Imagine wrestling with your toddler to get his shoes and socks on while simultaneously trying to change a dirty diaper and sweep up the cereal your four-year-old just spilled. All this before 9 a.m. And, you’re trying to get to church on time!
Once you get to church, things are no different. You’re trying to soothe your crying baby while your husband attempts to quietly answer the loudly whispered questions of your four-year-old and hold back your toddler from crawling under the pew.
Going to church can be a challenge for families with young children, to put it lightly. Some families get so discouraged that they just stop trying. Still, there are a few things you can do to make the church experience easier for these families. Try using these tips to make worship more welcoming:
- Create a safe place up front. Many parents feel they need to sit in the back because they distract others when they sit up front. Actually, being up front may be better because their children will be able to see and participate in worship more readily.
- Get the children involved. Offer children’s bulletins, children’s sermons, and familiar songs. Provide ways for older children to help like playing special music, passing out bulletins, collecting offering, or serving as greeters.
- Provide quiet bags. Create bags of quiet activities for children to take to their pew. Think about things like coloring sheets, pencils and paper, small books, stuffed animals, and puzzles.
- Enlist volunteers to help. Match up young families with people willing to help with small children. These volunteers could be older adults, single people, or families with older children. It could be as simple as offering to hold small children on their lap or block little ones from escaping.
- Provide a place to go. Sometimes it is necessary for a parent to leave with a child who is upset or a baby that needs a diaper change. Provide a room or area for parents to soothe a crying baby or give a restless toddler a break. If possible, provide a way for that parent to still see and/or hear the worship service as it continues.
- Invite and encourage. Parents of young children often feel as if their families are an unruly distraction, so make a special effort to personally invite them to worship and assure them that they are welcome. Remind them that the other worshippers understand this season of their lives and that they are still very much wanted at church.
- Offer suggestions. Provide tips to help parents involve their children in the service. During the service children can look for symbols, colors, and altar decorations. They can listen for certain words or phrases during prayers, liturgies, and sermons. They can sing or speak familiar refrains and prayers.
- Provide conversation starters for home. Offer family devotions or questions based on the weekly readings or sermon theme. This will help families anticipate what is coming and review what happened in worship.
- Educate others. Providing an inviting environment for young families starts with the other church members. Parents need to know that they are surrounded by people who care for them and know their struggles. Remind the other worshippers that it’s normal for children to be disruptive from time to time. Help them understand the importance of getting children involved in church at a young age. And, definitely encourage church members to pray for the parents and the children and to actively share the love of Jesus with them.
How does your church make sure families and children feel welcome?
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