Every Sunday morning, around 100 children join the adults for worship at University Reformed Church (East Lansing, Michigan). For the entire service.
To outsiders, this practice of incorporating children into the full worship service might sound ludicrous at worst, tedious at best. But for those who have attended University Reformed for any amount of time, it’s nothing but normal.
“[Children] are members of the covenant community and members of the church. It makes me sad to think that often we ship them down the hall and they don’t participate in the great event of the gathered church,” says senior pastor Jason Helopoulos, author of “Let the Children Worship” (Christian Focus, 2016).
On June 13, Helopoulos will lead a seminar on the topic at General Assembly.
The benefits to allowing children to participate in corporate worship are many, Helopoulos asserts. For one, they are present for the preaching of the Word.
“We believe that when the Word is preached, there’s an efficacy to it. [Children] can’t grab everything, neither can an adult, but they are grabbing nuggets here and there.”
They also get to see and experience a faith that is bigger than family devotions.
“They’re getting an opportunity to watch other saints worship,” Helopoulos says. “This isn’t just something that mom and dad teach and believe at home, but look at all these other people who believe the same thing!”
Helopoulos believes that many of the current approaches to children on Sunday mornings have some unintended side effects.
“There are a lot of different alternatives to children in corporate worship that we’ve adopted as the evangelical church. I think everybody’s hearts are in the right place. There’s no one that’s walking around saying ‘let’s do the worst thing for our children.’ But what often happens with our children is we’ve been centering things upon them or moving them outside of where the church is gathered. So we do worship training, make it very brief. Or we do children’s church, which is really focused on the children … and then we want to bring them into corporate worship at some ‘magical age’ of junior or senior high and wonder why it is that they struggle to engage in corporate worship.”
Helopoulos acknowledges that there are challenges to allowing children to sit through the full service, particularly the sermon, and that churches are wise to provide alternatives for very young children and visitors who might not be comfortable with the practice. But, for the most, part, a few disruptions shouldn’t be a problem; in fact, they ought to be embraced.
“In Mark 10 when Jesus calls the little children to him, the disciples want to bar them because they see the children as a distraction … Jesus says ‘unless you receive the kingdom of heaven like a child …’ He sets them forward not as a distraction but as an example. I think a lot of times, we as adults in corporate worship setting see children as a distraction, but Jesus sees just the opposite. He sees them as an example. I think it’s not only for their benefit that they’re in the room, but it’s also for our benefit. There is a benefit to adults seeing children in worship.”
Helopoulos suggests that churches that would like to try keeping children in the service should generate a culture where adults are both comfortable with a little distraction and where families can expect to receive support from other adults who don’t have young children. The seminar will provide other helpful tips to church leaders on how to come alongside parents who want to have their children worship with them.