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How we helped our children transition to “big” church

Recently, my husband and I had the opportunity to see some sweet little faces from the church he pastors and talk to them and their parents about joining the church family in worship on Sunday mornings. It was so fun to see the new 4-year-olds with wide eyes over what was happening and the looks on their parents’ faces, too. Transitioning to “big” church can be very challenging for some families. It was for ours. I believe it’s also one of the most important things a family can do for the spiritual development of their children.

My husband is long gone to prepare his heart and mind to preach by the time I wake up and start getting our four kids ready for worship each Sunday. So, I have experienced this four times, practically on my own. They all transitioned to big church right at their 3rd birthdays. If I could visit with each family from our church—and yours—this is what I would tell them about my experience: 

The “train and model” motto

Our motto is “train and model.” Training and modeling requires sacrifice (Rom. 12:1). In order to train and model worship of the living God to my children, I must be willing to put their spiritual well-being before my own. For a season, I will not hear every word of the sermon. I will not have any idea that we prayed for a particular people group in worship. I will miss the report of life change on a mission trip. I will not have all of my needs met in worship. 

The truth is, though, it’s not my needs that are important. Worship is not for me. It’s not my break from my children. Worship is what I give to the King of kings, and what I am giving to him right now, in this season of my life, is a devotion to spiritually nurture my children. My sacrifice of training and modeling is actually what God expects of me in my role as a parent of the children he has entrusted to me.

My sacrifice of training and modeling is actually what God expects of me in my role as a parent of the children he has entrusted to me.

So what does training and modeling look like? The idea is to let them see you worship, and train them to do it for themselves. As a family, it requires a team approach. It requires planning ahead and being consistent. The attitude that you, as parents, have about worship is what you will pass on to the kids. You, as Mom and Dad, need to actively participate and communicate with each other. Let each other know how you think it’s going, what’s working, what’s not. Be excited about worship, and talk positively about being with believers to worship your God. Get everyone on the same page, and worship together as a family.

Our training and modeling goes on all during the week. We have expectations for our children during that one hour of worship, and we have explained what the consequences are for not meeting them. Some of our expectations are: not distracting others, not leaving the worship center to go to the bathroom, not fighting with siblings, standing and sitting at appropriate times, and so on. I always remind them of these expectations in the van on the way to church. There are no surprises or excuses. We talk about worship throughout the week and begin our Sunday routine on Saturday. My goal is to do whatever it takes ahead of time to get us in our seats in worship with open, happy hearts and to leave with happy hearts that have worshiped God in a way that pleases him.

To meet my goal of happy hearts before and after worship, these are some practical things I do:

  • Set out church clothes for everyone on Saturday night, even mine.
  • Give “church baths” to kids on Saturday night.
  • Play worship music while getting ready on Sunday.
  • Serve the same breakfast every Sunday (no time for discussing or disagreeing with the ever-changing requests).
  • Decide which service is best for your family. For us, it’s easiest to arrive at the church campus and go straight to worship so that I don’t make us late by getting sidetracked in the hall talking or rounding up children from different classrooms.
  • Everyone goes to the restroom before finding seats in the worship center.
  • Find a seat with a good view for children to see and know what’s happening on the stage.
  • Have a seating arrangement for the children that gives them the best opportunity for meeting the expectations and experiencing worship. For us, this means that the lefty of the bunch sits to my left and all others on the right so that they don’t get in a fight when she continually elbows them with her writing hand. And two personalities need to be split up because they talk a lot.
  • Decide ahead of time a plan for exiting the service if necessary. We exit for scenarios that fall into two categories: defiant disobedience and major distractions.
  • Everyone follows instructions of the worship leader and pastor: sit, stand, bow to pray, kneel when appropriate.
  • Have a plan for the sermon time. We use “big church bags.” These are special and only used during the sermon. Each child is responsible for their bag. We have them carry it, pack it, and take good care of it. We put all kinds of nice, quiet, age-appropriate toys and activities in it that they can do on their own: coloring books, pipe cleaners, stickers, sketch pads, washable markers, and kleenex. We also change out the contents regularly. And finally, we ensure that the bag is not being repacked during the response time so that the children are participating and not being a distraction to others.
  • Let children participate when appropriate by helping pass the offering, opening the Bible, praying at the altar with me, or gathering to pray over mission teams. 
  • Whisper instructions or explanations during teachable moments of the service like the Lord’s supper, pointing out instrumentalists, and explaining how to look for references in the Bible.
  • Enlist help from another family or a teenager my children admire. Ask that person if she will sit close and be that extra set of hands to help manage any issues that arise.

Despite my best efforts, worship does not always go like I want it to. That’s OK. Having perfectly obedient children is not the goal. They do make noises and distract others. We do have to exit on occasion. I’m not locked in on those dreams. The hope and dream of having four kids that love the Lord their God and worship him with all of the hearts is the one I’m working toward. My sacrifice, planning, praying, training, and modeling is worth it. Being the one to teach my children to worship their Creator is an awesome privilege. Parent, enjoy the opportunity you have been given, and with the Lord’s help, be faithful to your precious calling as a parent.

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