Be the Church that Embraces Children, Not Just Tolerates Them

Sam Rainer

April 7, 2019

There are two kinds of restaurants. Those that embrace children, and those that tolerate children. If you’re a parent, especially if you have multiple small children, then you know this reality. When my family of six storms a restaurant, I can tell immediately whether the establishment will embrace my children or tolerate them.

In a recent occurrence, the host looked at my brood with eyes wide: “Oh, my. You have . . .  a lot of kids.” I was not offended. Serving large families at a restaurant is tough. Odds are at least one of my kids will have a meltdown before the food arrives, and a one hundred percent probability exists that large portions of something will fall to the floor.

Rarely are we treated rudely, but I can tell which restaurants merely tolerate my children. I understand the tension. Feeding my kids is hard work. It’s why we pay money to have someone else do it! My wife and I don’t get angry; we just don’t return to the places where my kids are a burden. When we discover a restaurant that embraces children, we go back.

There are two kinds of churches. Those that embrace children, and those that tolerate children. Most churches are not rude towards kids, and I’ve never seen a church sign stating “No Kids Allowed.” However, the families visiting your church will know whether you embrace their kids or not. The churches who welcome children have a higher likelihood of families returning—not just once but often!

Embracing children means understanding that messy is healthy. Children do not learn to eat cleanly. They turn dining room tables into abstract impressionist works. More food ends up in the hair than in the mouth. You’ll need a hazmat suit to serve spaghetti. Children learning to take in God’s Word, learning to worship, learning to love Jesus are just as messy. The line of dirt on walls about two feet high is there because little hands are dragging as kids walk the halls. Messy is healthy.

Embracing children means valuing noise over perfection. Children make noises in worship. Children make noises in classes. Children make noises in the parking lot. They cry. They laugh loud. They scream and yell. Some churches tolerate the noise. Other churches value the noise. I’ve heard of churches not allowing children below a certain age in the worship service. Try to bring an infant into the worship space, and they’ll stop you like an irate Pharisee with bad case of the Mondays.

Embracing children means protection at all costs. Child security is a discipleship issue—and one of the most important! If you believe in the Great Commission, then you will create robust security measures for children. Jesus says, “I am with you always.” A low-security church teaches children “I am with you sometimes.”

Embracing children means consistent promotion in multiple venues. Check your worship guide. What is in there about children? Check your social media feeds, your email newsletter, and your worship service announcements. If kids are not there, then you are not embracing children.

Embracing children means investing in KidMin. Is your children’s minister the lowest paid ministry team member? Does your children’s budget match your worship budget? A church that embraces children will invest in the ministries supporting children. A church that tolerates children will give the monetary leftovers to them. If it is easier to cut your children’s budget than your technology budget, then you likely are not embracing children in your church.

Embracing children means understanding church at their level. A lot of churches will seek out the perspective of parents. You should! Helping parents create God-centered homes and not child-centered homes is one of the core elements of family discipleship. However, you should not neglect the perspective of a child. Ask about their experiences, their feelings, and their opinions. When you understand church at the level of a child, you are better positioned to guide the child towards Christ.

In Luke 18, Jesus invited the children. In Mark 10, Jesus embraced the children. Churches that welcome and embrace children are like Jesus. In fact, Jesus becomes angry at the disciples for discounting the value of children. The next time a child cries out in church, don’t get angry at the child. Get angry at the person who is angry at the child. Children are a blessing, so churches should make them a priority. Be the church that embraces children, not just tolerates them.

9 comments on “Be the Church that Embraces Children, Not Just Tolerates Them”

  1. Tim Cool says:

    It amazes me how many times I ask a church about what they value and their “target” market. Invariably we hear KIDS or Families with Children.

    But when you tour the facility, the kids rooms feel like a 1950’s school. Old furniture. Beige concrete walls, too far away from their parents…and…NO SECURITY!

    In those scenarios, kids are NOT your priority!

  2. Roberta Jones says:

    Great article!! I love the line, “Some churches tolerate the noise. Other churches value the noise.” I appreciated your comments about messy children. Cleaning up after children is a privilege.

    1. Sam Rainer says:

      Yes it is. Thanks Roberta!

  3. Jennifer says:

    Sam, the only thing that I think contributes too the wage gap in churches is that there are a lot of women filling in this role of ministry compared to men. I know I get paid less than my male counterparts.

  4. Cindy says:

    How would you address the right way to discipline kids today? I struggle with this. My intention is never to bring physical harm and touch the child in anger, but I find trying to talk to the child is difficult when they are confrontational. I think getting the parent is the best thing to do right away, but I know the parents may need to be in the sanctuary or study versus worrying we cannot manage their children for a short amount of time. I believe there is importance to show the parents to trust us to take care of their child. Appreciate any feedback you have.

    1. Gina says:

      If behavior is out of control, you have to get the parents. Physical discipline would never be appropriate in a church, so that is your only recourse (after reminders, positive reinforcement, and time out). That way you and the parents can work together to figure out a plan for any future issues. Volunteers are meant to serve, but they should not have to tolerate behavior past a certain point.

  5. Mitch Fisher says:

    Great article…I have always enjoyed…mostly:)…the noises from the younger church members and believe the sound of children is the sound of the future…”messy is healthy”…So very true on so many levels

  6. Sara says:

    Thank you, Sam, for writing this post!!! I am a director of children’s min at our church of about 275. Looking around our sanctuary, we see babies, toddlers, elementary children in various stages of learning to participate (with varying “parent-in-the-pew” philosophies). I love it! The noises of a baby, the antics of a toddler, the queries of the grade-schooler. All are amazing signs of life that Jesus is for all ages! Our church is so much better for welcoming all ages of children into as much or all of the worship service as a parent deems best. Elderly, single, empty-nester – we all need the messiness and spontaneity of kids in our midst.
    One aspect that we could do better in is maintain the welcome of young families while offering high-quality classes, books, mentoring on parenting so that we don’t give the thumbs-up to a kid “free for all.”

    For those congregations that lack the vibrancy of children, ask the Lord! We started praying for this about 5 years ago and now laugh at how abundantly He has granted this request (and are now praying for the wisdom to walk alongside young parents raising a household of children!

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