Why Some Churches are Doing Away with “Children’s Church”

I pastored two churches that had a “children’s church” (a separate worship time for elementary kids while teens and adults worshiped in the church auditorium). Our folks prepared hard to help the children learn and worship well. More recently, though, I’m seeing a trend away from this approach. Here are the concerns I’ve heard:

  1. The entire family should worship together. Families teach families to worship, and they do it when the entire family worships together. Children ought to be worshiping beside their parents. 
  2. The church already divides families enough. We do so many age-specific events that pull families in different directions that we’re creating unnecessary and unhelpful stress. 
  3. Church leaders need to learn to lead worship services that even children understand. If the little ones understand what we’re doing and teaching, adults will, too. That’s just a good ministry principle. 
  4. Children’s Church too often becomes nothing but babysitting. There’s little accountability for the leaders, and nobody’s evaluating whether or not the children are growing toward Christ. 
  5. Children best learn reverence in “big church.” It’s difficult to teach reverence in a children’s church setting where everything is geared more toward active, participative learning. 
  6. Even children can learn worship songs they will long remember. Those songs will mark their faith, and they’ll likely hang on to memories of singing them with their families.   
  7. Children need to see their pastor in the pulpit. Children often develop respect and love for their “preacher” when they see him regularly leading the congregation in worship.  
  8. Children’s church pulls adults, too, out of the worship service. Faithful children’s church workers often do it as many Sundays as they can – and they then never worship with other adults. 

So, what do you think? Where do you stand on the issue of “children’s church”?  

37 Comments

  • Mark says:

    I grew up in a church that did not have children’s church or even a children’s sermon for 5 minutes during the service. The few children got whatever the sermon contained and most could not understand. It was written for the old people in the congregation and obviously kept them happy. Children’s church has its benefits. I respectfully disagree with you on #7. I think children need to see the pastor outside the pulpit being a mere mortal (after all, pastors, regardless of gender, are).

  • wmtoolbox says:

    On mission trips to Panama and Grenada I was impressed by the behavior of even the youngest children at the church services we were able to attend. Obviously they had been taught at a young age how to sit still, listen, and be respectful of others. I remember sitting beside a two-year old, who waited patiently for over 20 minutes for the service to start. He didn’t whine or fuss. He also participated appropriately during the service. It is possible – with proper training!

  • Druie Black says:

    I believe there are two reasons not included. In two of the churches that I served (one church plant) our space was limited and we lacked enough space if we included children. The second reason (not given by leaders and parents) is that parenting skills today are woefully lacking and many children do not know how to behave even in children’s church.
    I agree with the observation that children need to learn to worship with their parents.

  • Steve Laughman says:

    I wholeheartedly agree with each one of these observations. I would add that pastors need to preach in such a way that children glean at least some understanding from the message. It is an exercise in conveying biblical truth simply. I would also add that having children as active participants in worship reminds the older members that the service is not about them and their preferences. One of the unintended consequences of Children’s Church is the lack of smooth evolution of worship styles. We taught kids to be loud and excited about Jesus while we kept things quiet and reverent in “Big church.” Then we expected them to simply accept our way of doing things when they reached adulthood.

  • Susan Schaeffer says:

    I’ve been on both sides of the children’s church debate. I am happy with the approach taken at my current church. Children’s Church is only for 4k-2nd grade. The children stay in the service through the music portion. They learn to worship with their parents. I give my daughter the choice weekly whether to stay in the service or to leave when the children are dismissed. About 25% of the time, she chooses to stay in the service.

    • Gary says:

      Hi everyone,

      Susan’s local church approach seems like a good compromise.

      All the children stay in the sanctuary for the worship music portion only at my local church.

      This seems to work pretty well.

      Best,

      Gary
      Southern NH, USA

  • Curt says:

    We’re continuing to wrestle with these issues as well. For the past 5 years we’ve had our elementary age kids in service with parents/families, then dismissed for shorter lesson time during the sermon (so yes, basically the children’s church approach).

    I’d be curious to know what churches and situations you’re referring to when you say that you’re, “seeing a trend away from this approach.”

    Any specifics that you’d be able to share would be greatly appreciated and helpful.

  • David P says:

    I would like to apply Deut 6 here , Parents and children go together.

  • David P says:

    Thank you Chuck

  • Robin Jordan says:

    When I was teenager, the church my family attended dismissed the children before the sermon and held Sunday school during the sermon. I chose to stay for the sermon. The only time that I joined the other young people was to teach a Sunday school class for fourth graders. I believe that I learned more from the sermons than I would have learned from a Sunday school lesson. If a preacher has a large number of children in his congregation or even a handful. it helps him to be mindful of the need to communicate what he is preaching in easy-to-understand language, language even a child could understand instead of talking above the congregation’s heads so that they do not profit from his sermon. My pastor at the time was an ex-missionary which may explain why his sermons were understandable.

    I was an avid reader of John Westerhoff’s books in the 1980s. Among Westerhoff’s observations was that children “caught” faith from the adults round them. They could not be taught to believe. He believed that they needed to be around more believing adults than their parents and their Sunday school teachers. He advocated participation of children in a church’s Sunday worship service from infancy. Sunday was when most of the church gathered during the week and the worship service was where it gathered. He noted that for a large part of the Church’s history, children were not segregated from the adults on Sundays. They were treated as a part of the Christian community. Westerhoff also observed that one of the reasons that children were leaving their parents’ church when they grew older was they had come to prefer the songs and less formal worship of their children’s church to the hymns and more formal worship of their parents’ church and were seeking a church that offered a similar worship experience to that which they were accustomed to.

  • Sarah says:

    I grew up in a church and attend a church that has Sunday School for kids. Children are in the service except for the 1hour sermon .They go to Sunday School where they are either taught the passage the sermon is on on their level or a different Gospel centered curriculum like The Gospel Project. Both churches took the summer off from Sunday School and the children were in the entire service, but that didn’t change the way the service ran. It was very beneficial as a child and I learned a lot .

  • Bryan E Beyer says:

    The advantage of separate worship experiences is that adult applications may be made more intentionally, whereas children can get Jesus on their level. Kids’ church must be excellent, though, not babysitting.

  • Tyson says:

    As an Associate Pastor of Families I am really excited about this discussion. I love to see families worshipping together. In principle I love to see families worshipping but in reality that rarely happens. Most peoples arguement for keeping children in main worship tends to lean towards teaching good manners to children and not about worship. Most children i see in large service are distracted, drawing in church bullitons, or wanting attention. I disagree that sermons ouht to be children’s level because Jesus sermons were not. Let the children come to Jesus and we do this by discipling them with the understanding they are actually children, not adults. We let families decide whether this children are ready for large service with adults by offering children’s church as a option.

    • Chuck Lawless says:

      Thanks, Tyson. 

    • Ben Palacz says:

      Good insight, Tyson. Thanks. I’m in a similar position to yours. We offer a gathering for kids but keep the age range pretty low (see Susan’s post above-we’re members of the same church). Our intent is to prepare them to worship, not just entertain or babysit. In the service, we provide bulletins that are based on the passage of Scripture to try to focus their attention on the Word. You’re right, and though I think it’s good for sermons to address kids directly, they ought to push beyond a child’s understanding too.

      A friend and I had a conversation about this very topic: https://soundcloud.com/user-160524150/is-the-worship-service-child-appropriate. Maybe it would add to the discussion.

  • Chris Green says:

    My family and I recently planted a church in a suburb to the east of Dallas Texas. We were blessed by a local business to use their facility on the weekend which works well for our corporate worship; however the space is limited with respect to offering room for Sunday school activities.!At this point we (young and old) worship together. With this dynamic, I decided to create 3 bulletins: (1) taylored for children 8 and under, (1) for ages 8-14, and finally (1) for the adults (15+). Each bulletin is relative to the weekly sermon and includes the same memory verse. This keeps everyone accountable to learn to the verse regardless of age. I also believe that keeping the family together helps to foster discussion after the service and throughout the week. If there are questions by the children, the parent(s) can jump in and field those. I see this as an opportunity for parents to disciple their children which is what many families are desperately looking for or are needing. In close, I absolutely agree that families [need] to worship together because it promotes and will help sustain a lifelong and healthy relationship deeply rooted in Jesus.

    Blessings,
    Pastor Chris Green
    Springwood Church
    Rockwall, Texas

  • Evan says:

    I am not sure what types of Children’s Services you have sat in on, but the comment about reverence is a bit off. While a good bit of the service could be high energy they know how to bring it down for reverence. This is done through a good worship leader, pastor, and the power of the Holy Spirit. One of my goals each week is that our services are reverent. I have seen this in singing worship songs, activities while responding to God’s word, and even studying passages together. I will admit that this may be difficult sometimes it is surely possible.

  • Steve says:

    There is truly nothing new under the sun. Only people who think they have a new, better idea only because it’s new to them. Wait 5 or 10 years and someone will come along with a “new” idea to create a special worship service just for children.

  • Lynn Baber says:

    In past eras children learned about family, from the oldest to the youngest, by living in the same house or near older relatives. Being young was normal. So was being old. Birth and death weren’t taboo, mystical, or scary. Young folks learned to respect and help those older. Tweens took care of little brothers and sisters instead of being dependent until age 26.

    Gray heads were valued. So were diapered behinds.

    Few churches integrate worshippers of every age. When segregated, youngsters don’t benefit from oldsters, and vice versa. Youth don’t learn the language and habits of mature faith when they spend all their time with peers.

    Why aren’t children better behaved? If they doodle or need attention during services, it’s not their fault. It’s the parents – or the pastor. Who disciples Mom and Dad? Permitting kids to be the tail wagging the dog in church teaches parents that God’s Word doesn’t apply. ‘Cause that’s not how it reads.

    If churches take the easy way out, so will parents. Who cares enough to do the tough work? Correcting? Chastising? God does it because He loves us. Who loves kids enough to set and enforce standards of behavior?

    Many pastors are unwilling to set standards because it might alienate congregants.
    Many parents are unwilling to set standards because it might alienate their kids.

    Which informs us what families learn in many churches.

    This is an active topic of discussion in our faith community. May God grant us wisdom.

  • Leighann says:

    I agree withTyson. Also, as a mom of four who serves on the worship team and haven’t always had my spouse in attendance regularly, not having a childrens service would prevent me from being able to serve.

    • Julie says:

      I am in the same boat with Leighann as I serve on the worship team and my husband alternates weeks doing slides/tech. Our children stay for the music and prayer time. They are then dismissed to an elementary appropriate teaching time with carefully selected curriculum and Gospel teaching. We have family worship Sundays once a month where everyone worships together. This gives a chance for the children’s teachers to be in the entire service and the children to experience it.

  • Brian p says:

    As I pastor I certainly understand the concerns of parents here. The problem I see is with the comments that pastors should make the sermon understandable to the youngest in the congregation.
    Actually, the pastor should say what God tells him to say, or find another profession.
    Having said that, it is the Holy Sporit’s role to make things understandable in the hearing of the individual.
    I think we do our children a dis-service by thinking they can’t understand what is being said.
    Just my two cents. Great conversation.

  • Katy Smith says:

    I completed agree. Depending on the church, the children’s service has become one of babysitting. It is up to parents to teach kids that lufe, including church, is not all about them. We have made excuses for children by saying they can’t sit still for that long or they won’t understand…I have 5 who were raised in the service with me since first grade. I also participate in the praise team, if I needed help, I asked a friend to look after my kids till I could sit with them. They got to see mom worshipping. Plus, children’s church has become an escape for many adults who spend their time solely there and never in the regular services. They need to be fed too. Church is about corporate worship if Christians focusing on God, why not make sure kids understand this from a young age so we don’t lose this worship in years to com?

  • Robby B says:

    The solid points on both sides have led us to take an eclectic approach making sure to provide plenty of opportunity for family members to be together in corporate worship, but also times to dismiss kids during the message to hear something on their level. And there is occasionally a PG 13 sermon text in “Big Church.”

  • Trevor Lyons says:

    Kids wanted to come to Jesus. If the kids in your church associate Jesus with boredom, then you aren’t doing it right. We expect kids to suffer through church and then wonder why they don’t want to go when they are teenagers. Then as teenagers we expect them to not only suffer through church, but be treated as indentured servants (we have a fellowship coming up who is going to serve? Let’s get the teenagers to do it.) And then we rail about teenagers leaving the church when they go off to college. Maybe if we engaged them on their level from the beginning, reengaged them at every development level, treated them as Jesus said to, you know, because the kingdom of God belongs to them, we wouldn’t see 80% of them walk away from church when they graduate.

  • Jason J. says:

    I understand all the concerns listed here but many of them can be addressed. And it is just a fact that many children learn better through activity and participation, honestly the same can be said of many adults. I attend a congregation that has a separate children’s service for K-4th grade. 5th graders and up are expected to attend adult worship with their parents. So, children are still able to learn to worship with their parents and learn the reverence of an adult service. Furthermore, we teach the kids to have reverence at the appropriate times in the children’s service, there is time for reverence and time for activity. We also sing the same music, not necessarily the same lineup but the same songs that are sung in adult worship. The teachers are held accountable by a passionate and involved children’s director. It is a very structured and formal setting, though tailored towards children. Both of the children’s pastors happen to be, but not by requirement, seminary trained teachers. Additionally, there are two worship services and all teachers at all levels are expected to attend the adult service as well as the children’s hour. There are also adult Sunday School classes both hours so that there is no gap between services but everyone is able to attend. I do understand the concern about the increasing range of division between age groups and I think that should be addressed at the teenager level where our teenagers need to be more involved with the adult and senior adults in ministry and discipleship. As far as Children needing to gain the experience of an adult service, assumes that our services are Biblically prescribed, which they are not. Missionaries around the globe work with foreign churches to contextualize there churches. Which does not mean they change the gospel. It means that they only require adherence to what is actually in the Bible. Beyond that it is appropriate for them to express their worship culturally, within the bounds of Biblical constraints. At the end of the day the point is to Disciple one another. The question that should be asked is are our children being discipled both at home and at church. That is a question that must be reflected on in each congregation and since no two churches services and ministries look exactly the same, it would be too broad of criticism to condemn or uphold the practice of Children’s services. It must be appropriately contextualized in the given body of believers based on their own talents and convictions as led by the Holy Spirit. And yes, the Holy Spirit can make us each understand the Gospel no matter how it is delivered, we still have a responsibility to articulate as clearly as we can. I think that we as western congregations focus too much on the preaching and neglect Discipleship. But both are important and both should be done. Questions like these I think, have a tendency to draw lines in the sand that ought not be drawn and while I am certain that is not the intent, too often that seems to be what happens. In most of these comments, the reflections are based on what happens in their congregation without regard for other creative solutions. Hence, why I gave an example of what it looks like in our congregation. I have been in other congregations where that system would not practically work. But, that’s why I say that it is isn’t a question of whether Children’s services are right or wrong because they are inherently right or wrong. The local congregation must come up with a Discipleship plan that reaches their demographic, whatever that looks like.

  • Glen Berry says:

    Good points made by all. I am not at all against teaching children any good thing on his level by outsiders if the job is not being done at home. However, if PARENTS obeyed Deut. 6:7–“And thou shalt teach them diligently unto they children, and shall talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up”–then there would be enough teaching by parents so that gathered-together worship services with an assembly would be more meaningful to all. One other point: Even in the secular world “experts” say for a public speaker to use words that a 10-year-old can understand. If preachers aimed for this, then the children would get more out of what is thought of as adult services.–Glen Berry

  • Chris says:

    Chuck, what churches are doing this? Growing churches or contracting churches? Can you provide evidence and statistics?

    • Chuck Lawless says:

      Chris, my evidence is anedotal more than empirical. Where I’m most seeing this change is younger leaders who step into more traditional churches, but who raise some of the concerns listed above. I’m also talking with pastors who are seeking to hire children’s ministers — but who are at times finding it difficult to find a younger children’s minister who is supportive of children’s church.  

  • Sandy says:

    We have kids church up to 4th grade, but it is a far cry from babysitting. Our children’s programs are very intentional. The kids stay in the service (1st-4th) through worship and then are dismissed. They stay the whole time during the first Sunday of the month so they can see communion being done. And some parents choose to keep their kids with them. I prefer to have my younger ones to learn the Bible in a way they better understand, not just learn to “sit still”.

  • Scott King says:

    We do a combination of both and often. Several times a year we have, what we call, family worship. This is a time where families come together and worship. During this time we have a time of worship, then my children’s pastor and I tag team preach. He does things the kids will understand and receive while I talk to the adults. Back and forth.
    We also have kids in the service during worship many times a year.
    Being a father of a 9 and 11 year old I see the need for both. My kids love their time with people their age and we (the adults) love having them in service at times. Win win.

  • Donald Kennedy says:

    I would interject that the mention of “worship” is an indication of a subtle mistake our church community is making. The emphasis throughout the book of Acts and the epistles was the preaching and teaching of the Word of God not worship. Worship and singing are the byproducts of that. It is interesting none of the seven letters to the churches had any rebuke or instructions concerning worship. It is very apparent the emphasis today is not “worship” but entertainment and feeding fleshly appetites. The failure of reaching this generation is not that churches were not appealing to them but a failure of parents to purposely training teaching and modeling God’s truths. Before anyone accuses me of being decisive mean spirited or judgmental, you would be wrong as I am only offering an observation. Whether you use hymn books or choruses instruments or just a piano, the most important and central part of the service must be the preaching of God’s Word.

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