening and worship. Even the smallest ones can learn to quietly listen to the Word of God being read and to answer a few questions aimed at their age level and understanding. This learning will transfer right into “big church.”

· You can “play church” and use a few minutes in the week to demonstrate to your child how to sit and pay attention while sitting on the sofa or in chairs. This is a great teaching time as there is none of the pressure to be quiet, etc! Besides, most kids love to play the part of “preacher!”

· You can have a few “big church” rules that you rehearse with your child during the week. Maybe things like “No talking,” or “Sit still” etc. Every family can think through how they want to train their kids to be a part of God’s worship.

· You may start keeping your child in “big church” for the first half of the service. Generally this includes the times of singing and prayer. You can then take them out to the nursery for the second half of the service. Over time, extend the times you keep them in “big church” and make it a goal for them to be able to get out of the nursery for good! It seems wise for you, not your child, to be the one who determines when it is time to exit and when it is time to stay in the service.

· Do bring your kids to church on Wednesday nights. At Grace Fellowship Church, there is no nursery for the corporate worship time on Wednesday nights (it starts immediately after) so this is great training. The singing and prayer request time is all geared to the kids and teaches them some good skills for corporate worship.

· Some children will find sitting in church easier if they are given a few books to read. One at a time and with growing breaks between each volume can be a good method. Other kids like to write. They can be encouraged to draw pictures of something they hear in the sermon. Still other families choose to avoid books and paper altogether. Think through what would work best to mentor your child.

· You may consider encouraging good behaviour by rewarding it. Be sure to compliment even the smallest good choices you see and consider what might motivate your child in particular.

· Expect a little rustling! Some adults can barely sit still for 5 minutes, let alone a 4 year old! We are used to a little noise and half the time no one hears it anyway. You may need to pull your child out of the service for disobedience, especially if it is loud, but try to keep encouraging good behaviour and participation. At GFC, we try to include the children in as much of the service as we can. You will be shocked to know how much a head that never looked up and a body that wiggled all morning actually took in!

· Avoid using “big church” as nap time. The goal is to train our kids to be active participants in the worship of God.

· Please do take your child out of the service if they get noisy. No one thinks you are a failure as a parent! We think you are... a parent... and a pretty good one at that! We have all had to do it and we all understand. Sometimes it is better to sit near the back when you have little ones that are being mentored in how to participate in worship. That gives you quick and easy access out of and back into the service. We do our best at GFC to save these back rows for families with little ones, but you may need to show up a little early to get your spot!

· Don’t give up! You may have many weeks of things not going so well... but don’t despair! Parents have been doing this very thing for centuries and eventually your little one will figure it out with your training. What you are doing is such important work as you fit them for a life of sitting under the Word of God. Put a bad week behind you and don’t stop praying for the Lord to grant grace and help.

In all of this, remember part of the reason transferring into “big church” can be difficult:

“But children are unregenerate. They do not know God. There is a natural enmity in their hearts against him. Their boredom is not principally caused by their immaturity but because of their hearts of stone. This is to be combated by the loving lives of their parents, regular family devotions in which they become familiar with the teaching of the Bible, the language of prayer and they are confronted with their need to be born again. Their parents' love, respect and enthusiasm for the church services, the pastor and his preaching will be contagious. They will admire and hear the one to whom their parents pay such attention. But where the parents themselves are bored - or just one parent - then there is little hope for the children becoming gripped with the most exciting message in the world - the good news of the Lord Jesus Christ.

When children have been taught to sit still at home, and hear the word of God read each day, and listen to parents coming with thanksgiving and petition to a heavenly Father who cares and provides every good thing the children experience, then they sweetly learn to be still during a sermon on Sunday morning, and to cry from their childish hearts to the Lord for help to worship and serve him, the living God.”

- Geoff Thomas, Banner of Truth Magazine, in an article entitled, “A Child Was Bored in the Service” accessed on Aug 8, 2006 from http://www.banneroftruth.org/pages/articles/article_detail.php?218