by Sam Rainer
President & Senior Consultant
There are two kinds of restaurants—those that embrace children and those that tolerate children. You know this reality if you’re a parent, especially if you have multiple small children. When my family of six storms a restaurant, I can tell immediately whether the establishment will embrace my children or tolerate them.
In a recent occurrence, the host looked at my brood with eyes wide: “Oh, my. You have . . . a lot of kids.” I was not offended. Serving large families at a restaurant is tough. Odds are at least one of my kids will have a meltdown before the food arrives, and a one hundred percent probability exists that large portions of something will fall to the floor.
Rarely are we treated rudely, but I can tell which restaurants merely tolerate my children. I understand the tension. Feeding my kids is hard work. It’s why we pay money to have someone else do it! My wife and I don’t get angry; we just don’t return to the places where my kids are a burden. When we discover a restaurant that embraces children, we go back.
There are two kinds of churches—those that embrace children and those that tolerate children. Most churches are not rude towards kids, and I’ve never seen a church sign stating “No Kids Allowed.” However, the families visiting your church will know whether you embrace their kids or not. The churches that welcome children have a higher likelihood of families returning—not just once but often!
Embracing children means understanding that messy is healthy. Children do not learn to eat cleanly. They turn dining room tables into abstract impressionist works. More food ends up in the hair than in the mouth. You’ll need a hazmat suit to serve spaghetti. Children learning to take in God’s Word, worship, and love Jesus are just as messy. The dirt line on church walls about two feet high is there because little hands are dragging as kids walk the halls. Messy is healthy.
Embracing children means valuing noise over perfection. Children make noises in worship. Children make noises in classes. Children make noises in the parking lot. They cry. They laugh loud. They scream and yell. Some churches tolerate the noise. Other churches value the noise. I’ve heard of churches not allowing children below a certain age in the worship service. It’s ridiculous.
Embracing children means protection at all costs. Child security is a discipleship issue—and one of the most important! If you believe in the Great Commission, you will create robust security measures for children. Jesus says, “I am with you always.” A low-security church teaches children, “I am with you sometimes.”
Embracing children means consistent promotion in multiple venues. Check your worship guide. What is in there about children? Check your social media feeds, email newsletters, and worship service announcements. If kids are not there, then you are not embracing children.
Embracing children means investing in KidMin. Is your children’s minister the lowest-paid ministry team member? Does your children’s budget match your worship budget? A church that embraces children will invest in the ministries supporting children. A church that tolerates children will give the monetary leftovers
to them. If it is easier to cut your children’s budget than your technology budget, then you likely are not embracing children in your church.
Embracing children means understanding church at their level. A lot of churches will seek out the perspective of parents. You should! Helping parents create God-centered homes, not child-centered homes, is one of the core elements of family discipleship. However, you should not neglect the perspective of a child. Ask about their experiences, their feelings, and their opinions. When you understand church at a child’s level, you are better positioned to guide the child towards Christ.
In Luke 18, Jesus invited the children. In Mark 10, Jesus embraced the children. Churches that welcome and embrace children are like Jesus. Jesus becomes angry at the disciples for discounting the value of children. The next time a child cries out in church, don’t get angry at the child. Instead, get angry at the person who is angry at the child. Children are a blessing, so churches should make them a priority. Be the church that embraces children, not just tolerates them.
This article is adapted from my book, The Church Revitalization Checklist: A Hopeful and Practical Guide for Leading Your Congregation to a Brighter Tomorrow (Tyndale House Publishers, Copyright © 2022).
As President of Church Answers, Sam Rainer wears many hats. From podcast co-host to full-time Pastor at West Bradenton Baptist Church, Sam’s heart for ministry and revitalization are evident in all he does.
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