I was asked a question recently that isn’t actually that uncommon but still worries me whenever it’s asked; it slightly shocking that anyone would ever need to ask it. It generally goes like this…
It’s going really well with our children’s work, we have made efforts to include them in our services and consequently numbers are rising and whole families are coming not just children. However, there is a small and vocal minority who seem very intolerant of children acting like children during our services and they are making the children feel very unwelcome. As you can imagine this kind of stuff gets me pretty angry, frankly how dare they act in a way that hinders children being part of our church communities, why can’t they see that more people coming to church is good news?
Once I’ve calmed down I realise that whenever change happens in a church there will always be people who would rather things stayed the same (or possibly went back to how they used to be) and that a church becoming more child friendly may make it feel less friendly to people like them. It’s also fair to say that people have pretty high expectations of how children who may not have much Christian heritage should behave in church. There are now very few places in a child’s life where they will be expected to sit quietly and listen without interacting.
So how can we solve this, what is the answer? Obviously my initial response was to sling out of church anyone who complains about children! But this is over the top and wrong so here is the more considered response I sent to one of these requests.
It’s great to hear the improvements you have made and I would hope that as you keep going with them people will come round as they see the changes in the children and the increases in numbers of children and families. Beyond that here are few ideas that might help:
- Constantly affirm the children and ‘within reason’ their behaviour. Include within the usual Sunday welcome that children are welcome and are fine to be children, saying that there’s no need to take out a crying child etc. This message is more important to those without children so that they understand the realistic expectations being placed on the children.
- Think about children and communion. Perhaps in an ideal world I’m saying ‘admit them to communion’ but I’m aware that isn’t always possible everywhere. However ensuring that children are at the heart of this central act is fundamental to making it clear that these children are a key part of our church. By excluding children by having the Sunday school run during the Eucharist we show the church that the children are second class.
- Invite a visiting speaker (ideally a bishop) to affirm the role of children and put their credibility behind it.
- Involve those who struggle with children in the conversations around children’s ministry. So for example if you are thinking about going through the process of joining the children’s charter then make sure that the group who can be negative get their voices heard so that they have a sense of ownership of what happens next.