Children in Worship

January 11, 2007

Should children be included in the adults’ congregational worship service?

In my branch of the Restoration Movement, for most of the past 20 years, children have been dropped off in children’s classes while the adults (except for classroom teachers) participate in congregational worship. These congregations were full of young parents with small children. Most were converted into the Restoration Movement rather than having been raised in it, and many had limited or no church background. So it is not surprising that it seemed like a good idea to get all those children out of the auditorium so the adults could concentrate on worship.

In the past year my congregation has re-examined this question. I now see good reasons, both biblical and practical, for including children in worship.

Deuteronomy 29:10:13 You are standing today all of you before the LORD your God: the heads of your tribes, your elders, and your officers, all the men of Israel, your little ones, your wives, and the sojourner who is in your camp, from the one who chops your wood to the one who draws your water, so that you may enter into the sworn covenant of the LORD your God, which the LORD your God is making with you today, that he may establish you today as his people, and that he may be your God, as he promised you, and as he swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob.

In Deut 29, Moses is renewing the covenant with the Israelites. This is not a short sermon, and it was not tailored for small children. Yet the small children were present. The Hebrew word translated as “little ones” in the ESV is derived from the word “to trip”. It has a striking resemblance to our word “toddler.” When Moses called the people together for this sermon, he included the toddlers.

Jos 8:34-35 And afterward he read all the words of the law, the blessing and the curse, according to all that is written in the Book of the Law. There was not a word of all that Moses commanded that Joshua did not read before all the assembly of Israel, and the women, and the little ones, and the sojourners who lived among them.

In Joshua 8, Joshua read all the words of the law to an assembly including the toddlers.

So there is a biblical precedent for including the children in worship. This seems only natural, given the importance of passing on the covenant to the next generation.

Mat 19:13-15 Then children were brought to him that he might lay his hands on them and pray. The disciples rebuked the people, but Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven.” And he laid his hands on them and went away.

Mar 10:13-14 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.

Why did Jesus’ disciples consider it inappropriate for the children to be brought to Jesus? Perhaps they saw it as an unnecessary inconvenience and distraction. The children could not understand what Jesus was teaching. (Even the adults struggled with that!) But Jesus was indignant. He wanted the children brought to him.

I wonder if Jesus has been indignant about our excluding the children from the public worship for the convenience of the adults.

Christian parents are responsible to bring up their children in the teaching of the Lord. (Especially fathers! Eph 6:4) Part of that is teaching them how to worship. The children learn by observing their parents, and participating in age-appropriate ways at every stage. It is not sufficient to hand the children off to a Sunday School teacher for an hour or two each week. Christianity is a family affair. I don’t think you can expect a child to suddenly want to worship God at age 13. It has to be taught from the beginning. And it needs to be taught by the parents.

As we have begun to include children in our worship service, it has not been without challenges. Our members do not have experience in managing children in service. They have not seen it done. There is really nobody in these congregations who has the experience to write books and teach classes about how to do it effectively. Thank God for the internet! I have been amazed to find communities of people online, full of conviction on the subject, who have tackled and solved this problem, and offer excellent practical advice on how to make the worship service a spiritual event for children of all ages.

One book keeps showing up at the blogs that talk about this subject: Parenting in the Pew by Robbie Castleman. Many of the ideas on the blogs are taken from this book.

I’d like to hear some comments about other people’s experiences. Parents, how are you addressing this in your family?


  1. I grew up with children in worship…before “children’s churches” became popular. I remember sitting and listening (in the theater seats of Central in Houston) to Burton Coffman…and while I did not understand most of what he was saying, I knew it was important…and that someday I would understand. My parents and grandparents told us Bible stories throughout the day, and we often sang at home…so, I saw “church services” as an extension of what was going on in my home. When I married, my husband was preaching, and because of the encouragement of other Christians who had gone through the child rearing years, I chose to sit on the 2nd row with our children. Their daddy was in the pulpit. They watched him. Neither child ever had to be taken out for misbehavior. There were no heads to try to look over or through, and we never had a behavior problem. I did take Cheerios (and cleaned up the dropped ones b/4 I left), and my bag always had several Bible story books in it. I know that this will not work for all parents. Some children are more difficult in a worship setting, but because I had seen others keep theirs with them, I felt I could, too. I would encourage anyone who keeps their child in worship to sit away from other small children who might distract, to sit toward the front if possible (knowing you might have to make an exit…so learn where the exits are), to talk about the lesson at home, so the child will pick up a few key points. If you have several children, see if someone who does not have children would be willing to sit with you. It can be done…and I agree that it is important for our children to understand this is not just something we do because there is nothing else going on.

  2. Hi db,Thanks for offering your insights. I especially like your point about making the “church service” just an extension of what happens at home.So you got to hear Burton Coffman preach! That must have been special… maybe more so for your parents in those days!

  3. Alan, I have often struggled on what to with my children during services. The bible does set a pattern of children’s involvement in the worship. I will need to restudy and reconsider whether my older child will be in worship service with us. Thank you for your insight. Sincerely,Phil

  4. this is an aside to all this. when I was at OCC I took a course, entitled “Art for the Elementary Teacher” (I was neither an art or an education major – just needed the credit). As part of the course, it was discussed how children’s cognitive skills evolve. That all children progress the same way – circles before squares; the line across the top of the page and colored in to represent the sky, etc. As part of our assignment we were requested to gather examples of these progressive steps. Where did the art professor send us to gather this information? Why, to the “pew art” left behind by many a small child in the auditorium of the congregations we attended. There is another reason for those ‘prayer request/info request’ cards they stack in the pews.ttk

  5. Yes, Alan, Burton Coffman was one of a kind…we kept in close contact through the years. When I was 3 he found out I could say all the books of the Bible, and he had me stand in front of the entire congregation at VBS and say them…then challenged others to learn them. I have a number of letters from him or Sissy. We made a trip to Houston and visited him about 4 months after his 99th birthday…quite a man! Strong booming voice, mind very sharp…and for about 90 minutes we sat and listened to him declare his faith, ask about our family, encourage us in our Christian life, and as we left (I was in tears) he told us if we didn’t meet again, he’d be watching for us in heaven and be among the cloud of witnesses cheering us on.

  6. At our church all the children are present for worship, including communion, and then right before the preacher they are taken to age appropriate classes. I think it works well. I like the balance. They are learning how to worship but the lesson is given on their level in a language they understand.Many are amazed at how much Bible our 5,6,7 and 10 year old grand children know. The key is what they are taught at home, and having great teachers at church and school.Lets face it, a childs attention span is much shorter than an adults, everything else being equal. Doesn’t it make sense to teach them Biblical principals to live by, and about Christ and his life and work at a level they can understand? If not, why not just take the little boys with you to the mens Bible class and the girls to the adult ladies class?Common sense goes a long way toward doing what is right.

  7. Hi Royce,We have done it that way before also. What we are doing now is having the worship service 10-11:15, with everyone present. Then we break for age-specific Bible classes. That way the children’s teachers do not miss the sermon, and the children can benefit from the sermon in a variety of ways. Many of them will understand at least part of what is said. They also see the congregation being taught the Bible, and responding to it. Especially, they see their parents engaged in the sermon (and benefit from a family discussion of the sermon afterward). This approach seems to be more aligned with what Moses, Joshua, and the early church did. And it places responsibility on the parents (where it belongs) to teach the children how to worship God.Alan

  8. We do it the same as Royce described here in Albuquerque – there’s a little “fellowship break” after communion where parents take their kids to class. Some of the kids’ parents choose to keep them in for the sermon (and since Laura and I are coordinating the children’s ministry, I can tell you exactly how the children’s ministry coordinators feel about that – if the kids like it, more power to ’em).At my parents’ congregation, they do the “Classes then Worship” thing. Children over 2nd grade stay in the entire worship and there’s a special “Children’s Worship” for the younger kids during the sermon only. (They do one thing I *REALLY* like: before the younger kids take of for their worship, the congregation sings “Make Me A Servant” and children go to the front and give a special contribution that goes to a Children’s Home.)Our boys are 10 and 11. We allow them to bring a book to read during announcements and the communion message (and sermon at my parents’ congregation), but require them to participate in singing and not read during prayers. That’s what we do. I don’t have a great defense for why, though.

  9. Alan,With more clarification, I am more fond of what you are doing. The goal is to have them learn to love God and one day to surrender to the Lord Jesus. Whatever path we use to get to that end is fine with me as long as we don’t violate the Word of God or a scriptural principal. I could not agree more that it is the parents job to teach kids about God first, then that teaching should be fortified by others.I am very glad that your congregation is concerned about the kids. In only a few short years they will be us! (Too short huh?)Grace and Peace,Royce Ogle

  10. I’m thinking that the problem lies in the parenting in general. If a child can behave in school, a restaurant, etc., he or she can be expected to be respectful in church no matter how much he or she is actually “getting out of” the service. I think they get more than we know. Of course, mine are all grown, so easy for me to say.

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