Is Your Church Too Cool For Family?


Sometimes our attempts to be trendy, cool churches with the perfect Sunday morning experience backfire.

I finished praying over dinner¬†as¬†a voice¬†nearby chimed in.¬†“That was a nice¬†prayer.”¬†I surveyed¬†the table. The¬†voice¬†was a beautiful woman, late 30’s.¬†Husband¬†beamed across from her. Two girls, one teen, one younger —¬†both friendly, polite. Nice family.

A pastor friend of mine was walking by at the moment and, sensing an opportunity, I called him over. As they exchanged pleasantries, she began the gushing. She loves her church. The worship is great. The sermons awesome. She was actually glowing. 

All of a sudden,¬†she hesitated. Her voice lowered. I’ll never forget what¬†came¬†next.¬†“Do you allow families to sit together at your church?”

Something inside me curled up next to Lazarus for a three day nap.

You see, I know¬†her church.¬†One of my wife’s friends¬†gave her life to Jesus¬†there a few weeks ago.¬†Things are happening. And she was right about her description of the¬†pastor. Great sermons. Worship is good.

Here’s the thing.

No young kids are allowed with their parents. No babies. No noise. No exceptions.¬†Perfect,¬†controlled order.¬†Kids¬†are¬†stowed neatly in¬†kids’ church for¬†a¬†Bible program there.¬†The¬†braver parent of infant or toddler has the chaos of¬†a miniature¬†MMA¬†cage¬†packed with kids to look forward to.¬†The¬†rest¬†sit in¬†the lobby.

But in church no Mommy or Daddy models worship for the little tikes. No ducklings marshaled in a row, eyes on the old mallard, mimic his every move. There will be no memories of him engaged there.

You see, they¬†are part of…¬†“the problem.”

And¬†God forbid¬†anyone¬†walks out¬†of the service with a¬†runny nose¬†or bathroom emergency —¬†you¬†will¬†not be allowed to¬†return to¬†your family,¬†but¬†sit in the back the rest of the service.¬†One week a young bride fresh from her honeymoon¬†was refused re-entry to¬†sit¬†with¬†her new husband during the sermon. They were first-time visitors. She left near tears. They did not¬†return.

When we put process over people, we cripple the church.

I get the order thing.¬†No one¬†wants distractions. But¬†when¬†“distractions”¬†are¬†the¬†kid who wants to worship¬†like¬†Dad¬†or the woman who¬†has to dry her eyes because the sermon touches her in a way she didn’t expect, when we eliminate the¬†unfortunate¬†or inconvenient for¬†our comfort,¬†when¬†we separate families we’re¬†called to bring together,¬†we’ve lost our priorities. We may be the church. We may be efficient.¬†But we’ve lost what that means. We’ve lost¬†the point.

And how distracting is it really to have a person slip into her seat during the sermon? Is preventing that worth alienating people?

Jesus faced the same issue.

He was¬†in the middle of¬†ministry¬†when a bunch of kids came around. The disciples¬†freaked out thinking¬†the kids would screw up¬†Jesus’ work. They’d get in the way of¬†ministry¬†running smoothly.¬†You know¬†how Jesus responded? “Let the little children come to me. The kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.”

Jesus stopped the¬†work to bring them in and scolded¬†those¬†who thought¬†they’d be distractions.¬†This isn’t¬†a stretch, but the exact point of the verse. Have we forgotten what the¬†work we’re protecting¬†actually is?

If Christians feel their families are marginalized, how do you think non-Christians feel?

I’d bet my¬†tithe the same churches that¬†scratch kindergartners¬†and the¬†perpetually sniffly¬†from the Sunday¬†morning¬†script¬†also miss the vast¬†majority¬†of the ugly and messy, the hardened and abused, the marginalized, the tattoo’d, the smoker, the misfit,¬†the misunderstood.

The ones that¬†aren’t packaged in¬†a pre-Christian¬†gift wrap¬†we call “who we minister to.”

Another way to do ministry. 

My wife and I once visited a church and¬†made the unfortunate choice to¬†sit¬†near the front with our newborn.¬†He considerately chose to begin¬†crying when¬†the sermon started, and as any conscientious parent, we scooted to leave. We couldn’t believe the response. The pastor stopped¬†the¬†sermon and called out to us, “Please don’t¬†take your son out. We love families here. We want¬†you¬†to stay¬†and we don’t care if he makes a disturbance.”

That’s¬†love.¬†In the midst of the messiness and untidy-ness of life, that’s the church. We’ve agonized over the idea of leaving ever since.

Love makes that much of a difference.

Put up a notice asking parents to remove their children discreetly if they become noisy. Ask people to re-enter quietly so not to disturb the service.

Take whatever precautions you want.

But give me sniffly noses, bathroom breaks, and a beaming family lined up down the row.

Give me a little duckling who mimics Dad’s every move.

Because that’s life. That’s the church. That’s what this is all about.

And¬†when¬†Christ calls the little¬†children¬†to come in my church¬†— or even big ones, too — give me distractions.

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    • JP Demsick says

      Well, I generally assume leaders have honest intentions, Mike. And the ones I know really love Jesus. But it’s a temptation for anyone in ministry to try to make it neat and tidy, since it’s easier to control the result, at the expense of the people we’re supposed to love. No matter how much we desire to focus on the big picture, we can’t take our eyes off the little guy and his dad in the front row first.

      Thanks for weighing in! I appreciate hearing your thoughts.


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