After attending church with my parents the inevitable question came: “so where do you want to go to lunch?” My dad replied “Let’s go to that restaurant in North Carolina!”
The Olde Salty restaurant in Carolina Beach, N.C. made national headlines a few years ago with their “Screaming Children Will NOT Be Tolerated!” policy. It’s been a joke with me and my friends for the past few years – a trip to a restaurant is not complete until we hear a bawling brat.
My dad said he didn’t recall the constant public screaming thirty years ago. I guess as post modern parents become more and more self absorbed they just don’t care (or notice) how horribly their kids act in public. Sure enough, within 10 minutes of our Sunday lunch a kid at a nearby table threw a blood-curdling tantrum (and this was an upscale place that was definitely not child-friendly.)
All this, of course, begs the question: should children be allowed in the worship service?
It depends on your Church’s mission.
More liturgical and traditional Churches are geared for family worship – it’s a part of their DNA and churchified members expect it. A friend of mine at the PCA Presbyterian church I worked at proudly declared to me one day “I want my kids to be singing the hymns in the service with me!” (He would also calculate how many hymns we sang during the praise set and would let me know after the service if his quota was not reached. And now you know one of the reasons why I started HymnCharts.com!) Once after the service I ran into one of his kids – a boy about ten at the time. “What did you think of Church?” I asked. He replied “I HATE Church!” Of course he hated Church. He was bored. To. Tears.
I remember hating Church myself growing up (which is really funny since I have a degree in Church Music!) I hated it because I was bored. To. Tears. Those were the days before kid’s services, and I vividly remember sitting through our long-winded pastor’s two hour sermons. That weekly torture is one of my worst childhood memories.
Those who advocate for family worship are assuming the Christian cultural world-view of a Bible-believing family who attends church together dressed in their Sunday best (hence it works fine for traditional churches.) I don’t think family worship is as effective in our modern day where the parents may be even more clueless about Christianity than their own children.
It’s simple, really – don’t kids deserve a service tailored to them so they don’t end up “hating” boring adult church? (By the way, the kid I mentioned earlier grew up and today wouldn’t be caught dead at a church.) Bring the Gospel to their level. Songs in a key they can sing with words they can understand. Maybe a sermon about not pulling your sister’s hair would hit home a bit more than your typical baby-boomer-self-help-balancing-your-checkbook-type sermon.
If your Church’s mission is to seek, save and sanctify then a separate kid’s service makes more sense. It seems unchurched people DON’T necessarily care to have their kids in the service. My friend Joe told me he invited his unchurched co-worker to visit one Sunday and the first question she asked was “do my kids have to sit with me?” (This was at the PCA Church so no, she didn’t visit.)
Parents cannot be revived and renewed by the Holy Spirit working through the music and message if they are constantly fussing with their misbehaving children. My mother noticed this one week at church – a young couple were distracted the entire service by their unruly young children. Mom said “why’d they even bother to come? They didn’t hear a word of the sermon.” Their constant bustling distracted everyone around them, too.
One of the few Churches who have the guts to pull off a strict “kids not allowed under any circumstances” policy is Newspring Church in Anderson, SC. They mean it – NO children in the service under 6th grade – kids are invited to attend one of their spectacularly appealing kid’s services. I can only imagine the bashing their poor ushers get from irate housewives.
So should you allow kids in your service? This is one of those many issues where the correct answer is “it depends.” Your ministry’s mission will dictate the response. There will always be Church people who insist on it, but from what I’ve seen, successful contemporary Churches have such appealing children’s ministries that kids actually look forward to attending their own service.