I grew up in a typical Korean church where there was a separate children’s worship service while the adults were having their own. Every Sunday morning, my family would drive to church together. Once we arrived, my parents would go to their adult service and then my brother and I would again separate to go to a children service appropriate for our age. I remember that as a kid I was always excited to see my church friends. The children’s worship service was kid-friendly. We sang children’s songs, made crafts, and played games. We listened to the children’s pastor preach using words that we could fully understand. He was indeed one of the funniest man I had ever met! At the end of the worship service, the teachers handed out snacks. I waited every week to go to church.
My experience may resonate with some of your own childhood memories of worship. If you are Korean like me, I am certain that this would have been the norm in your church life as a kid. But whether you’re Korean or not, the trend is more and more churches have favored (or have considered the possibility of) keeping the children out from corporate worship on Sunday mornings.
Now, where did this idea come from? Blogger Tim Wright indicates that this system first began as a means to draw the Baby Boomers back into the church. I agree that creating a separate children’s service had an evangelistic intention. But fundamentally, it was simply a practical solution to allow both adults and children to worship God at their appropriate level. Adults did not have to bother with quieting down squirming children and children did not have to sit through a boring service that they could not comprehend. When placed in their own worship services, both adults and children could fully focus on worshipping the one and true God without distraction caused from each other.
This seems like a reasonable and practical solution. But often times, even what appears to be a good solution can have unintended dangers attached. I will not list what I think those dangers are since my purpose in this post is not to criticize those churches who have separate children’s service or argue that every church must have the same set-up. In fact, I used to serve as a children’s ministry director, employing the same kind of system. And as I said in the beginning, I grew up attending a separate children’s service.
Instead of mentioning what I consider as potential problems of not having children and adults worship together, I want to point out important benefits to including children in corporate worship. Though having a separate children’s service may have its advantage, are we missing out on anything by excluding children from our corporate worship? My answer is, “Yes, indeed!” If your church has children attend corporate worship with the adults, what are you gaining from it? Is it really worth it?
In this first post of two, I will discuss three benefits that children gain by being included in corporate worship service. In my next post, I will discuss the benefits that the presence of children in corporate worship brings to the adults and the church as a whole. Hopefully, this will enable us to rethink the important place that children have in our own churches. And further, I hope this post will serve as an encouragement to those churches that are already enjoying the benefits of welcoming children into their corporate worship.
First, including children in corporate worship connects them to the past.
Christianity, by its very nature, is a story of what has happened in history and how it still relates to us today. It speaks of how God acts towards his people in history. The Bible is full of history: God created the world; Adam and Eve sinned against God; God called Abraham; God saved His people from Egypt; God spoke to His people through prophets, and so on. Christ’s life, suffering, death, and resurrection are all events in history. The content of our faith is in its very nature based on what God has done and what God is doing and what God will do in the future. The creeds and confessions that we recite together in corporate worship are documents of faith passed down to us from history. Likewise, the 16-17th century hymns or the Psalter that we sing have been passed down to one generation to the next in history.
What does this teach our children when they sit in corporate worship service? It teaches them that the past is important. It reminds them what they are taught in church is not something reinvented weekly by their pastor, but that their faith is connected to the past. In a world where the past is often dismissed children come to learn that the past is actually important and that Christianity is about God’s work in actual history. What better place can there be than the corporate worship that teaches the children this valuable lesson!
Second, including children in corporate worship connects them to the church.
When children are separated from the adults in their own worship service, they are kept away from the worship experience of the church. They grow without knowing what a worship service is like. They do not learn the liturgy, the creeds and confessions, and the hymns of the church. When they are finally old enough to attend the corporate worship service, they feel awkward and out of place. Their connection to the church and their worship life becomes very weak. They are so used to church worship formed around their interest and likings that once they graduate from the children’s worship setting, it becomes very difficult for them to adjust to an alien way of worship with adults who are only strangers to them. This may be one reason why so many youth group students leave the church once they enter college.
But when children worship with the adults, they become familiar with the liturgy and learn the same hymns that their parents sing. They hear the Word preached and see the Lord’s Supper being administered by the pastor. They see the adults listening attentively to the sermon. The church implicitly sends out the message to the children that what is being done in worship service is serious and important. They may not understand everything that’s going on, but what they see and hear and experience while sitting in corporate worship service will be imprinted in their hearts with long-lasting impact. I still remember vividly watching my mom taking the Lord’s Supper. I didn’t understand exactly what it meant, but I thought to myself, “I want to be a good Christian like my mom and really love Jesus.” The adults serve as excellent models for children as they watch how the adults act in worship.
Third, including children in corporate worship connects them to the family.
The greatest privilege of including children in corporate worship, I believe, is that the whole family sits under the same Word of God preached. The parents can ask their children and the children can ask their parents about what they heard in sermon that day. Sitting under the same Word preached gives the family a great opportunity to discuss God’s Word together and how they can apply it in their lives.
Further, children learn proper behaviors and attitudes required in worship by watching their parents worship. As children’s ministry director, one thing that I found really difficult was disciplining children to have proper behavior in worship service. I did not want children’s worship to become sloppy. I repeated to them almost every week that our worship is not a joke or a social gathering. It requires seriousness because it is in worship that we encounter God most powerfully. But when they are only with their friends in a children’s worship setting, this is really hard to teach. Watching their own parents worship with sincerity can be a powerful means for teaching proper behavior and attitude required during worship for children.
Being included in corporate worship connects children to the past, the church, and the family. In my next post, I will talk about the benefits that worshipping together brings to the adults and to the church.