Over the past few decades, in a futile attempt to re-engage the growing segment of non-church attenders, churches have shifted toward a model of separating parents and children on Sunday mornings. Virtually every megachurch or aspiring megachurch schedules their Sundays like this. They advertise a one-hour commitment, sending the adults to a “worship service” with commercial music and a self-help, teaching-style sermon, and corralling the kids elsewhere, where they do their own activities. After an hour of separation, everyone goes home and gets on with their lives.
This, we’re told, is “church.”
South Carolina’s NewSpring Church, a conglomerate with a weekly attendance of over 32,000 spread over 17 locations, is one of the few that is bold enough to be honest about their desire to have a child-free, adults-only “worship service.”
From their website:
Every Sunday all children (babies through 5th grade) experience safe, age-appropriate environments where the Bible is taught in a creative and relevant way. We are so passionate about kids learning about Jesus in a way they can understand that we do not allow them into the service designed for adults and students (6th grade and older).
Their pastor, Perry Noble, said this in a 2011 sermon:
Part of our vision is 6th grade and up can come in the services. Wouldn’t you agree that we have PG-13 services? I already get letters from middle school moms all the time, ‘My kid heard about this, blah, blah, blah.’ I’m like, “Do you have internet in your house? Holy crap!’ So, whatever. Can you imagine the emails we’d get from the second grade moms? Oh my God! 2nd grade dads? It would just get bad…
I’ll be you there are some parents here tonight that praise God we have a church that invests in children the way we do, and are glad your kid’s not with you. I’ll bet we do. Because if your kid’s with you, the whole time, you’re like, ‘Sit down! Shut up! Sit down! Shut up!’
We decided your children are going to learn about the Lord in an environment that is custom-designed for them, out there, not in here.
Noble drones on for over 20 minutes, and it only gets worse. He talks about how children under 12 are actually turned away at the door. If you can stomach it, begin watching around the 1:05:00 mark.
Ultimately, his main point is that kids should see their parents worshiping anywhere, Monday through Saturday, and that church should be a time for each age group to hear a rock concert and enjoy teaching on their own level. He claims that they are merely following Jesus’ instruction to “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them.” (Also, he implies that adults are then free to learn without their 10 to 80 pound, living, breathing hindrances sitting in the
pew stadium-style seating next to them.) Because, he says, inviting kids into an atmosphere aimed at adults would be hindering them, and they will inevitably hate church down the road because of it.
This perspective, of course, reeks of the modern devaluing of corporate worship. Yes, we can and should worship in all that we do, and our children should in us lives that are offered in response to God’s character and gracious acts in Christ.
But corporate worship is not just singing and teaching time.
It’s about gathering together as a community, and not one defined by age or learning level or race or economic status or anything else, other than the call of God on our lives. That’s the beauty of the historic Christian liturgy. Week after week, season after season, year after year, we participate as new covenant people in the drama of salvation history.
Our history. It’s not supposed to be a show to hold our attention. It’s a microcosmic, disciplined, anticipatory remembrance of who we were, who we are, and who we are to be.
And our children must be a part of that, not just because we want them to stay in church when they’re older, but because it belongs to them now.
When the biggest churches in the country are turning children away at the door, we know something has gone desperately wrong.