How can we welcome children into church? How can we make sure that they, and their parents, know that that they are welcome, and make sure that they want to come back?
I think that sometimes we assume that what we need are large children's programmes, and lots of other children. Of course, these can be a great blessing to many people, but they are not essential. There are plenty of churches, like ours, where there are just a few families that bring children. Where the Bible is taught faithfully, and where parents and the congregation are committed to these children, I trust that they will have every opportunity to grow up knowing the Lord.
Here are some ways that anyone can help children and their parents to feel welcome at church - all of which we have experienced at times and really appreciated:
1) Pray for the children in your church. Pray for their faith, for their friendships, for their parents. Ask their parents what you can pray for them.
2) Bear with them. Children, like all of us, can be annoying or frustrating at times - either because they are behaving badly or because they are acting like, well, children. We are called to bear with one another (Colossians 3: 13) - and this includes the children among us.
3) Forgive them. Again, children often do the wrong thing. Forgiveness, without bearing grudges, is a wonderful blessing to them. If they are warmly accepted back the week after they have behaved badly and apologized, this is a wonderful chance to demonstrate the gospel, and to give a child another chance.
4) Talk to them. Our children really enjoy adult attention as well as playing with other children. My 6 year old and 4 year old love sitting with older members of our congregation at coffee time, and sharing books with them. There have also been adults who have brought books or interesting objects along to show to or lend to our children. Again, this is a great way to share interests and build relationships with children in the church.
5) Feed them cake - and don't complain about the crumbs.
6) Sit with them. We have appreciated people who will sit with us during the service on occasion. The children see other believers joining in with enthusiasm, and I have an extra pair of hands to help, which was especially useful when I had toddlers.
7) Bring tea to their parents. After a fraught service (which happens!) a cup of tea rather than a barrage of advice is the best policy.
8) Invite them into your home. This gives you a chance to get to know the whole family better. We always check what children eat before we have families over, as it can make it more relaxing if everyone isn't worrying about whether or not the children are eating.
9) Encourage their parents. Tell them that you are glad to see them. Say how much you enjoy having their children there. Commiserate with sympathy when it all goes wrong. Tell them they are doing a good job when they have to be firm with their children.
10) Get them involved. Letting children help with moving tables or stacking chairs or collecting plates can be fun for lots of children, and is an opportunity to serve others.
I have written before about how we as parents can keep going taking our children to church. Our experience of church has been enriched greatly by individuals who had taken the time to serve our family by getting alongside our children. We thank God for them.