Children In Church- or Other Public Spaces

In the far off and distant days when I was a girl, I can remember my mother noting that when she attended school assemblies or plays she could tell which children went to church somewhere and which didn’t. The churched children could sit still, be quiet, and even occasionally look at the speaker politely. If they needed to speak, they whispered.
The unchurched children wriggled, stood up, talked to their seatmates loudly, audibly sighed, loudly flipped pages in their books, and behaved in a generally boorish and illbred manner.

Nowadays, Granny Tea has trouble distinguishing the churched from the unchurched children. Both are equally boorish and ill behaved in public. Parents often wish to excuse such behavior with ‘but they are only children.’ True. And because they are ‘only children,’ some adults should have taught them the finer points of polite public behavior. Children actually like to know this stuff. They know they don’t know.

Rule A is that we consider other people ahead of ourselves. What that looks like can be found in the subheadings of rules one and two. Rule one is that it is is polite to let other people hear and not distract them (waving toys over your head as they wage battle in the air is a distraction). Rule two is that it is polite to give the speaker some of your attention. Speaking in public is awkward enough without being made to feel that you are dull and annoying by yawning, eye rolling, and twisting around in your chair, craning your neck to see who is sitting behind you.

Here are some practical ways we’ve helped our smaller children learn to pay attention in public assemblies, and because the public assemblies we attend most are church functions, that’s what they mostly deal with. But you could adapt them for other situations:

The closer we are to the front, the better our children behave. The fewer toys and other distractions we bring, the better our children behave (these are counter-intuitive, but we found they really work!)

As soon as a child can read, write a short list of words that he will probably be hearing in the sermon. He should make a tally mark every time he hears that word. My mother did this with us when we were small.

If your child cannot read, listen carefully to the sermon. AS soon as you have a feel for where the preacher is going, whisper two or three words in your child’s ear that you expect will be used with some frequency. Ask your child to squeeze your hand every time he hears those words. Make it a contest if that suits your child’s
nature- tell him you are both going to be listening carefully, and everytime the preacher says, say, “Temple” (or whatever), you will see who can squeeze the other person’s hand first.
Some children will be too excitable for the competition, of course.

Keep notes yourself and ask questions on the drive home. ON a recent Sunday, my questions were something like this:
Who are some people we need to pray for?
What were some of the songs we sang?
What is that song about?
Who served communion?
What was the sermon about?
Who can tell me a scripture that was used? Another one? Another one?
The preacher told a story. Can anybody tell me what it was about?
What can we learn from that?
What Bible characters did the preacher mention?
What did he say about fences?
Who heard one of our memory verses today? Which verse was it?
Who prayed the closing prayer? What did he say in his prayer?
Did we hear of any answered prayers this week? What were they?
Who was there today? Who was missing? Is there anybody we should
send a card to this week?

Pick a hymn or three to sing with your children at home throughout the week. Ask for one of those hymns to be sung at church. Hold your very small child in your arms during a song and whisper the words to him just a fw seconds ahead of singing them so he knows what’s coming and can join in.

Sing one of the hymns on the way home from church. Hymns with some repetition are popular with small children. Trust and Obey; Anywhere with Jesus; Low in the Grave; Power in the Blood are all popular with very young children. Hymns do not have to be childish to be loved by children. Please do not dismiss them by thinking they cannot appreciate such glories as Holy, HOly, Holy.

During the prayers, whisper quietly and reverently to your child “We’re talking to God together.” Help him fold his hands. Whisper something for him to pray for (Mrs. Jones is sick, ask God to make her better… Mrs. Garcia had a new baby, let’s tell God thank-you…”

My older children keep their own notebook of notes taken from sermons now.
A friend of mine does her notebooks this way:
Fill out a piece of paper with the following titles followed by blanks:

Title of sermon:
Related texts:
Main point:
2nd point:
3rd point:

What God wants me to do in my life:

A verse I would like to memorize:

She says,

” Children from about 10 or 11 should be able to fill that out fairly easily. The little ones could have the first two items, plus room to draw a picture of the sermon.
When I have done this in the past, I have required that the children draw something related to the sermon, not just draw bunnies and puppies (grin!). This makes them listen hard to see if they can come up with an idea.
Some sermons are easy to illustrate, but some are much harder. It is fun to see how creative the children can be!”

If I could be pushy, allow me to say that it would really be helpful if any of our readers who are preachers would sometimes begin your sermons telling the children that they need to listen to hear what you have to say about ….
or to hear you tell a story about…
or “listen so you can tell your parents what Bible story I talk
or ???

Several of the above ideas came from the excellent book Parenting in the Pew. My only quarrel with this book is that she still doesn’t think children should come to church until they are four. We disagree, quite strongly, and we have taken all our little ones to church from the moment they were big enough to be taken anywhere.

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