I'm just a traveler. I move every 3 months - in and out before you know it. But I always get excited about finding my new church family in every new location.
What's disappointing, though, is when I visit a church that forgets the whole family...the kind of church that's a one-time visit because I can't comfortably return there. I had one of those moments yesterday, just minutes after sitting in the pew, as the pastor stated, "No children under 10 should be in service."
That's a pretty brief statement that many would dismiss, especially a single woman with no children who's simply passing through the area. But I could not easily let it go.
You see, 20 minutes after the pastor stated that children were not permitted in the sanctuary, this same pastor spoke of the importance of "worshiping communally as a church family." That's interesting...because the last time I checked, the church family is comprised of more than just people over 10 years old.
When churches say "no" to children staying in their services, here are 6 things they're really saying:
1. "Families shouldn't worship together."
Not all children are appropriate for sitting in "big church" with their parents every Sunday, but the value of that experience, when appropriate, is completely discredited when it's not encouraged and supported. When children aren't allowed in service, families aren't allowed to worship together. Children aren't afforded the opportunity to be challenged by wisdom from their pastor or ask their parents questions about the things they don't understand. They can't raise their hands or dance in between the pews during worship music - or witness change that occurs at the altar. Families miss a chance to by physically close to one another, sitting in the pews and sharing their Bibles. And children and parents alike are not taught the importance of a strong family dynamic because they're intentionally separated from each other every Sunday morning.
2. "You have to trust us."
That single mother coming from a background of abuse and neglect might not want to trust strangers in the nursery or children's department yet. That couple who just moved to the area might not be ready to leave their young ones in a class before they get to know the foundational truths of the church. That little one with severe separation anxiety might not be prepared for 2 hours away from mommy and daddy. Just because this is a church and it's most likely a "safe place" doesn't mean that every guest who walks through the doors will believe that right off the bat. Guests need to be given the opportunity to set their own boundaries and to trust at their own pace - and they need to be respected through that process.
3. "It's more important to be distraction-free."
I won't deny that kids are a little distracting (how many 4 year-olds do you know who can sit still for at least an hour?), but we have a choice in how we respond to that. Do we embrace it as positive energy that God gave them and let them be who they are - or do we teach them that there's only one acceptable way to worship? Do we shame parents who can't "control" their children - or do we encourage growth and wise teaching of discipline while also understanding that kids express themselves differently than we do (and that's okay)? Do we love Jesus' little children and show them that we are filled with joy by their presence in church - or do we give them glances and make it known that they aren't welcome in this part of the church? It's our choice to make.
4. "It's not your role to decide when your child is ready for this."
The local church body doesn't have the right to speak over the knowledge we have of our own children. We know our children well...better than they do. If I feel that my child is mature enough for participation in a church service, she needs to be encouraged in that. When she steps into the sanctuary, she doesn't need to hear "Let me walk you back to the children's department." No. She needs to hear, "Can I walk with you to the altar?" Teach her to take initiative in her faith. Teach her to be a follower of Christ and a leader for other kids. Teach her that she is precious in the sight of her Creator and she is always welcome at the foot of the cross.
5. "Young families aren't welcome here."
If a new mother brings her newborn baby to church on Sunday, she should not feel obligated to hand her baby to someone else - or burdened to leave the church altogether because she desires to continue bonding with her infant. Furthermore, let us not forget that a lot of new mothers are also millennials craving for an environment that loves and accepts them...we need to make it known that their presence, and the presence of their baby, is absolutely desired and smiled upon, never frowned upon.
6. "Christ's message to the children doesn't matter."
I know: that sounds a little harsh...but we can't deny it. In Matthew 19:14, "Jesus said, 'Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.'" He didn't say, "Let the big kids come my way, but keep those little ones away." He didn't attach the phrase, "unless they're too distracting." Jesus didn't have limits or guidelines...no rules about how mature they had to be before sitting at His feet...no restrictions. He told His people to let the little children come...unhindered.