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Family Worship or No Children Allowed?

February 20, 2012

This past weekend my girls and I, along with my mom and two sisters, visited my grandpa in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. It was a blessed weekend with all of us together, and a memory we would treasure, as it likely would be one of our lasts with our aging grandfather.


One of the most important things we were looking forward to was going to church all together as a family—including my kids, ages 4 and 6. It’s a church not far from my grandpa’s house—a “mega” church that is much larger than our home church. We all love the senior pastor: my mom, sisters, and I often listen to him online or on the radio and really love his practical lessons and biblical teaching. All throughout Saturday, I talked with my girls about the importance of going to church as a family—God wants us to worship together, and it’s a blessing to be together as a family on Sunday … a rarity for us who live so far away from family.


I’ll never forget the first Sunday that my husband and I worshiped as a family. It was the first Easter after Mia, my second daughter, was born. She was only 4 months old, and Mary-Allison was 2 years old. They were adorable in matching dresses! It was so important to me to take them to the sanctuary and worship together as a family. My husband looked at me and said, “This is all you need, isn’t it?” It was! I felt our family was “complete,” and I felt beyond blessed to be together in God’s house to worship as a family.


Most Sundays, the girls attend their age-appropriate Sunday school classes in our church’s preschool department while we attend “big” worship. As a writer of church curriculum, I completely understand that children need to learn with other children at a level that is appropriate for them. I completely understand and agree with “rules” and structure and organization in order for a church to effectively and efficiently run and serve people and allow the truth of God’s Word to reach others. Being a first-born personality, I love rules—and I love to follow them!


However, sometimes “family” comes first. Sometimes parents realize the lessons that can be learned through children attending worship with their parents, such as:

  • Different styles of worship—some people lift their hands; some don’t
  • Corporate prayer—the Pastor praying over us; some people going to pray with others at the front altar
  • Tithes and offering—how and why we give money
  • Listening to a Pastor—we the “flock” respect, listen to, and learn from the “shepherd” of the church, the pastor
  • Discipline and obedience—it’s not always easy sitting through a long sermon when your tummy is rumbling, even for adults! It is a good discipline, in my opinion, for children to be well behaved through a sermon out of respect and obedience.

And above all else, sometimes a family needs to worship together. Yesterday was one of those days. It was an honor to be able to attend church with my 85-year-old grandfather, and a blessing for my young children to do so, as well—perhaps it would be the last opportunity we would have to do so.


When we entered the worship center at this particular church, we were accosted by several people (ushers, other volunteers) who told me I could not bring my children to worship. I gently replied we were first-time visitors (long-time fans!) and we were going to worship as a family. I was told—as if I’d never experienced the workings of how a church operates—that there was a children’s department for the children to attend, and that there was a “rule from the pastor” that no children under the age of 12 are to be permitted into the worship service.


Believe me … I am not the most patient and gentle person … my temper can flare, especially when I feel my children or my family unit is being threatened. However, I kept my calm (honestly!) and explained once again that my children would stay with me because we were worshipping as a family with my elderly grandfather, who was already seated. The “discussion” continued for several minutes. The result was this head usher would show me “grace” this once if I obeyed his rule of sitting in the back and taking my children out of the service if they became disruptive.


So I accepted his grace … my mom and I sat in the back of the worship center … and I cried silently throughout the entire service. Why? My desire to worship as a family had not been achieved. My sisters had to sit separated from us with my grandfather, who needed wheelchair assistance and could not sit with us in the back. My heart hurt because I had been trying to teach my children the importance of family, of not only making memories with their grandparents but of honoring God by worshiping together. That teaching had been disrupted because a mega church stuck to its man-made, legalistic rules that did not allow families to worship together. Once the pastor took the stage, he spoke of grace and of embracing one another. I cynically thought, Yeah, except if you’re a mother wanting to worship with her young children. Then there is no grace and embracing. I’m glad I’m not a lost soul, because then I’d leave and never come back. My heart was hurt, no longer open to worship or the teaching of the Word.


I am reminded of the words in David Platt’s book, Radical: Taking Back Your Faith Back from the American Dream.  Jesus didn’t have mega churches. He didn’t have thousands of followers. He didn’t have stadium-like worship centers, professional-sounding worship teams, and identically-dressed ushers in expensive suits.


Jesus had 12 close followers. He had no place to call home. No income to report to the IRS. No multi-million-dollar budget to spend on building enormous preschool and children departments. No air conditioning. No plush seats. No velvet-lined tithes and offering plates.


But Jesus did say, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these” (Matthew 19:14).


Let the little children come.


Let the children come. Let the families come. Let the singles come. Let the teenagers come. Let the broken come. Let the alcoholics come. Let the drug-addicted come. Let the abused come. Let the lost come. Let the confused come. Let the hypocrites come. Let the apathetic come.




“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28).


I learned a tough lesson—sometimes the “church” and those in the church can hurt you. And that often hurts worse than being wounded by someone outside your faith. However, God is bigger—He’s bigger than churches and people and organized religion and doctrines and theologies. God is “I AM.” God is LOVE. God brings healing and peace and new life. God is who I worship and serve—not people, buildings, churches, or organizations. Do I place more emphasis on going to church or on worshiping my Lord and Savior?


I also realized mere words and attitudes can “turn off” others to your witness, your testimony, and to the gospel message. How easily someone can reject the Christ because the only “Christ” they see is me. Am I representing Christ in all I say and do? Do my actions, body language, facial expressions, service to others, speech, etc. show others Christ’s love or my legalistic opinions?


I don’t really have a way to “end” this post. My goal on Witty Words is to always encourage and help others. However, this post may be more of a personal “rant” than a helpful tip or encouraging word for you, dear reader and friend. My heart and attitude probably need adjusting—okay, okay, not “probably” … but most definitely! So help me to overcome my human bitterness, release forgiveness to those whom I am sure did not mean to hurt hearts, and move beyond this experience with peace, hope, and love. Dear blog family, please share your thoughts, opinions, experiences, and encouragement.



22 Comments leave one →
  1. February 20, 2012 6:43 am

    Beautiful post – thank you for sharing. Sometimes I think experiences like these, in which we perceive we are being shut out of worship, are actually ways He draws us nearer. I can’t count the ways we have been hindered from worship, from the elderly engaging in pew-turf wars (“my spot!”) rendering us out on the street, to our handicapped child being blackballed from VBS because he couldn’t string Fruit Loops fast enough (“…he just can’t keep up with the others, and we have to keep them on schedule…I’m sure you understand, dear…”). I never seem to understand at the moment, but later He shows me how He was working through all that, even so. Later, bitter bafflement yields to flexibility at His feet. Rejoice in His working in us through these trials, and take comfort. I really appreciate this post – thanks again!

    • February 20, 2012 11:41 am

      Thank you for reading and sharing … you are right, experiences like this can draw us closer to God! “What Satan meant for evil, God means for good!” I need to bring my heart to a place to receive what God may have me learn from this. Your story about your son at VBS just shocks me! I am so sorry for that–VBS is a passion of mine because I write curriculum for VBS, and I love it because ALL children come experience Jesus through VBS–regardless of their “fruit-loop-stringing-skills”!! I like your phrase “flexibility at His feet.” I am going to remember that this week as I continue to process and seek a forgiving heart! I appreciate your words…

  2. February 20, 2012 8:10 am

    Being a fan of old movies, I am always heartened when I see the way it was in the “olden days” where families worshipped together. Ma, pa and all the little ones occupied one pew, praising God. There unfortunately is an insensitivity at times when the word mega is added to the word church. Jesus held the first mega services and as you wrote bid the children to come. I too understand age appropriate learning for children, yet if they are “banned” from sanctuary what are they being taught? I am praying for your heart to be healed and for a spirit of sensitivity to wash over folks.

    • February 20, 2012 11:45 am

      I am immediately reminded of “Little House on the Prairie” where they all sit together! There is much to learn for little ones to observe their parents worshiping God. I also understand the need for controlled organization, etc. in a modern-day worship service. But you used the correct word–banned. That’s how I felt. If a believer feels that way, what message is being sent to unbelievers who are seeking? I know NO church is perfect and it is impossible to please everyone. But I think a church needs to have an atmosphere of loving children and families. And perhaps they have another service just for families. Since we were visitors, we are unaware of all the options. Thank you for your prayers! 🙂

  3. Kristy permalink
    February 20, 2012 9:01 am

    Christi, thank you for sharing this. This is our heart as a family, too. We want to be able to worship together, and not be made to feel that our ‘family’ isn’t welcome! Sidelong glances and irritated looks when a little one makes a peep speaks loudly to a mom’s heart. It starts at the top, though, and trickles down. If the pastor isn’t making the children feel a part of the community, others respond to that. I was just with a friend this weekend whose senior pastor will call out someone who brings their infant (children) into the service. I was SHOCKED! So much for Jesus’ “let the little children come unto me”. This issue hits a nerve with a lot of others, Christi, so thank you for sharing! Love you, my friend!

    • February 20, 2012 11:49 am

      Kristy, I thought of you as I wrote this, since I know this is your heart, as well. You are so right in that what is important to a church starts “at the top” and trickles down. Doesn’t the “family of God” include … well, families with children? I guess it’s just their attitude, not necessarily the “rule,” that saddens my heart. Thanks, friend, for sharing!

  4. Elise permalink
    February 20, 2012 9:11 am

    Christi, I’m so sorry you had that experience. I would’ve felt exactly as you did. Up until about a year ago we were knee-deep in a church search in our new city. It was interesting to be a “guest” at about 20 different churches over time. Often we didn’t feel comfortable putting our daughter in the children’s area the first time we visited somewhere — we preferred to keep her with us the first time, scope out the children’s ministry, and then put her there if we came back. If a church had told us we couldn’t keep her with us the first time we ever visited, I probably wouldn’t have ever returned! In the church we currently attend, nearly all the children are in children’s classes during worship, but you always have the option to bring your kids in if you choose. I’m amazed that the church you visited has grown to such a size with that sort of a policy. It seems like it would turn off a lot of visitors.

    It is so disappointing to be wounded by other believers. I try to remind myself that we’re all still human, and we’re all still in the process of sanctification and struggling against our sin nature. But it doesn’t make it any less hurtful. I hope they will one day consider changing their policy. Maybe you could write a letter to someone in leadership at the church detailing your experience.

    For me, it would be ideal if there were various services throughout the year where families were specifically encouraged to worship together. I find that my daughter has a really hard time attending an entire church service when we visit friends, family, etc., because she’s so rarely exposed to that. I think it’s good for kids to see what the grown ups do during a worship service and why and to learn how to behave appropriately. Our particular church is very small (a new plant) and it’s pretty quiet in the service, so it doesn’t encourage me to bring my daughter occasionally. I like the idea of a more balanced approach where kids mostly have their own age-appropriate space but occasionally are included in the worship service. And I think parents should always have the option to bring their kids to services. Most people are sensitive enough to remove their kids if they become disruptive.

    As a mom with a baby/toddler, occasionally we visited a church where there was a nursing room or a playroom where the service’s audio was piped in. I found those churches to be so wonderful for parents with babies and toddlers. The parent could still hear the service but yet have somewhere to go if baby became really noisy. Not every church has the facilities available to provide that, though. (And I am reading Radical right now, which you referred to — so curious to read what he will say next!)

    • February 20, 2012 11:56 am

      Elise, thank you so much for sharing. You made a great point about when families visit new churches. We also went “church shopping” about a year ago. Most times, we tried to visit Saturday night services so that we could leave our children home with a babysitter while we “checked out” all the churches. I have a hard time allowing my children to go into a classroom in a preschool/children department without knowing the people caring for them. I know most churches have background checks; however, I would never allow a stranger in my home to care for my children. So why would I drop off my children into a room full of strange teachers and children? In addition, my little one, Mia, was just 3 years old at the time, and really struggled with attending a new church once we decided where God was calling us. She was used to attending our old church, not only on Sundays but also for preschool during the week. She had a very difficult time adjusting to a new place. She is a “momma’s girl” anyway, and very timid about new experiences. So we had to take her with us to “big” church for about a month until she became comfortable coming to this new place every week. Then for another month, she cried when we dropped her off into the preschool department. It took about 6 months for her to feel safe and comfortable. And now she loves it! It’s very difficult for families with young children to look for, find, and partipate in Sunday services. I miss the days when we were young when churches had children in the service for worship, then had a “children’s sermon,” and then excused them to their own classes while the Pastor preached. That still seems ideal to me. Please email me and let me know what you think of Radical! I was so convicted–it was difficult to read. It’s definitely a book to read over and over. I must confess–I’m not at the point to begin making the changes he suggests at the end. It’s definitely a life-changing book! Thank you so much for sharing today!!

  5. Anonymous permalink
    February 20, 2012 10:55 am

    Thank you for being a parent who wants their children to worship with them. There are so many who don’t want that experience. You are an awesome Mom!

    Mary Ann

    • February 20, 2012 12:07 pm

      Thanks, Mary Ann! I think of you so often. You not only impacted my life as an editor and writer, but also as a parent. Thank you for your influence, teaching, and amazing example!

  6. Nana permalink
    February 20, 2012 11:18 am

    Regardless of what happened, I pray you always keep ‘your family worship’ a priority. I am surprised that there was no ‘wiggle’ room for bringing the girls in from the beginning…perhaps even half way back….and then it occured to me…I have watched over the years that rules are usually set up when some one or persons have totally stepped over the bounds of consideration or manners or just shear respect for an atmosphere (we’ll call that a spirit of ignorance) ruined it for those who do understand about protecting an atmosphere. I have actually seen some parents who in the midst of a screaming child didn’t make a move to settle the child down or take them out into the foyer to help restore peace. You and I both know that that is a far cry from what you would have delt with, especially with Mary-Allison & Mia (6yrs. & 4ys.)….goodness gracious…I think not! In all seriousness…when you know that your heart is where it should be through this incident…I would encourage you to write the pastor of what your original motive was for bringing your girls and being with your family that day and then of your broken-heartedness when rules of such ridgedness were presented to you. My prayer is that he would read this and take this to his Heavenly Father for an answer or perhaps even a change of (law) structure. Only God can take something of this sort and bring good from it. Go for it, honey 🙂 Love you, much.

    • February 20, 2012 12:14 pm

      I planned on writing a letter, but then thought what difference does one person make? A church can’t make everybody happy, and I understand that. They can’t “read” everybody’s heart. But grace and flexibility need to coincide with rules and organization. But you are right–God can do what He wants with a kindhearted letter. When we visited churches last year to find a new church “home,” we did not put the girls in the children’s department. You know how protective I am when it comes to what my children are exposed to and who cares for them. Placing them in a strange childcare situation when I do not know the individuals teaching them is very difficult for me, and for other mothers, as well. I would never place my children in childcare the first time we visit a church, regardless of whether I wanted a family worship experience. I think churches need to be aware of what is important to families and mothers. Oftentimes, churches are ran by men, who don’t understand, think about, or are sensitive to the needs of mothers, young children, and families–even though the men themselves are “family men.” I think it’s always important to have a motherly/female voice to make sure churches are welcoming for all. If a church is not welcoming to families, what is its purpose? Satan would desire nothing more than to destroy the family unit. Modern-day churches need to insure that they are uplifting, supporting, and doing all they can to keep the family unit intact and guarded against Satan’s attacks. Thanks for your words…I love you!

  7. February 20, 2012 1:58 pm

    it comes down to this :
    ” ministry or program “

  8. Jason Neuman permalink
    February 20, 2012 6:35 pm


    First time blogger….longtime fan…….

    As you know us well, we have 4 children from ages 23 down to 6. All four have been seated next to us each and every time we in church. Yes, even as infants, we had them in church. And yes, we’ve had to excuse ourselves many times when the baby or toddler fussed. We took advantage of the cry rooms, but never did we leave the child to the nursery. Did we make a scene? Probably, but the moment was no different than someone else sneezing or coughing and having to excuse themselves. It was part of child rearing and that should be as acceptable as any other stage of life – middle age or old. Right?

    As soon as our children could understand “no”, we (usually me) started excusing ourselves during the service to painfully, but lovingly correct the child. This was at minimum 5 weeks of 3 interruptions per service of child correcting. To this day, I can attest it was some of the hardest moments of going to church (I didn’t get anything out of it), but yet very necessary. After 5 or so weeks, it not only became possible for the child to sit quietly for an hour in church, but at other places where it was important for a child to sit quietly – like restaurants. Over the years, we’ve had so many people comment that they could never get their kids to sit so quietly and play it off as to their kids nature to be restless. Believe me nature had nothing to do with it and training had everything to do with it! Probably the most convincing question whether to homeschool or not was, “Do I want my child raised and taught by me or their peers?” I think the same question applies in the church as well. I can attest that the intangibles learned by sitting in church as a family far outweigh the snacks and crafts they’ll do while shouting the B-I-B-L-E.

    Sadly, the church has joined this self centeredness mindset to the point that over the course of time, this culture has become traditional. We have at our convenience, nurseries, age based Sunday school classes and junior worship just to name a few. I’ll argue that one of the reasons we have all this separation within the church is adult and parental selfishness. I’ll also argue that this mindset inhibits the degradation of the family and ultimately our nation. We just shove anything and anyone aside if our convenience is at stake.

    I do not know what I would have done if I were the one this usher confronted with my 6 year old. I have some carnal thoughts, but I think I would have reminded him of what Jesus did when His house was conditionally bartered upon and proceeded to worship with the rest of my family, where they are sitting, and if a scene was made, I could take comfort that Jesus made one too…. And Jesus went into the temple of God, and cast out all them that sold and bought in the temple, and overthrew the tables of the moneychangers, and the seats of them that sold doves, Matt. 21:12

    Lastly, your story is another reminder of being swayed to the traditions of man – even if it is the one preaching from the pulpit….

    Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ. Col. 2:8

    By the way, I love your Blog!



    • February 20, 2012 7:49 pm

      Wow! Great to hear from you! Thank you so much for reading and for taking the time to comment…your words are invaluable! I completely agree with every you have stated. As parents, Matt and I often get 2 questions: How do you get your kids to behave so well in public, especially in restaurants? How do you get your children to be so polite and saying “excuse me”? Well … we’ve taught them to do so! Parenting is not just having kids–it is the difficult task of disciplining and teaching and training. They can behave in a restaurant and we can all have an enjoyable meal together in public because we’ve taught them how to behave. Was it difficult and time consuming? Yes. As you said, it’s many times of excusing ourselves and correcting our children. Sometimes embarrassing and frustrating, but vital. Why do adults become disruptive in church, unable to sit still? Probably because as children they were never made to sit still in a service-type atmosphere before! Our culture is used to be “entertained” wherever they go, including church. I think you really hit the nail on the head when you mentioned one word: convenience. Is it convenient to constantly teach and discipline your child? No. Is it more convenient to drop them off and have an hour of peace? Of course! But as you so well stated, the benefits far outweigh the negatives. And I have to say … Matt was not with me this weekend. Perhaps the experience would have been different, since the usher was speaking “down” to me, as if I was a heathen who didn’t understand church rules. Although, had I been a “heathen,” unfortunately I would not have stayed and probably would forever be a lost soul since I wasn’t permitted into service with my children. So unfortunate … so sad … but God is teaching me much and opening my heart and mind to things He obviously needs me to see and learn. A difficult growing experience for this mommy, but with God, it’s always good! 🙂

      I love “talking” to you, Jason! We are definitely planning on going to T.I. this year–hope to see you there!!

  9. February 20, 2012 7:31 pm

    Christi, I am weeping reading your words tonight. I know all too well the feeling you experienced. And I am in totally agreement about children’s place beside their parents in worship.

    We had just moved to a new town. We were there for 1 week when we visited a mega church, just as you described. I was not about to put my children (2 and 5) in childcare when I knew nothing about their caregivers. Shortly into the service a woman passed me a note asking me to remove my children. They were coloring quietly. I leaned forward and asked her if I understood her correctly. And when I did, I informed her that we had lived in this town all of one week and we were visiting her church. But that thanks to her, we would never ever be back. (I was crying, as you did). Our family left abruptly and she ran after us explaining her side. My husband finally had to ask her to leave us alone saying, “You have done enough.”

    But you know what? God had a plan, Christi. God sent us to a new church the following weekend. And I knew exactly what I was looking for after that painful experience. And what I was overwhelmed with was the feeling of family, warmth, acceptance, imperfection, authenticity. God brought me through the doors of Liberty Crossings UMC and it has become a second home to our children. I have forgiven the woman who sent us away and I have no ill feelings toward that church … God had a better plan for my family. And I am grateful for his direction that brings me to the place I am supposed to be, even if there is pain along the way.

    Thank you for sharing your experience. This section was particularly powerful and beautiful to me: “Let the children come. Let the families come. Let the singles come. Let the teenagers come. Let the broken come. Let the alcoholics come. Let the drug-addicted come. Let the abused come. Let the lost come. Let the confused come. Let the hypocrites come. Let the apathetic come.


    Simply beautiful.

    • February 20, 2012 7:55 pm

      Thank you, Rachel, for your comments and for sharing your story. A year ago, we were searching for a new church home and, like you, were not putting our children into a strange childcare setting without knowing the people taking care of them. Being a parent changes so much–especially the entire church experience. It’s not about “me” any more, but about “us” as a family unit. I am feeling more and more that I have to stand up for, defend, and fight for my children and our family unit. I never thought I would feel that way within a church building. However, we must fight for what is right, what is TRUTH–God’s truth–wherever we go, sometimes even in the church. I strongly feel that Satan has “amped up” his attacks on modern families. But you know what? He’s not getting mine! We truly must guard ourselves, our marriages, our children, and our families. You might appreciate the comments made on this post by Jason Neuman, a cousin of mine with 4 children. Also, another reader, Elise, shared her story about finding a new church home, as well. All of the comments have been encouraging and personally helpful to me…thank you for sharing, as well!

  10. February 22, 2012 11:39 am

    I did not interpret your post as a personal rant, but rather an honest, heart-felt reflection. I love how the scripture you quoted backed up exactly what you wrote – that all are (or should be) welcome to worship. Your point about this type of behavior turning away lost souls is beautiful. You should only feel badly when you fail to follow God’s rules, Christi, not made to feel badly because you politely reject man-made rules that appear to contradict His world.

    Kudos to you for creating a positive message and discussion out of a negative experience. I bet your girls will remember your example of how to handle a difficult, unfair situation for a long time to come.

    On another note, though it was outside the realm of the church service, I’m happy to hear you got to spend time together as an extended family!

    • February 26, 2012 9:38 pm

      Thanks for bringing up some good points for me…only feel bad when you fail to follow God’s rules. You are so right! I hope I was a good example for my girls. I kept my cool, which must have been all from God! Other than this experience–we had a GREAT weekend! Lots of lounging by the pool, shopping, eating, watching movies. I love hanging out with my sisters! 🙂

  11. February 24, 2012 6:52 pm

    Man made rules! Don’t you just hate them? Personally I’m not a great lover of the “Polished and Professional Church”. I’m not too sure Jesus is either.

    In defence of “The Establishment” I have seen a decline in discipline. Our “kids” are 27 and 24, when they were tiny they were quite happy to read or play with soft toys.

    As they grew they “listened in to the services” and both went on to the Mission field.

    Two weeks ago we had a noisy toy being dragged around our small church (less than 100) which believe me in no way helped the 98 who didn’t want to join in with Mum & toddler.

    I’m sure Jesus wouldn’t want to split a family, so I can identify with your sorrow in the service, but we must be careful to not let bitterness slip in, and let satan create a break. As a parent I hope you could rationalise things with your girls and Grandpa and walk out rejoicing in the fact you at least could attend a church, whereas many risk their very lives to attend church.

    Mind you once I’d got home I’d have emailed the pastor & shared your concerns. Sometimes one person in the congregation is more in tune with The Lord than the entire Church Leadership.

    Thanks for your post

    God Bless

  12. February 26, 2012 9:40 pm

    Thank you so much for your comment! I needed to hear the encouragement about not being bitter and letting Satan sneak in. You are totally right! I think I will write a letter this week to the pastor–my anger has subsided, and I’m able to collect my thoughts better. Thanks for reading and for sharing with me!

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