Why are all those kids in the worship service?
We are blessed with a lot of children at ECC. To be specific, as of my last count, we have 60 children who regularly attend our church. That is a bunch of kids, almost a quarter of the number of people attending on a typical Sunday morning!
At ECC, children attend worship with their families. This is where we differ from many churches. We do not have "children's church". This has been a well thought-out decision, not made out of convenience but out of a conviction that this is better for our families and children. But why would we not want a separate worship service that is more "appropriate" for children? Wouldn't they learn more and have more fun?
Let me try to answer those two very important questions in the short space of this blog. It really comes down to the the core assumption of children's (and youth) ministry here at ECC. We believe that parents are the primary disciplers of their children. Sure, we have a strong Sunday School program and other ministry programs for children and youth. But the only reason these programs are strong is because our parents reinforce that teaching throughout the week, supplementing it with their own informal and formal teaching.
This goes for how children learn to worship too. Who better to model worship to children than their own parents and siblings, as well as the members of the congregation around them? We believe that children pick up more from participating in worship week by week with their families than they would from a program aimed specifically at them. Just like much of what children learn, worship is learned through the modeling of the adults around them. You would be amazed at what our children glean from each week's worship. They learn hymns and songs, they become familiar with the vocabulary of Scripture and sermons, they hear ideas and teaching that relates to them and about how God is working in the world, and they see worship, prayer, and attentive listening modeled by people they love.
You might be thinking - "yeah, that all sounds good, but children are noisy and distracting. And how in the world can their parents get anything out of the worship service?". Both of these things are challenging. I do have to remind parents occasionally that when their children become distracting that they should take them out of the sanctuary until they settle. But perhaps this also takes an attitude adjustment on our part. It takes time for children to learn to sit quietly (and is harder for some children than others, even within the same family!). It takes time for them to learn to speak quietly when they ask their parents a question about something that is happening in the service. It takes time for them to learn that this is a listening time, not a talking time. We can support our parents and children by being patient and encouraging them in this good work. Parents know that this is a season when they will be distracted by training their children in worship. It IS a training time. And it IS just a season, though it might be a long season for some of our families! We can model joyful worship, a welcoming spirit, and acknowledge that while it might be distracting to us, we understand that it is a a good thing for our children to be worshiping with us.
And the fruit of this training and of the discipling by parents at home? We are seeing it in our youth as they move away and seek out churches for themselves where they can serve and worship and grow, and in those who stay at ECC and are participating in the life of our Body. They have learned how to be participants in a church and to worship God wholeheartedly.
The Body of Christ does not just include adults. It includes youth and children. I wish I could tell you the stories I hear from parents about what their children learn by being part of our worship service. I wish you could see the seriousness of our children when they prepare to lead worship as a choir. They understand that worship is all about pleasing God, not entertaining an audience. That is a lesson they have learned from experiencing worship with all of us, week after week, year after year. It is a mixed blessing, worshiping with children. But the eternal benefits outweigh the distractions, as we consider the part that our children play in the Kingdom now and in the future.