Generation Cedar

I’ve probably posted on this topic before, but I received another email asking for tips on teaching children to sit in church, and I assume that email represents many others who haven’t asked.

As I’ve said, we go to a family-integrated church where it is the norm for families to sit together, so it helps that the children serve as peer influences on each other.  “Everyone else is doing it.” 😉

But here are some things we’ve done, some of which were given to me by older women:

After we pass the nursing stage (while nursing, I usually try to go back in after feeding, though sometimes I stay if baby is sleeping as we have a speaker in the cry room), we have the smallest ones sit on mine or my husband’s lap.  Gentle, whispering reminders serve to explain what’s expected (Shhh…we’re praying.  Be still…)

Someone mentioned in yesterday’s thread that the real training takes place at home, and I believe that to be true.  If the children are basically obedient and obey voice commands, church training follows fairly easily.

However, between the ages of 12 mo. and 2 years the training can be the most intense.  This is where a child, after proper voice commands, would be taken out for disipline.  The important thing is to bring him right back in.  If it persists, there would be a limit to the number of times I would take a child out for the sake of disruption, but I would certainly make a note of the areas of training lacking at home in this case and try to practice.  Sometimes a squeeze on the leg and a low whisper is all you need.  By the way, in most cases, my husband takes a child out.

If you take a disruptive child out to let him play, I believe it slows down and even hinders the process.  You’re only training him to know that misbehavior has a reward.

(With all that said, if this is a new thing, give yourself, and your child some grace.  Take it slow.  Set timed goals (half the service) and reward for meeting those.  Work on sitting still at home while someone reads.  Make sure they’ve gotten plenty of sleep, and consider whether he doesn’t feel well.  Don’t get discouraged!)

Another tip I got from my friend:

If you are struggling with a child, take him just outside the service–maybe in the foyer–with a chair facing the sanctuary.  Sit in that chair and pay attention as you would if you were in the service.  Use the same voice commands and discipline as before.  This way, it is less disruptive, the child is practicing, and you are maintaining your expectations and not just taking him out to “give up”.

Some families give their young children special books or drawing pads just for church.  I also think it’s important to talk about expectations and the meaning of worship before you go in.  It’s an excellent way to emphasize the reverence with which we are to approach the place of worship.

Stay tuned for some challenging thoughts from others on family worship.

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33 Responses

  1. One thing that I did with my kids was to have specific training sessions at home. We would all sit in a row just as we did at church- the kids had access to the same things that they were allowed to have in church (my children are allowed their Bibles, and a quiet activity such as a drawing pad or small unobtrusive toy. My 16yo daughter with Down syndrome is allowed to bring her knitting.) I’d put on a sermon tape or something similar and we’d “practice church.” We’d start out with short sessions, maybe 10 minutes or so; a length of time that I knew they could handle. The times would gradually increase as their tolerance grew. And when we were done, I’d shower them with praise, praise, praise for good attitudes, etc.

    These training times were key for my kids. If I didn’t specifically train them at home like this, I know they would have been a distraction to others (and an embarrassment to me *blush*) during church service.

  2. Yes, and I have seen it get pretty comical at our church.

    Not that we should allow ourselves to get distracted but sometimes you can’t help it when a child is right in front of you.

    If the parents are permissive, you can see the utter delight sweep over the face of the child when he is taken to the nursery. So of course, week after week he continues in his games.

    With those who are not permissive, the expression on the face of the child is quite different if he happens to push his parents that day.
    One boy at our church yelled “PRAY FOR ME” when his mother took him out.

  3. Kelly,
    These are great tips and a “slap in the forhead” kind of moment to me. We have 6 children 14, We are blessed to attend a family-integrated church; we’ve been there for not quite a year now. We don’t have a cry room, but there are two rooms that used to be chidren’s Sunday School rooms prior to the church doing away with age segregation classes. These two ajoined rooms have toys for little ones to play with.

    My three year old does just fine in church, however there are times when we have taken the 2 year old out and just gone back to the “play room”. I realize now that I positively rewarding his negative behavior. DOH! I should have put that together sooner!!! Looks like I’ve got some extra training to do to break that bad habbit that mommy encouraged.

    Thanks for the “water in the face” wakeup call! 🙂

  4. I find it a help to have as little distraction as possible by sitting in the front of the church. There is less for them to look at and be distracted by. We sit on about the 3rd row.


    My friend, if she has to take her little ones out, takes them to the van and puts them in the car seat, strapped in. They must sit and be quiet as they would have in church or face further punishment. No audio to keep them busy, no talking, or playing with toys. All the while she says, you missed ______ singing today. Or, you missed giving your offering, which is a big deal to her kids. She gets the audio of the sermon for herself to finish listening to what she missed.

    Just a thought!

  5. I’m grateful there’s a lot of on our feet and on our knees time in our services, and five hymns. It helps with the fidgets. Also, we practice at home following the order of service – we find it’s not unlike mealtime…the more vested the child is in the preparation, the more likely they’ll take in what’s offered at the table.

    And sometimes we have to remove someone and pray no one asks us for parenting advice, or that we didn’t say aloud what we were thinking in that moment. :).

  6. I feel like our children would do pretty well in church since we have daily family worship (which they love) at home….if only we could only find a church where they were allowed in! 🙁

  7. Over here in British Columbia, Canada, there is no such thing as a family integrated church…. how frustrating. Every place we walk into immediately informs us as to where to put our kids – if not right at the door, within 1-3 minutes. When we politely decline, they are surprised and a look of “what is wrong with these people?” sweeps over their face. Because we are almost the only family who sits with their own children, it is very obvious when any of them makes a noise. Needless to say, I start sweating pretty intensely.
    We are also doing the “practice church” training at home, with a sermon, although I don’t think Mark Driscoll is the most practical – he’s way too entertaining 🙂

  8. Charity – I feel that pain! 😉 We visited MANY churches with our two young children (one nursing infant, one toddler, at the time), only to be shunted QUICKLY to the nursery/daycare. 🙁

    I was raised to sit with my parents in church, but my husband was not, and had a VERY short tolerance for the idea. We’ve combined our efforts now that we’ve found a church that “allows” children in the services: the oldest sits next to me, the next youngest on Daddy’s lap, and I hold our infant. No toys, distractions, etc. We have to make sure to sit in the front, however, as there are several other families who bring everything but the kitchen sink to keep their children occupied which can be distracting for anyone sitting close. 🙂

  9. CHarity and Meg,

    Check out this site:

    Lori, Kids are too funny. I could probably tell stories every week of what the kids say at church. 🙂 Last week our pastor was talking about something really serious and one kid said really loud, “I WANT TO GO HOME”. Of course everyone laughed.

  10. by the way… NCFIC stands for National center for family integrated churches. Maybe you could find one in your area or at least find some like-minded families to start one!

    My church isn’t, but I would love it if they would go back to that.

  11. Hey Kim, Thanks for that site. I checked it out but there aren’t any churches listed even remotely near where we live. We have been praying about moving (this is very important to us!)so we will see what God has in store for us.

  12. I think sitting in the front has been a HUGE help for us. I know that I, personally, lose interest if I cannot hear or see what’s going on on a platform. It not only minimizes distractions, it also aids in children being able to see/hear well.
    Up until very recently, my husband was our pastor, so I was alone in the pew training (well, in church anyway). BUT, sitting in the front also put us in full view of Daddy, too! 😉
    I, too, was raised to sit in church as a family, simply because that’s what you did. I figure, why not expect the same from my own children. 🙂

  13. Thanks, Kim. We actually found a FIC church about an hour from us, but between diesel prices, etc, we decided to go with one only 30 minutes away (WELS Lutheran). It works out really well (for not being a FIC 😉 ).

  14. I like this! My son is just 13 months so we’re still in the early stages of training.

    He’s usually quiet and attentive until the sermon. He seems to enjoy the music and different speakers in the earlier part of church.

    We bring books and cheerios right now to try to keep him quiet.

  15. Leah and Meg. I live in Canada too so understand how quickly everyone wants to send your kids away. We decided a few years back to keep our kids in Church with us. This after them being in Sunday School for a few years. It was not understood by many at first, but after we did this for some months with the kids learning to be mostly still in Church we had people coming and telling us how amazed they were at our 7 children’s’ good behaviour in Church.Now I don’t always think they are that great, you need to be constantly training and reminding, but it is possible even though most folks seem to think that kids can’t sit still for more that 10 minutes. The older kids have started to learn to take notes and the younger are kept busy with their Bibles and a note book. Some just drawing and others copying words. I feel as Christian parents it is our duty to teach our children, not a Sunday School teacher.

  16. Thank You so much for this follow up:)! The tips are very similar to what I have read in various books. I think it is time for me to do a self evaluation on how well I am being listened to at home:) Then follow up with all the lovely ideas. Thank you everyone for all your suggestions and comments. I am so relieved to read I am not the only parent who desires to have my babies with me, who gets frowned on for doing so, and who struggles to manage them in the service!

  17. Thank you for the tips. Today my 14 month son and I listened to s sermon for 5 minutes while we practices staying quite. He lasted about 3 minutes!!! I know I have my work cut out for me, but I am so glad to know I am not the only one who wants to do this!!!

  18. I just wanted to give some encouragement to those who don’t have the opportunity of worshiping in a family-integrated service.
    We felt the Lord leading us to worship as a family about 2 years ago. At the time my husband was the Associate Pastor and so many eyes where on us (so we felt). Our children had always gone to Sunday school and in fact I was on the nursery schedule.
    We were the only ones worshiping as a family at that time. Now, about half of the congregation keeps their children in with them.
    It wasn’t us by far, but the Lord has been leading us to be a more family oriented church. Let Him lead and all we have to do is be obedient. You can do this right where you are. You never know, there may be others who are feeling the same way.
    Another side note ~ we were very intentional about sharing our convictions with our children so they knew why we were keeping them with us. I think that is most important.
    Thank you Kelly for the helpful suggestions.

    “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.” Galatians 6:9

  19. here’s our issue…I have 4 children, the older two are 8 and 10(they have always done well in church)and want to pay attention, we have a 3mo nurser, and a 5dd with down syndrome AND leukemia. some of her chemo meds make her irritable, some make her wild, and some wipe her out. Add that to down syndrome, and church can be a real adventure;) We have her sit on a lap or in between us with a book, but sometimes all that’s left is letting her hang out in the hallway for a few minutes until she can sit still again

  20. don’t know if anyone has mentioned this, but I believe in The Hidden Art of Homemaking she suggests drawing pictures during the sermon for the little ones (let them watch) of what the sermon is about. 🙂

  21. Amanda,

    I certainly recommend special consideration for different circumstances. This is a general idea that works in most cases. And while I still believe even children with special needs can be taught to sit, you may change things for this season of life (especially while taking the meds) or make adjustments if necessary. God bless your efforts!

  22. There can definitely be some rough weeks when you’re working on training them to sit through church. If we ever had to take our little one out of the service we made it a point to never go to the nursery. We didn’t want our child to learn that if he misbehaves long enough he’ll be rewarded by playing.

    I would just take him out and have him sit somewhere with me and work with him on obeying my voice when I tell him to sit still and be quiet. And I practiced at home. I would turn on some tapes to listen to and have my son practice sitting in my lap.

    Yes it can be intense, but it is definitely worth the effort. 🙂

  23. Amanda, we have a child with developmental issues (and food sensitivities)as well as four other children. It can be very humbling when people make assumptions about our parenting (or so we think), but we remind ourselves that he is a blessing and we were chosen to be his parents. It keeps us focused on the Lord and not our own abilities (to train them etc…). Having said that, do your best and be flexible to do what you need to do in your unique situation. Remember, we are to please the Lord not others (Galations 1:10) We spent way too many years beating ourselves up!

  24. It’s really funny. We thought we believed and lived the idea of family worship: our children sit with us only in worship, not with friends or other families; baby and toddlers in the nursery; PRE-K in children’s church. Not until a year and a half ago did I hear of family integrated worship. I’m in love with it. We desire it now BUT… 1) we have some serious training to do. Not with the PRE-K and up, but with the almost two year old. Egad. That’s where lap training stepped in. I heard of it from a friend. I’m having a dickens of a time with it. It’s so new to me. I feel like a first time mom (he’s number 6, though). We have started attending a home church some now (in addition to our ‘regular’ church) and lap training is a necessity.

    I love how you posted this. This week was already hard core week (getting a handle on lap training and some other things we’ve let slip) for Wee Babe, so this encouraged me.

    2) our church is not interested in this at.all. It makes me sad. I don’t know how much longer we’ll be there.

    I am sooooo glad I found your site via Amy’s Humble Musings. What a treasure find!

  25. I have always believed that children should be present during worship. For years we worshiped in our home where my boys learned to participate and love to worship God. We now attend a congregation which actively supports a children’s home with 8 cottages (which my husband works for). The children are very respectful and love to participate when appropriate. I would much rather have the occasional insertions of tears and a small child’s voice. The children’s prayers are taken seriously and are heard and voiced.
    Keep speaking up for our families and how to train our children to love and serve their God and Savior.

  26. I am an Associate Pastor and serving in a non-family-integrated church. My wife and I are blessed with 5 children outside of the womb and one still being “knit together”. We have kept our children in the worship services and since my arrival at this church in July of last year have received less than a warm reception for doing so.

    We are currently seeking God’s guidance as to whether to seek minstry elsewhere but through this process are showing other receptive parents the importance of having children in the service.

    I would appreciate your prayers as we strive through this period of sanctification. After being led to the NCFIC website, reading through Scott Brown’s book and the numerous articles I can clearly see the biblical precendence for the re-intrgration of family back into the services of the church.

  27. My husband is the pastor of a small church plant in Eastern Kentucky, and we bus in about 15 or more kids to attend church we us. These children are assigned a couple to sit with who will train them to worship the Lord with the church, but we are finding that we all need some training on how to train not only these “adopted” children but our own as we are in the process of encouraging more children to stay throughout the duration of the service. In an effort to look up ideas on how to train our children rightly, I have come across so many great ideas and posts like this one, and I have become enamored with FIC. Would love to know more!

  28. Please do not teach children “do what everyone else is doing”. That is a great way for children to not be independent thinkers and to follow the crowd and many times the crowd mentality is very negative and wrong. You can teach love and kindness without comparing yourself to others.

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