Not only as a pastor but as a dad, I love the impact of a kid-friendly church. It's a church where kids aren't just tolerated but loved, a church where kids aren't just seen but are heard, and a church where children are discipled and formed to love Jesus. By God's grace our boys were both born into a church that was super kid-friendly and part of preschool & children's ministries that were so crucial for their faith development. We could think of so many people surrounding our family and our boys that helped point them to Jesus and we believe were used by God to help them both find faith in the Lord Jesus.
As a pastor, it's something near and dear to my heart to cultivate a kid-friendly church. I'm personally invested and driven in this. My boys are those kids who need a kid-friendly church. They're on my heart every moment in making decisions and seeking what God would do with our church. As a dad, I want them to love the church, to see her as the Bride of Christ, and to look at it as something beloved and precious. As a pastor, I want kids like them to do the same.
Cultivating a kid-friendly church is tough, but if we're going to reach the next generation and embrace them fully into the fellowship of the local church, we have to do the hard work.
1. Carve out space for them - Creating a kid-friendly church means carving out dedicated space for them. If they're meeting in the "last possible option" of meeting space, you're treating them like leftovers. Creating space prioritizes the ministry to and for children. Let's face it, we're all dealing with limited physical space. What better way to say we prioritize children than giving them space! Space that's safe, space that's easily accessible, space that's clean, space that's welcoming, space that's adequately resourced and staffed, and space that communicates we care about children. If you've got open grassy space, get a playground. If you've got a parking lot, it can hold a basketball goal. You don't need a rock climbing wall or a slide in your children's area, but these things communicate that you care about kids & families.
2. Embrace them - Kids are going to make noise. They're going to sometimes be a little rambunctious. They're going (GASP!) wear shorts to church. When Jesus said in Matthew 19:14 "Let the little children come to me" there wasn't a condition on it. He never said "as long as they sit perfectly still and are quiet" or "so long as they act right" or "as long as they're not in anyone's way." Nope. It was simply let them come. Obviously parents have a responsibility to make sure their kids don't roll through a crowd of people standing in the foyer or use the flagpoles as lightsabers, but kids don't always do exactly what we want them to do. And please, whatever you do, don't become the "Kid Police" making them feel unwelcomed and unloved by shushing and scolding them. No matter your (or whoever is doing it) intentions are, you are not the parent.
3. Involve them in the Body - I know my first point was carving out space for kids, but if we put them in the back of the church and sequester them from everyone else, we're not truly involving them in the Body. It doesn't have to be intricate, it can be the "children's message" during the service, or having older kids pray in service, or if your church has a children's choir or drama team to involve them in the worship service. One of the best things our former children's minister did was "Cross Generational Fellowships" where our senior adults spent the morning with our kids ministry. By simply putting them in the same room there was an opportunity for both groups to invest in and love one another.
4. Minister to Parents - The three things parents look for with their kids are safety, Jesus-focused, and fun. But so often in parents' lives they are left behind because of all the focus on their kids. And at some level, all of us who are parents are ok with that. We'll give our kids the last cookie on the table or make sure they have new shoes before we do. But parents need ministry too. If your church is connecting to families, where do parents go? Do you have groups for them? Do you have resources in your church to help equip and encourage parents? One way to do that is to point them out in your preaching or announcements. A children's ministry that ministers to parents will stay on top of what's being written and produced to help parents navigate the difficult waters today.
What would you add to cultivate a kid-friendly church? Leave a comment!
Scott M. Douglas
A blog about leadership and the lasting legacy of family ministry.