A question that every thinking Christian parent faces is, "What do I do with my kids during church?"


If you have grown up in the protestant church in Australia you very likely have seen, or even experienced, a separate Sunday school for kids during the service. Either for part of the service or for the whole thing.


But, even in churches with Sunday School type kids programs, there will be some parents who do not send their kids out.


What should you do if faced with the option as a parent? Send them out? Keep them in?


In some churches, including our own church, we have the kids in for the whole service. Why? Well the cop-out answer is that we don't have the resources to run a fully-fledged kids program. But let's say for argument's sake that we did have the people, training, space and finances to make it all work, should we start a kids program during the service?


It would certainly feel easier for the beleaguered parent to have someone else look after their children on Sunday morning.


But, we have to ask an important question before we consider this any further.


What does God want His people to do?



Sunday School started as a way to provide education to uneducated kids in addition to the regular worship gathering of the church. Before the days of universal education, you could only get educated if you paid for it, or, if it was provided out of the generosity of others.


Many many Australian kids couldn't go to school. Many families were also working 6 days a week. So Churches started running Sunday School after church as a charitable endeavour to help kids with basic literacy, eventually enabling them to read the God's word for themselves! They would be taught songs and given religious instruction too.


As public literacy skyrocketed when public schools started, there was little need for Sunday literacy classes, but it was still good to have the opportunity to teach children the faith, so Sunday schools continued.


However, somewhere along the line between the establishment of public education and the present day, the religious instruction of children became an alternative to being part of the worship of God's gathered people.


Now, age appropriate teaching for kids is very important! But, should it come at the expense of families worshiping God together?


A Joyful Vision

There is so much to say on this topic, from the statistics about kids who stay Christians, to the trendy parenting choices that set kids up to fail. But I want to make the best use of your attention, and I think the best way to do that is to put forward a vision of the family in worship. It is a joyful vision!


Worship is an all of life activity, and Church services are part of "all of life". This is a time we especially set aside to humble ourselves before God and hear from Him and respond to Him as a gathered body of His people.


In the Torah, God expected that kids were involved in the rites of worship to such an extent that they would ask their parents about the meaning of what they did (e.g. Ex 12:24–27). Even if our kids are not mature enough to participate in every aspect, they should be close enough to see it!


The scriptures are clear that parents, and particularly fathers, have first responsibility for discipling their kids (Eph 6:4, Ps 78:4-6, Pro 22:6, 29:17, Deu 11:19, etc.), and this includes teaching them how to participate in gathered worship. Children seeing their parents praise God with joy; confess their sin with sorrow; devour the Word of God with hunger; and encourage other believers with gentleness; is one of the best ways to teach our children and show them the lived reality of our faith. Over the long term, the best way to disciple children in the gathering is to show them how to participate (example), equip them to participate (repetition & practice), and instruct them on the how & why of participation (teaching).


This also means that parents need to learn themselves the how and why of church gathering so that you can pass this onto the next generation!


The practical aspects of helping kids "behave" at church is merely a precursor to them being able to partake of the nourishing "pure spiritual milk, that by it [they] may grow up into salvation" (1 Pe 2:2).


Many families already struggle to find time to spend together as a whole family and to do family-strengthening activities. Church should be a place where that is enabled and encouraged.


Paul wrote to Galatians and Corinthians on different theological issues but in both cases there was arbitrary division among God's people that was condemned. We also have a potent example in the Gospel's of the disciples turning away children because they were not considered worthy of Jesus' time and attention. But, Jesus welcomed the children, blessing them, and indeed holding them up as an example of faith!


"Now they were bringing even infants to him that he might touch them. And when the disciples saw it, they rebuked them. But Jesus called them to him, saying, “Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God. Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.” (Lk 18:15–17).


No, I'm not suggesting that if you send your kids to Sunday school you're preventing them from coming to Jesus, but I do feel that separating God's people with the patronising attitude of "you're too young for church" reminds me of the disciples in that story.


Everyone learns to do things they can't do, by trying to do them. You learn to ride a bike, by trying to ride a bike before you have learned. In order for children to learn how to do church, they need to be in church learning how to do it.


But imagine, imagine what it would look like if your family could experience the wonderful blessing of each actively participating together with the gathered body! What a vision that would be! Each encouraging one another. Spurring each other onto love and good works! Singing out your lungs together, crying out for redemption, revelling in God's salvation, sitting under God's word with reverence, and lifting up your hearts with joy to receive God's means of grace!



I'm a child of Sunday School. I benefited greatly from it. But the question that needs answering is not whether or not we benefited, but whether it should have been at the expense of time with family and the other gathered saints in church under God.


There are many challenges that can arise if we want to have our families purposefully together in church. In the future I wish to write on some practical tips that may inspire your fruitfulness in this area!


For further reading on this topic, check out:


John Piper's letter to his church on Family Integrated Worship


Jeff Durbin's thoughts on Family Integrated Worship



"Give ear, O my people, to my teaching; 

   incline your ears to the words of my mouth! 

I will open my mouth in a parable; 

   I will utter dark sayings from of old, 

things that we have heard and known, 

   that our fathers have told us. 

We will not hide them from their children, 

   but tell to the coming generation 

         the glorious deeds of the LORD, and his might, 

   and the wonders that he has done." (Ps 78:1–4).



Samuel Lindsay