Children in Worship

A quote dubiously attributed to Mark Twain goes like this: “When I was a boy of 14, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be 21, I was astonished at how much the old man had learned in seven years.”

Lutheran Pastor Tim Wright created quite a firestorm in August 2014 when he released an article entitled, “Sunday Schooling our Kids Out of Church.”  I read his article with regret and angst. It described my education, experiences, and results of my almost 20 years of ministry perfectly.  You may access the article here:

In short, the article reminds us of a profound shift that occurred in church almost 40 years ago.  For varying and debatable reasons, the church began to shift from kids worshiping with their parents in the normal, traditional worship service to extended services and children’s church that run concurrently.  Kids and their parents worshiped in separate spaces and in different styles.  The result? Tim Wright argues that we have raised the largest unchurched generation in the history of our country.  He goes on to identify that the generations that are now adults with kids of their own are, essentially, not assimilated into the life of either the congregation or the heritage of Christian worship.  They have no connection with the worship style, hymns, or rhythm of Scripture readings. Nor do they understand the culture of worship as active participation instead of receiving an aesthetically pleasing experience. In the church of my childhood, we boys endured the worship service sitting next to our parents while drawing war scenes on offering envelopes while the girls….well, I don’t know what the girls were dong. I was too busy drawing tanks and fighter jets on the pew offering envelope and bulletin cover.  While I was a student minister serving First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Millersburg, Kentucky, we only had one little boy around the age of 3 years old.  Granted, it was a small rural congregation of about 30 people, but during worship, the sanctuary doubled as the little boy’s playroom.  He would climb under pews, play with his trucks next to the Communion Table and from time to time, would come up and pull on my pant leg wanting me to pick him up.  I would reach down, pick him up and keep right on preaching.  No one ever complained.  A few years later, a family joined with a little girl. The attendance of children has doubled, and as a result of my experiences in seminary in worship and preaching classes, we decided to offer a Children’s Church for our two children.  Ironically, the seminary’s Christian Education professor was adamantly opposed to Children’s Church and Children’s Moments. She was, of course, ahead of her time.  Thankfully, after I graduated and moved away, the little church disbanded Children’s Church and both children are still active in the life of the church today.

A study in Switzerland discovered that 60 percent of children who do not worship with both of their parents in the “grown up” worship service will eventually fall away from the church.  Yet, studies like this one and others by Barna, Pew Research, and denominational research are all beginning to discover the profound importance of children having an experience in an intergenerational, “grown up” worship service.

At the church I serve, First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Ashland, Kentucky, we are conscious that for many parents, the time in worship is an essential part of a Sabbath rest.  However, we also believe that children need to be integrated into the life of our community of faith.  This is one of the reasons we invite and encourage children in Kindergarten-2nd grade to worship with their families during the first portion of the service.  “But children are bored and they don’t get anything out of it.”  I understand…and remember. But, I am finding that, like Mark Twain, our parents and grandparents in the faith may be astonishingly smarter than we first thought.