“We need to create a Kids Worship service,” I thundered as I sat together with pastors, deacons, and parents some twenty years ago. I will admit I was young, ignorant, and even more arrogant. I believed if our church was to enter the 21st century of ministry in America, we had to begin to do things differently. We had to make a special effort to kids and families. We had to create a Kids Worship service where kids could be active and engage in learning, rather than being bored to death in “big church.” My arguments were crystal clear: (1) We are going to lose our kids if we do not do something to engage them in worship, (2) With kids out of the worship service, parents will be better able to worship and focus on the sermon, and (3) Kids find “big church” boring. To be honest, I do not remember the arguments against me and Kids Worship. I do not remember if they were theological or merely pragmatic. But I do remember the Kids Worship service was voted down. I also remember my 20 year old self becoming angry and bitter: “Why couldn’t they see how necessary this was for the kingdom of God.”
I was wrong.
Over the next ten years, I became more and more convinced of the necessity of kids being present and engaged in the corporate worship gathering. To be fair, I am not against Kids Worship; rather, I am in favor of kids being involved in corporate worship. In what follows, I will share some of the reasons why I changed my mind and attitude toward Kids Worship.
I shared my reasons for a separate Kids Worship earlier. To those I want to add two additional objections as I share my response to each. In addition to (1) losing our kids, (2) helping parents focus, and (3) being bored; I’ll add (4) children often distract others, and (5) Kids Worship can help train our kids for worship when they are older.
Kids Will Be Lost
The primary objection to kids in the corporate worship gathering I hear goes something like this, “since children do not (or sometimes cannot) get much out of the sermon, it would be better to have a service to specifically engage and teach children at their level.” This objection is often the sole basis for separating kids out of the corporate worship gathering. But we must ask, how true is this objection?
First, it is true many kids will not “get” as much from the sermon as adults; however, this objection falsely assumes all adults “get” the same amount from the sermon. Using this logic, we should have a separate service with separate sermons for newer believers, intermediate believers, and mature believers. Additionally, we should have separate sermons for low functioning intellects, middle functioning intellects, and higher functioning intellects. We should also have different sermons based on reading levels, vocabulary levels, attention spans, etc. The reality is everyone “gets” different levels and amounts of information from the sermon, yet we do not feel the need to divide everyone else into special separate services.
Second, I feel we often misjudge the ability of kids. To be honest, there have been times when I have struggled to “get” something from the sermon, while one of my daughters shares a profound truth received from the sermon. Kids may not get every point and sub-point, but God will reveal and instill truth into the hearts of our kids if the preaching is sound.
Third, we miss two significant theological points in this argument. (1) God’s Word is living and active no matter how it is preached. We read in Isaiah 55:11 that when God’s word is proclaimed, it “shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose.” Sometimes we forget about the simple power of God’s word.
(2) We also miss the nature and purpose of the worship gathering. This may come as a shock to some, but the purpose of the worship gathering is to worship God. Certainly, God is honored as we hear and understand the word preached. However, the central aim of the worship gathering is not to “get” but to “give.” When the sole determination of a worship gathering’s effectiveness or goodness is determined by what we get, we have turned ourselves into the worshipee rather than the worshiper.
This last point is why I believe we are losing a generation of kids. We are losing our kids not because they sat through a service in which they did not understand everything, but because we have trained them that worship is all about us and what we receive from it. It is no wonder many of our kids are leaving the church in staggering numbers. When worship is all about us, the world will always do a better job of helping us worship ourselves than the church does (and for good reason).
Kids Distract Parents from Worship
Yes. Kids can and do become a distraction for parents in the corporate worship gathering. However, I have found the distraction is short-term. When you first bring children into the corporate worship gathering they fidget, move around, ask questions, turn to look at the person behind them, and many other activities that may distract the parent from the songs, prayers, or sermon. However, these distractions usually only last a couple of weeks and then the child learns how to sit in “big church” with their parents without being a distraction. If you look around the worship gathering in my church, you will see children as young as three or four sitting in the service without being a constant distraction to their parents.
Kids Find “Big Church” Boring
It is true some kids find the corporate worship gathering boring. But many adults also find the worship gathering boring. This is why some churches go to great lengths to provide entertainment during the service: drumlines, Corvettes on stage, provocative sermon titles, and much more. The problem is that when we seek to make the worship gathering more engaging by providing gimmicks and pseudo-excitement, we are making a profound statement about God: The all-powerful, all-knowing, all-present eternal sovereign God of the universe who created all things by the very word of His mouth and is the embodiment of love, grace, mercy, and truth needs a little extra to keep our attention. I submit to you that if the worship gathering is boring, it is an ‘us’ problem. While I do believe worship gatherings can be boring, they are only boring because we make them boring by distracting people from seeing the one true God.
Jason Helopoulous answers this objection well in his book Let the Children Worship, when he says, “If our children find themselves bored in worship, then let us teach them the significance of the event. Let us model before them the joy of worship. Let us encourage and help them to engage in this holy other act. Let us pray that God fills them with the same delight we ourselves experience in worshiping the Sovereign God of the universe. And if we lack in that delight, then let us seek God and plead with Him to work in us, that our delight might be a means by which He sparks faith-filled interest in our children (pg. 81).”
Kids Distract Others in Worship
Once again, yes kids can be distracting to others in the corporate worship gathering. And once again, the distraction usually lasts only a couple of weeks. Is this transition period worthy of removing kids from the worship gathering? To answer this objection, let us briefly consider the history of kids in worship.
If we survey the Old Testament worship practices, we find kids in many of the gatherings. For example, Deuteronomy 6:20-25 warns parents to expect questions about the worship of Israel from the children. As the children experienced the gatherings and celebrations of the Jewish faith, they would naturally have questions regarding what they saw in worship (i.e. the Passover in Exodus 12:25-27).
In the gospels we read of children being present with adults as Jesus was teaching. We all remember the little boy who gave his 5 loaves of bread and 2 fish to Jesus when he fed the 5000 in John 6:9. We also see Jesus receiving children while he was actively ministering and teaching. The most famous example is when the disciples sough to prevent the children from coming Jesus and Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them (Matthew 19:14).”
We also read about entire households being saved after the preaching of the Apostle Paul (i.e. Acts 10:33; 16:31). To be fair, these passages are not public preaching of the word, but presumably preaching to the family unit. Yet in these situations, we see the children present.
While we must be careful to not overstate this point, we do see kids involved in the corporate worship in both the Old and New Testaments. In fact, the predominate practice throughout the Bible was to include kids in the corporate gatherings, rather than separate them.
Why do I appeal to history in response to the objection that kids are distracting in worship? I appeal to history to show this is nothing new. Kids have been in the corporate worship gathering for centuries. And as kids have not changed much, they have been distractions to some degree or another for centuries. Yet the church has persevered.
Kids Worship Helps Train Kids for Worship
While technically not an objection, this is a reason why some churches and families seek to separate kids from the corporate worship gathering. The underlying belief lies in the need for children to be trained for the worship gathering. To this I say, yes and amen. However, is separating kids from the corporate worship gathering the best way to train them for the corporate worship experience?
I propose the continuous example of the parents and other adults in worship is a far more powerful training tool than a separate service. In other words, the power of kids seeing their parents and other adults engaging in worship will stay with them far longer than the lessons they will learn in Kids Worship. I still have many vivid memories of watching my parents and others praising the name of Jesus, praying before the body of Christ, and taking notes during the sermon. These were the images which taught me how to engage in the worship gathering.
Additionally, there is research to support this conclusion. Dr. Steve Parr and Dr. Tom Crites notes in their book Why They Stray: Helping Parents and Church Leaders Make Investments That Keep Children and Teens Connected to the Church for a Lifetime that the majority of kids who attended Kids Worship as a child do not continue to attend the corporate worship gathering as an adult. Alternatively, the majority of kids who attended the corporate worship gathering as a child continue to attend the corporate worship gathering as an adult. This data suggests Kids Worship is not training our kids for the corporate worship gathering, but may actually be discouraging them from attending the corporate worship gatherings as an adult.
While the preceding five objections contain truth and are not wholly irrelevant, I hope I have demonstrated the objections to including kids in the corporate worship gatherings fall short. However, to truly see the value in having kids in the corporate worship gatherings, we must not just overcome the objections, but we must also see the benefits and blessings. I will take up the task of explaining the benefits and blessings in a Part 2 follow up article to be posted later this month.