Training Young Children as They Attend Church Service

How can children learn to worship? To pray? To listen to the teaching? To follow along in their Bible? By observation…observing their parents. As for our family, we believe it is best to teach our children by having them with us. (Deuteronomy 11:19, Proverbs 22:6) I do not claim to be an authority on this subject, as there are far more qualified parents out there. I only desire to share what has been an ongoing process in our own family in hopes to encourage you and maybe provide an idea or two for those who are desiring to worship as a family in church, as we have gleaned from others over the years.

For us, it is important that we keep what our children do during service centered on the reason we are there…to worship Christ.  We desire that our children attend church with us so they can learn from our example, hearing the same message we hear, praying and worshipping as a family. Our times of worship {at church and at home} are special times…times when we seek to share our love for the Lord with our children through our words and actions. Children are like sponges…they absorb what is around them. Although, they may be young, you might be surprised by what they can learn sitting in church listening to the sermon. They are listening. They are learning by our example. If we are earnest and joy-filled, they can see that. If not, well, they can see that too. We desire for our children to love the Lord and what a privilege to have them with us to share in that time of worshipping Him. 

We do provide activities for our younger children to do during worship time.  These activities are to encourage them and are ones we believe will help to grow them (even as young children) in learning about the Lord and Truth.  They are Bible and Christ focused as you will read about some of the things we do below. 

Here are some of the ways we are training our children to attend service with us:

  • First, teaching them at home to sit during prayer times and family worship makes Sunday church not a once a week endeavor.
  • Before service begins, I remind them what is expected… "remember to close your eyes and pray when it’s prayer time” or “when worship begins, remember to stand and sing along if you know the song” (try to practice the songs during the week at home so they will become familiar with the songs your church sings) or “remember when the pastor is at the pulpit, we are to sit still and listen – listen to God’s word”. Young children need reminders and it has been a good practice in our family to do so, BEFORE the service begins. Learning some basic sign language for words like “focus”, “sit”, “yes”, “no”, “read” have been valuable tools in our family to keep speaking to a minimum during teaching time. Another idea…make a run to the restroom BEFORE service, so that will be one less possible interruption during the teaching time.  These reminders are ones we believe help teach the children that our time is to be focused on Christ and if they fidget, are turning Bible pages loudly, etc. it may distract those around them from focusing on Him.
  • During worship, we encourage them to sing, clap, stand when appropriate to stand, pray when prayer is done, etc.  This is not done as a "ritual" but more to show our reverence to the Lord and courtesy to those worshipping around us.
  • For non-readers, we bring a small tablet and crayons (crayons are quiet) to allow them to color a picture about the sermon
  • For non-readers, a picture Bible they can quietly look through during sermon 
  • Using the picture Bible, you can ask them to look for all the pictures of… (if possible, keeping it relevant to the day’s message)
  • For non-readers and beginning writers, bring a small tablet of lined paper. I have written words relating to the day’s message for them to copy. I quietly read each word to them before sermon begins and they copy the words.
  • Beginning readers and writers can draw a picture about the message. They can also be trained to listen to the message, by having them listen for certain words and keep track of how many times the pastor says that word. This helps them develop good listening skills.
  • Notebooks my children used the beginning of last year.  As you can see, for my beginning writer I wrote some sermon related words down for her to copy.  In the other notebooks, our son wrote the Scripture passage, made notes and drew a picture about the sermon.
    This was the passage the pastor read during worship today that our 8 year old copied.
  • For more advanced beginning readers and writers, they can follow along as the pastor reads from the Bible. They can copy the passage he preaches from in their ‘special’ church notebook (small). They write down key words they hear during his message (i.e. who the message was written by, what the passage was addressing, etc.)

The above items can be kept in a ‘special church purse’ if a girl or small ‘special church bag’ if a boy. This will allow all items to be readily accessible each worship day.  {more on this in a moment} 

After the service, take interest in what they have written or drawn. Ask questions about the sermon to see what they remembered, such as what book (book, chapter, and verse for older children) the pastor taught from. Challenge them to give a summary in their own words about the teaching.

For very young children, give non-verbal praise throughout the service for observed obedience and good developing habits (a smile, pat on the hand for affirmation of good church habits, verbal when appropriate…). For older children, praise at the conclusion… "encourage one another”…With consistency and God’s grace, we have been encouraged each week as our family worships together. As we learn together under the teaching of God’s word, it has been a blessing to see our children growing and developing good church habits from an early age.

Last week was the first week Carolyne, Liz and I attended church since before she was born. My husband and I desire to keep our newborns home for 4-6 weeks after birth, in their own environment sheltered from too much exposure to germs and such. We have done this with all our children since our second child was born 15 years ago.

Well, with all outings and new babies, there is a transition period and last Sunday provided us some insight on how church would be with this newborn. Until Carolyne’s birth, my husband would hold our 2 year old and she would usually nap during sermon {after worship}. I would then have my 4 and 5 year olds sit on either side of me, with the older children following. Having the younger two next me allowed me to direct them as needed {little reminders…once again, simple sign language is useful in this area}.

With last Sunday being our first Sunday back to church as a family of now 10, our 2 year old stayed awake the entire service and the 4 year old wanted to talk/play with her…not a good thing, hence the separation. ;-) The last 15 minutes of service, it became necessary to take the 4 year old out with Carolyne and me. Although her voice was quiet, she became too fidgety {taking her shoes off, rustling her papers, etc.} and it concerned me she was distracting to those around us…not to mention possibly waking up Carolyne. The 5 year old did fairly well, with the exception that he had to share crayons with his older sister as his were left home…we were better prepared this week.

Today some minor changes took place. My husband still held our 2 year old, I held Carolyne {in the Maya Wrap} with our 4 year old next to me, then our 8 year old with the 5 year old in between his older brothers. My husband took the 2 year old out during worship {he just forgot to last week}, before greeting time to get her to sleep {that morning nap is still important in her schedule at this age} then came back in before service began.  This Sunday went much smoother.  The children were happy to have "new" church totes with "new" supplies and our 4 year old fell asleep 20 minutes before service ended...right before I stepped out with Carolyne, as she started to wake up in the Maya wrap.

The "new" totes I purchased are plastic handled boxes for the 4, 5 and 8 year olds.  Inside I placed "new church” drawing pads, crayons {they are quieter}, markers for the 8 year old and a lined notebook for her as well. I will be making reduced sized photo copies of Bible coloring sheets for the 4 & 5 year olds as they relate to the messages for them to keep in their boxes to color during service when possible. These boxes are large enough to keep their Bibles in as well.  This did provide incentive to do better this week in church.

Inside our 8 year old's church tote...her Bible, a doodle pad for drawing sermon related pictures, a lined notebook for writing Scripture and notes, crayons, mini sized markers, pencil and a Bible word find.

The Lord provided affirmation today that even when they may not appear to be listening...they are listening.  Our pastor had asked a question regarding who was in control of everything.  This was not meant to be verbally responded to, but Graham {our 5 year old} piped up quickly and loud enough to be heard in the front that "God is!".  I do not say this to boast, but only to show that small children do hear and can learn while attending church service.  He continued drawing the picture the whole time the sermon was being preached as he understood and illustrated it as a child would.

Several years ago we read an article by John Piper on how he and his wife Noel approached children in church with their own family. It was an encouragement to us and one I believe will encourage you, as well as provide some practical suggestions on how to involve your children in church.  The article is titled The Family: Together in God’s Presence. I am sure there are many moms out there who can name other ways they have found that work for their families…if you are one of them, please leave a comment about what you do in your family. If you are a mom looking for ideas, feel free to leave a question and maybe one of my readers can provide a suggestion or two. 

Because of Him,

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Monica said...

Our 13 year old son is ADHD and OCD...It is hard for him to sit still the entire time. Now I think I will get him a note book so that he can journal what he is hearing. Then he won't be expected to sit so very still... Thank you for these pointers!

Joy said...

What great and helpful ideas, Jarnette! We have always kept our children in church with us, and we've used many of these same ideas. It is such a blessing to be able to worship together as a family.

By the way, I love your new family photo on your header! You have a beautiful family!


Purposely at Home said...

wow. your blog is a blessing to me already! i am looking forward to reading more. :)

i hope to have a large family one day, and these tips will definitly be used. it is sad to say, but, so many in the church need to read this post. some children are just not taught nowadays. thank you. :)

Purposely at Home said...

i wanted to thank you for the comment you left on my blessed my day. :) so glad to have you along...:D

Jarnette @ Seasons of Life said...

Monica ~

Would love to hear if the journaling works for your son...I pray it does. It's really amazing how much our children do absorb from being in church with us!

Blessings ~

Joy ~

So glad you stopped by. I agree that worshipping together is a special time {even when sometimes it can be challenging...little ones. ;-)} Thanks for the kind words about our new photo...large group there's another post. I surely have a few stories to tell on that topic ~ some are truly comical. :D

Joyfully ~

"Purposely at Home" ~

It is an encouragement to me to hear young ladies speak about desiring a large family. Having eight right now, I couldn't imagine it any other way and each one brings a sweet element to what makes our family unique. It brings many smiles to my face watching the children grow up TOGETHER. I pray the Lord blesses the desire of your heart!

By His Grace ~

A happy momma