A common question these days is, “Should my child go to big church?” In a society smattered with multi-generational church clubs, classes, and youth pizza parties, many parents are wondering when their child should begin interfacing with adults on Sunday morning. The answer is, “Yes, your child should go to big church!”
“Yes, your child should go to big church!”
The right age for a particular child to engage in adult worship varies based on a number of factors including age, maturity, and most importantly parental nurturing – If parents aren’t doing a good job training at home, the child won’t be trained in church, and will merely be a distraction. But, it’s dangerous for a child to not be in Christian community by age ten.
Churches that historically provide the best generational community are smaller churches from Mennonite traditions, where children are ushered into the common life of the church from childhood. If this hasn’t happened by the age of eleven, kids are so “wired” by their own generational “culture” it’s not likely they’ll ever acclimatize.
The goal for your family is something called inter-generational church. The seasoned adults of a congregation should know the infants and the children should have relationship with the senior citizens. Alarmingly, this can’t happen when we only put our children, youth, and young adults in silo contexts. The sad outcome is that children grow up with their largely unregenerate peers and never see the mass influence of their larger spiritual community. Suddenly, at age eighteen we expect them to love the church, but in fact they’ve never really been introduced to her!
Children in silo contexts never experience the power of adult voices proclaiming praise, the tears of adults repenting from sin, and the unity of a congregation voicing their support for a new ministry or global missionary. This is similar to never taking your son to the local major league stadium but expecting him to love baseball. Everyone knows it’s the anthem, the warm ups, the home run, and the 40,000 cheering fans, that breed us into being true fans. In Christianity Today John Ortberg writes,
“Multi-generational church ministry in our day is uncharted territory. In past centuries, because culture changed more slowly, when people entered the church, they entered church culture. They sang common music and spoke a common language. Today, church life has largely been contextualized to reach people in popular culture. But pop culture has fragmented into all kinds of micro-cultures. Generations are generally segregated by media, clothes, music, entertainment, and technology.”
Just because modern culture segregates youth from corporate influences doesn’t mean Christian parents should. Intergenerational ministry is like the shuffle button on iTunes, providing an intersection of tradition, experience, wisdom, and community. The best church practice is for parents to put their children in age appropriate Sunday School AND have them participate in corporate worship experience. Based on this, I would commend parents begin to:
- Heart Train Your Children. If your child is 8+ and can’t sit through a worship service without wriggling or causing commotion then something’s amiss at home. It’s possible the “rod” of correction has been spared (Prov 13:24) keeping the child from respecting you. It’s also possible the full Gospel has not been shared (Rom 3:23) allowing the child not fear sin and it’s consequences. As parents, we must not expect the church to salvage what we have neglected.
- Maximize Sunday With Your Children. We can trace Sunday worship back to the time of Tertullian when he wrote that Christian followers would meet on the “Day of the Sun” to hear the apostle’s teaching and sing in unison. To this day in many countries around the world, Christians gather for 4 hr long worship services followed by food and fellowship. It was only the last twenty years that American Christians boiled church down to one hour on Sunday morning and expected good coffee at the door! Based on this historic Christian criteria do your best to make all of Sunday the “Lord’s Day” for your children. Attend Sunday School AND attend worship service, then spend the afternoon in ways that honor Christ. This way your children will see that your calendar matches your convictions.
- Expect More of Your Children. Hebrew scholar Alfred Edersheim wrote that many ancient Hebrew boys had the Pentateuch (first five books of the OT) memorized by age twelve and had begun this practice at age three! Just because the world expects less of kids, assumes behavior is a medical issue, and allows children live off their parents until age thirty, doesn’t mean it needs to be your expectation. As a family, go out and buy a nice bible for each child. Next, select memory verses for each member of the family. Then, on each Sunday afternoon share those verses, and what God is teaching, before celebrating the memory challenge with donuts or ice cream.
Aside from personal spiritual investment in your children the single best thing you can do for your child’s future is having them in Sunday School and corporate worship. The chance to learn God’s word amidst their peers and then respond corporately alongside their faith predecessors will strengthen, establish, and root them in the historic beauty of Christ’s bride.