Eleven years ago, we had four children from age twelve down to a baby. We sent these children to children’s church and Sunday School but were never very excited about the outcome. Frequently, the children picked up an illness because of their close contact with other sick children. This meant the next several weeks many of us were home from church as the virus spread through the family. Our children also had a propensity for picking up every negative word or action they observed in another child. Even in a Christian church setting, they managed to discover words, attitudes, and actions of which we did not approve.
One Sunday morning a friend of Steve’s visited our church. They had four children about ages six on down. I was stunned as I observed this family sit through ALL of church with ALL of those children. In addition, the children were well behaved. You had better believe the first thing I asked that mom after church was, “How do you get your children to sit so nicely through church?” Her response was very simple, but it revolutionized our family’s future church attendance. We began to practice what she suggested with wonderful results. I want to share this idea in case you are in the stage of life with young children whom you would like to have with you in church, or perhaps know other families with this desire.
We began to train our children to sit in church by practicing during the week at home. We found this method to work amazingly well. It was so simple, yet very effective. Here is how we implemented it in our family.
I held the youngest child, who was still a baby, on my lap during our family Bible time. If he started to try to wiggle down, I held him firmly and said quietly, “No.” If the baby began to make noise, scream, or cry (this is a baby old enough to sit up), I would gently put my finger on his mouth and say, “Shhh.” I did this several times, but if the crying didn’t stop, I would carry the baby to his crib and say, “You must be quiet during devotion time. Mommy will come back to get you when you stop crying.” When the baby was quiet, I would bring him out to the family again and onto my lap. Consistently, we would do this repeatedly as needed. It did produce some interruptions to the devotion time, but if Mom is quietly doing this while Dad continues the Bible time, the distractions are kept to a minimum. We believed the investment was worth the hoped-for outcome.
We also required the other children to sit quietly and attentively during devotions, as we would like them to sit in church. Not only did this help their church behavior, but it also helped them during home Bible time. Because we are not currently training a baby to be quiet and sit on Mama or Papa’s lap in church, we have not maintained the same high standards of behavior during our family devotions, and it has had a negative impact on the children’s attentiveness.
When we were actually at church and the youngest child would not be quiet, either Steve or I would take him out and sit with him where he would not be a distraction. We would be careful not to let him down to crawl or run around because we didn’t want him to learn that if he was noisy he could leave church and have fun. We would do as we did at home, holding him firmly on our lap, putting a finger on his mouth and saying, “Shhh.” Since there was no place to put the baby if he kept on making noise, we would just hold him firmly, praising him anytime he was quiet. If it seemed he was going to stay quiet, we would take him back into the service, leaving again if his noise level rose. There were many services a member of our family missed sitting in the hall at church with a child between nine and eighteen months of age. That was also the age Steve’s friend said was the hardest. However, the fruit of being able to sit through two-hour church services with five young children has been worth those few missed services. We never have to take our children out of church for being disruptive anymore, although there are times when they have some “practice” to do when we get home from church.
We have helped our children toward quiet, respectful behavior in church by giving them an environment to encourage their success. They don’t get to eat, read, or have toys. This makes church a different place from home or another play area. They do have notebooks to scribble in or take notes in if they remember to bring them to church.
Our little ones are not “perfect” in church. They sometimes whisper to each other and to us. Their eyes can wander here and there. They will get off their seat from time to time to pick up a Bible or change laps. They don’t sit like statutes through the service. This is within our level of tolerance of a child’s behavior in church. Others must agree with us because we regularly receive comments on how good the little children are in church. If our children cross the boundaries for church behavior we have set, they will again find they have some practice time at home after church.
It is a joy for us to have our family worshipping all together. We don’t feel our younger children are missing out on anything by being with us. They receive spiritual training on their level at home. They enjoy going to church with their family. They learn to listen, pray, and worship by watching their parents, older siblings, and other church members. It is a delight for Steve and me. We are most indebted to the Hunsburger family, whom we knew in Kent, Washington eleven years ago, for showing us that it was possible to attend a corporate worship service as a family even with little children!