I’ve never been to a church with a sign like the one above, but some churches do send the message that only well behaved children are welcome. They send that message both implicitly and explicitly.
The message “only well behaved children are welcome,” is sent implicitly when churches schedule their Sunday school hour during a regular worship time. Growing up I had friends in high school who would be “in church” every week, but only worship a few times a year. They went to Sunday school and Bible study, while their parents went alone to the service.
The message “only well behaved children are welcome,” is sent implicitly when churches schedule “Children’s Church” during part of the worship service, resulting in a mass exodus of young believers just before the pastor gets up to talk. Sometimes this happens as a result of well-meaning people who want to deliver “a message on their level.” But the implicit message sent to the parents is that their children can’t understand what is going on, and that they can’t learn to listen. The implicit message sent to the children is that they aren’t old enough to be full participating members in the church.
The message “only well behaved children are welcome,” is sent explicitly through dirty looks, and stares. It is even sent verbally through interactions like the one this mother of young children experienced. “My children—ages four, two, and three months—made little noises. We did our best to keep them reverent, but I noticed that a woman looked back at us several times. After a few minutes, she came back and told us we were too noisy. Embarrassed, my husband and I whispered our apologies. We collected our children and closed the doors behind us.”
The message “only well behaved children are welcome,” is heard far too often. The churches that employ these tactics get exactly what they want. Quiet churches. But the church (the gathering of believers young and old – not the building) was never meant to be quiet. The kingdom of God isn’t just for those who can sit quietly for an hour or more. The kingdom of God is for everyone. Even and especially those who are little and loud.
Your kids are never too noisy for church. Don’t believe me? Consider what Jesus had to say on the subject of children when adults began to push them away so that the “adult” interactions could take place.
“And they were bringing children to Him that He might touch them, and the disciples rebuked them. But when Jesus saw it, He was indignant and said to them, ‘Let the children come to Me; do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God. Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.’ And He took them in His arms and blessed them, laying His hands on them.” – Mark 10:13-16
This account was so important that it is included in Matthew’s, Mark’s and Luke’s Gospels.
Children are not the future of the church. They are not future members of the kingdom of God. They are the church. They are members of the kingdom of God. And Jesus welcomes them, short attention spans, tantrums, enthusiastic singing and all.
When you bring your children to church week after week they will be noisy. They’ll squirm. They’ll fight with their brothers and sisters. But they will also sing, and pray and learn about what Jesus has done for them. They will hear how their sins have been forgiven. And they will hear a message, both implicitly and explicitly, that they are valuable citizens of the kingdom of God.
***A friend shared this and I’ve included it as something that churches can add to their pews/worship bulletins or folders to encourage parents with small children.***
A SPECIAL WELCOME TO THOSE WITH CHILDREN
We are very happy that you are here today! At our church we want you to feel at home.
• First, please relax and enjoy your time here. Jesus knows that children tend to wiggle and squawk a bit, so please don’t feel embarrassed by it. Your children are welcome here.
• To make it a bit easier on your family, please dare to sit toward the front where your children can easily see what is going on, note the colors, hear the bells, watch the pastors, see the stained glass windows and embrace the action at the altar. What Jesus does here promises to engage them.
• As we go, softly explain the service to your children, encouraging them to chime in on
their parts: Amen! Lord have mercy! And with your spirit! I believe! Our Father! All of that belongs to them too.
• Be sure to sing and say and pray your parts too as you stand and kneel and sit. Your children learn by following your lead.
• If you and your child must leave, please hurry back. Like Jesus, we want your children in the service, not out.
• If you need a little help, just ask. There are lots of folks here who will lend you a hand.
Please know that while you are caring for your children, the rest of us will be rejoicing in Jesus’ words, “Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these” (Luke 18:16).
We know that your children are a gift to the Church, so we will do our best to welcome, smile, encourage, help and bless you all.