Last weekend my family went to a “Game Ranch.” It’s hard to describe, but imagine if a rural petting zoo exploded and the animals were free to roam about shaking you down for carrots and peanuts.
It ended up being a blast, but was a weird experience because you walk through the entrance and suddenly there are animals everywhere. Big deer with antlers amble up and nose through your stroller for treats. Rabbits, pigs, donkeys, turkeys, there’s a veritable parade of roaming creatures that panhandle as you make your way through a dark forest.
The entire time, my two year old just kept chucking whole carrots at any animal that made eye contact with her. I’m fairly confident the bears, bobcats, mountain lions and coyotes would have grabbed her instead of the vegetables if there was not a cage on the dangerous ones. (By the way, I think the definition of mountain lion hell is living in an enclosure while hundreds of fat, lazy deer roam free and taunt you all day.)
My kids loved it, and I am now a huge fan of that place, but I still had a quiet thought inside that asked, “Is this somewhere my kids should be?” I mean I could probably take a deer in a street fight but my four year old wouldn’t stand a chance. Should there be a kid version of this?
I have weird thoughts, but I would be lying if I said I didn’t have some of those same ones when I see people bring kids to church. And I didn’t realize this was such a hot issue until I flirted with the topic and folks jumped up on the comments. They raised some really valid points and challenged my small minded approach. I have an opinion on it, but thought it might be cool to lay out the pros and cons of bringing kids (3 years +) to big church with you.
1. The gift of a shared experience.
Kids get so busy these days with swim practice and soccer games and sleepovers and etc. Going to church together can be a great way to connect and have a shared experience that can guide good discussions the rest of the week as a family. There’s definitely a really positive element of family bonding at work here.
2. Great teaching regardless of age.
I would say that more than 70% of the sermons I’ve heard would not be inappropriate for kids. The subjects they focus on aren’t for adults or kids, they’re for humans. Love your neighbor. Love God. Love yourself. These topics are not restricted by age. And engaging in them at this age can help create a solid foundation for smart decisions down the road.
3. No kids program.
It’s possible your church does not have a thriving child education program. Maybe they are just getting started or you feel like it’s too much glitter and glue and too little God. So as an alternative you bring your kids to big church.
1. The Bible
It doesn’t say anything against this, but does the Bible say we should do it? By asking kids to be adults in our service, aren’t we reversing the claim Jesus made for us to be more child like? Maybe we should attend Sunday School? And although Jesus did not preach to separate crowds, I don’t remember a single little kid disciple. If unity is so important ,why wasn’t one of the disciples a 7 year old named Ricky?
2. The Material
If 70% of the sermons are age appropriate that still means more than 15 times a year, my kid is subjected to something they are not ready for. Does my 4 year old need to hear the intimate ways adultery leaves an impact on the sexual health of a marriage?
3. Sunday School is Geared Toward Them
Church is different, so this isn’t a one to one comparison, but rarely do we bring kids into adult situations in other areas of life. We don’t always invite them to couple counseling, ask them to join us in the doctor’s office for our visit, or take them to work more than one day a year. And Sunday School takes that into account by using the wisdom and skill of decades of growing little hearts for God. My daughters often hear the same truth I did but in a child size version.
I side with those against kids in church, mainly because I am so impressed with how my church does Sunday School. They are just amazing. But I think you can argue both ways. Maybe it’s a cultural thing that is how your country does church of this is an extension of your belief in the solid family togetherness of homeschooling. On the other hand, maybe church is a communal activity and you have to be cognizant of how your kids are impacting the people around you.
Tough to say, but I’d love to hear your thoughts. I told you mine. But if you don’t want to, no sweat. I’ll just have to tell God later when I talk to him, “We talked more about Christians and liquor, than we did kids. You were right God, we love booze.”