Children in Church, by Kari Anderson for the CLCC

(The Confessional Lutherans for Christ’s Commission are one of the many confessional groups that post regularly on the BJS site. Their posts are archived on the Regular Columns page.)

I visited recently with a man in my town that told me that he would not attend a church that had a sign in the back few pews saying that they were reserved for people with small children, because he believed that children should be sitting closer to the front of the church. I had never really thought about the signs suggesting that they sit there, just that if they wanted to, but he is right. Why have signs at all on the pews in the back? Everyone with small children should be encouraged to sit closer to the front. Children seem to behave much better nearer the front than in the back.

I’ve been learning these things lately about how important it is for children to be in church, where they receive the same gifts of worship that adults receive. When children are closer to the front, there are fewer distractions for them. It can’t be fun to look at all the people’s backs and not even be able to see the pastor. In the front they can see the pastor better, and what he is doing. He is acting in the stead and by the command of our Lord, Jesus Christ. When he makes the sign of the cross and gives the absolution of sins, it is for them, too. Children are sinners and need to hear their sins are forgiven just like the rest of us do. They will receive the comfort that knowing they are forgiven brings to them, just like it does for us. They are a part of the priesthood of all believers, because they are baptized. .

As things happen during the service, parents can explain to them what is happening in a quiet voice. They can point out things of interest. When a baptism occurs the children will actually be able to see how they were made a child of God, too.

Of course, children will become restless at times, because they are children. Parents can be told when they are encouraged to bring them closer to the front to take them out when they fuss, but to bring them right back in. Church is for them, too, and they shouldn’t start to look at their acting out as a way to get rewarded with time to play in the crying room. The crying room should be more for the quick disciplinary trip, or for an occasional small crying infant, not for toddlers that can and should be taught how they should behave in church. This is God’s house, and they need to be on their best behavior in the house of the Lord. It may be a way to teach respect. That is sadly lacking in our world today.

I’ve watched a few families in my church that sit near the front, and this is what they do. I’ve also listened to Todd Wilken and some of his guests on Issues Etc, and they have had programs about the importance of kids being at the worship service. Todd said his son was singing the liturgy from his crib before he could even speak. We know these children are small believers because they were given the Gift of faith at their baptism. God promises His Word does not return void. Children learn through repetition. They learn the Christian faith through the liturgy they hear in church. They will learn how they are being fed by God, to help them live their lives through the rest of the week, and hopefully realize they need to continue to be fed throughout their lives. I think it’s time to encourage big Lutherans and little ones to sit in the front of church.

Kari Anderson
Confessional Lutherans for Christ’s Commission (CLCC)
June 24, 2009

Posted in CLCC permalink

About Pastor Tim Rossow

Rev. Dr. Timothy Rossow is the Director of Development for Lutherans in Africa. He served Bethany Lutheran Church in Naperville, IL as the Sr. Pastor for 22 years (1994-2016) and was Sr. Pastor of Emmanuel Lutheran in Dearborn, MI prior to that. He is the founder of Brothers of John the Steadfast but handed off the Sr. Editor position to Rev. Joshua Scheer in 2015. He currently resides in Ocean Shores WA with his wife Phyllis. He regularly teaches in Africa. He also paints watercolors, reads philosophy and golfs. He is currently represented in two art galleries in the Pacific Northwest. His M Div is from Concordia, St. Louis and he has an MA in philosophy from St. Louis University and a D Min from Concordia, Fort Wayne.


Children in Church, by Kari Anderson for the CLCC — 20 Comments

  1. I think parents with children should sit wherever best suits them, but I’d actually like to argue for children sitting in back. I say this as a formerly childless person.

    Here’s the deal: all parishioners should learn how to handle the distraction of children. But some do better than others. I actually don’t do well with distraction. So when I was childless, I sat way up in the front so that the chatter/crying/dropping of toys, etc. wouldn’t keep me from hearing the sermon.

    Now that I have two bundles of joy under the age of two, we sit in back. This is partially because we almost always have to leave at least once. Sitting in back causes the least disruption. And I’m much less self-conscious about my nearly two year old’s outbursts, should they occur.

    But I don’t begrudge people for sitting up front with their little ones. All that really matters is that they’re there.

  2. I have seen it work for many families, some that surprise me, but it does not work for all and Mollie makes a good point – most important is the hearing of the Gospel for all.


  3. Mollie,
    If you have two under two, I’d certainly agree you are where you maybe should be right now. But, in a few years, I’d hope you’d try sit in the middle somewhere. I didn’t necessarily mean right in the front, just not way in the back. Try creeping closer to the front when you’re able.

    I sat in back when my kids were small, but now I wish we had tried closer to the front. I think people will be surprised how good kids can behave when they are closer to the front. How much more they will listen and learn.


  4. I practically have the very last pew, near the isle reserved 🙂
    I have one that just turned 3. We arrived late a couple of times and someone was there in “our spot” and he walked right in there anyway.
    For every year after 4, maybe we can move 1 to 2 pews closer.
    The church is small anyway.
    As Uwe Simeon-Netto coined the phrase “Sitting in the back pew of life”,

  5. I have three boys and we sit in the front. At first it happened by accident- we ran late to church a few times and the front was the only place to sit that we could fit. My kids pay better attention. I also don’t pack snacks, or noisy toys. Kids can learn to sit and color or draw for an hour. My oldest went through a time when he was the naughtiest child when we walked into the sanctuary. I always sat towards the back and was quick to take him out. Probably to quick. When I sit in the front I tend to demand more from the boys. Usually works. My boys are far from perfect, but after trying different things (my boys are 6, 10, and 17) I find that I appreciate the front the most. We have squeaky kids in church, but the only way kids are going to learn to sit in church is to sit in church.

  6. Molli, what did your parents do re; 😉

    Personally I found there was more distraction if you sat with other parents with small children because they saw all of the little ones that did NOT behave.

    My grandsons were only 13 mo apart. Our children and grandchildren were never in the nursery, never had toys, snacks, colorbooks etc. and I never took them out.

    I taught Sunday School, and preschool for many yrs. and children quickly learn that if they do certain things the parents will quickly take them out which is exactly what they want so who is training who.

    We always had family devotions in the evening after dinner so they learned to sit and be quiet for short periods of time. Mine were also potti trained on the job and learned to sit quietly on my lap if I was engaged in conversation and knew they could NOT interupt me.

    We prepared them on Sat reminding them of church, behavior etc. on sat and made sure again before entering church.

    Remind yourself if you cannot manage them at this age what are you going to do when they are teen agers. 😉

    Respectfully Submitted
    Georgann McKee oldest of 4 children

  7. Thank you Kari! We would have never thought of sitting in front while our kids were small; what a mistake! Now that we are “older and need” to sit closer we are so very thankful for the young children up front with us. It sounds like the most noise is coming from the children in back; not those in front! We just wish that our grandson lived closer so that he could join us up front! The children are a gift and the future of our church – blessings to all of our young families where ever they sit!

  8. Nice article, Kari.
    Misbehaving children I find distracting in the Divine Service. As long as the children are minded to behave, by all means, sit in the front.
    Ever since I was a small child we ALWAYS sat in the very first pew, pulpit side. We were taught to behave. This is probably why I dislike sitting any further back than the first few pews to this very day.

  9. Whether in the front or the back, at least the children are in the sanctuary during Lutheran services. Nothing is more disconcerting than to watch children in Baptist churches being shunted out to “children’s church” just before the sermon is preached, as though they are second-class citizens in the Kingdom.

  10. My kids grew up in the choir loft, so sitting up front was never an option for us. As they grew older, we made it a point to move down into the pew area after we sang, usually during the sermon hymn, so we generaly just sit were we can find a place without causing too much distraction. They did spend some time in the nursery (the choir sang all three services each sunday morning) but they always worshipped with us and learned from their earliest days what kind of behavior was expected. Luckily, they pretty much always behaved, although, without boasting, I like to say that they never knew they had an option.

    I think that their regular attendance in the Divine Service from a very young age, and being catechized by a faithful, confessional Pastor has helped the to grow up with a strong confessional faith which was demonstrated revently when we attended a Baptism for the daughter of some family friends at a local UMC Church. After the service, they were full of questions and observations that I was astounded to hear coming from such young adults: “Why was there no mention of the holy spirit of the gift of faith recieved in the baptism? Why was the focus about what the congregation would do for the child, and what the child would be expected to do? What was up with the lyrics of the praise music? (Lord you made me what I am [a poor miserable sinner? I don’t think so…], etc.”

    Children can be a distraction in church, but what a gloriuos one it is to have to deal with. I, for one, do not mind it in the least, and I’m perfectly happy to defend parents with small children to any curmidgeons who disagree. Thanks for the great post Kari!

    Gods richest blessings,

  11. What Jon @ 4 described is what those “Reserved” signs is supposed to take care of — their purpose is to make sure that the last pew/s are available for families with babies and small children, not only so they’re closer to the doors if they have to take them out, but also because those families are often the ones most likely to be running late (not just on Sundays, but any day).

    When our children were still in the infant/toddler stages I really appreciated that the churches we attended had those reserved pews, because we needed them. And I confess to some unfriendly glares at the people without children who would sit in them despite the signs, making them unavailable to us and other families, apparently thinking their need to not be inconvenienced was greater than the need of the families they were reserved for.

    I never once, however, interpreted the “reserved for” to mean “required to”, and I’m still puzzled by the thought that reserving those seats for those who might need them sends the message that we want or require families with small kids to sit in back. But that’s why we don’t have the signs at my church now!

  12. Front or back of the church doesn’t matter. What does matter is that the parents at least make an attempt to involve even their small children in the worship service. Having them lay down on the pew, run their matchbook cars along the seat, bringing snacks, and generally not paying any attention to them does not do them or the congregation around them any favors. Since I travel often in my work, I find myself at different congregations around the country. Almost always, there at least one family that seems like they just don’t care what their child is doing. I have on more than one occasion got up and moved to a differnt seat. Sorry, I didn’t come to watch that child play. Parents should be more responsible and considerate. Sorry, just bringing your child to church is simply not enough!

  13. Jeff,
    I never once had thought someone would think it was required or suggested that they sit in the back either till last week when I was visiting with someone and he said that. That made me wonder, how many people think that way? I think churches mean it like you say, to be a convenience for families, but is it sending the wrong message? Apparently for some. I mainly think that churches might want to suggest to families to try sit closer, to try it, if they wish.

  14. Dunno about kids, but at my home congregation my friends from the college Lutheran group and I had kind of our unofficial “reserved” spot up in the front pews, the reason being that we wanted to break the stereotype that Lutherans never sit way up in the front of the pews. Dunno how true that is, but that’s where the Lutheran Student Fellowship “spot” has been for the past 5 years, and where I assume it still is now in my hometown.

  15. I have 4 children (ages 10 to 1 years old) and we always sit in front. Not the very first row, but the second row. I like to keep the little ones corralled. 🙂 We sit on an end so it’s easy to depart if someone starts to cry. I do believe they appreciate being able to see what’s going on.

  16. Dr. Arthur Just mentions in his book Heaven on Earth that the O.T. Jewish moms brought their kids to the front because they believed God was present in His Word. They were on to something weren’t they? “Suffer the little ones to come unto me, for of such is the kingdom of God.”

  17. Nice article, Kari.
    Misbehaving children I find distracting in the Divine Service. As long as the children are minded to behave, by all means, sit in the front. –#8

    It doesn’t matter, as #12 said, where you choose to sit.
    What matters is whether you are teaching your children why they are there. (Start by leaving the Cheerios and toys at home.) DS is not the Saturday a.m. cartoon.

    [That they can “see better” is probably a good idea.
    Just remember that they are square in other people’s sight lines and those people may have come to worship.]

    (No, I am not childless and I was one, once!)

  18. At my church we have a front way out as well as a back, so taking a misbehaving child out isn’t too hard from either front or back. Children should be taken out if they fuss, so as not to disturb the rest of the people. I agree completely, and please, sit where you like. I know it’s easier for me to pay attention closer to the front, so I’m sure it is for children too. I grew up in our balcony. Front row of it, though. We could see pretty well from up there.
    I agree with #14 Ariel. Maybe it’s time for Lutherans of all ages to move closer to the front. But being there is what is most important.

  19. As the parent of a 1.5 year old, I am struck by how much liturgical worship has to offer for a little one to watch: candles, colorful vestments, different postures and gestures. The choir procession is a big hit, and our daughter attempts to flirt with every member of the choir on their way past. The blessings that she receives in worship are every bit as rich as those that we all receive.

    We sit near the front, and I am most grateful for the patience of our congregation with our daughter’s occasional outbursts. We do our best to be courteous and some days are better than others.

    Lutherans who believe that children belong in worship tend to be much friendlier and patient than Christians who believe that young children are unworthy to be baptized into the Body of Christ.

    Despite our daughter’s occasional outburst, she is loved and welcomed in our smaller, older congregation, and she knows it. We joke that she has 20 grandmas every Sunday morning!

  20. As one not yet privileged to be a parent, I’m confused by comments about children’s outbursts in church. Not a single person/parent mentioned using prayer as the tool to have Satan leave your child alone. Many mentioned soft toys, drawing, and the occasional leaving church for discipline, but not prayer. Isn’t Satan the root cause of a child’s outburst? He knows that each outburst disturbs others in their reception of God’s gifts and may cause them to sin also. YAY, victory Satan! Isn’t that what he desires, disruption of the highest order? Prayer and our Divine Service, where Christ serves us, disrupt Satan more than he can disrupt us.

    In Christ crucified,

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