Children are the littlest disciples in our church. It is good to include them in corporate worship, and prepare for them to be with the Body of Christ at large. But realistically, children sometimes need to be helped to be involved in corporate worship so that they can participate with minimal distraction.
Some things that have helped us. . .
Setting expectations. We communicate early that the whole family is expected to participate in worship, to the degree they possibly can. We have them stand up when the congregation stands up, try to sing, and fold their hands to pray. Personally, I’m not organized to have a special church bag packed for each week, so we use the bulletin and a pen. (I have trouble sitting still and focusing sometimes and so I bring a notebook to take notes to help me pay attention.) Even though we set expectations to join in corporate worship, we remember that they are not miniature adults and their participation is as a child.
Physical connection. Infants, toddlers, and preschoolers usually do much better with being cooperative and quiet when sitting on a parents’ or other adults’ lap. It’s both a physical and relational connection. It’s much harder for children to sit still on chairs designed for adult bodies.
Explaining the liturgy. Like the pastor explains communion so that both visitors and members understand what is going on during the Lord’s Supper, from the time the kids are little, I whisper to them what the purpose of each element of the service is for. “This is the time we confess our sins. We tell God we are sorry for what we have done wrong this week. We know He forgives us because of Jesus.”
Learning hymns and prayers. We sing the hymns and songs most common at our current church at home. When we’ve had churches that posted the bulletin online ahead of the service, I’ve made a playlist on YouTube for that week’s music and played it in the background throughout the week. Also, we work on memorizing the Lord’s Prayer and Apostles Creed, so the children can participate.
Remembering they are my brothers and sisters in Christ. These aren’t just my children, they are little people who God has placed in our family and in our church for His glory. The ordinary means of grace (baptism, hearing the word preached, eventually communion) are for them as well as us. God uses us as parents (and the church) to disciple these little ones — but the Holy Spirit is also working in their hearts apart from us.
Smile at children and parents. Keep encouraging families with small children to come. Keep encouraging them to have their children participate in worship. Smile at parents when kids are wiggly. Let them know they are welcome.
Some recommended resources:
Podcast: Children and Church