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Kids Don’t Need “Kids’ Worship,” They Need Liturgy

Kids Don’t Need “Kids’ Worship,” They Need Liturgy July 7, 2020

I get some pretty weird targeted ads on Facebook.

Today, I was introduced, over and over and over again, to a church architectural firm and their series of ads for modern church plans.

I should’ve just ignored it the first time. I should’ve known better than to click on it and teach Facebook to show me more of this kind of stuff. I didn’t. I took the bait and clicked.

Their ads were very elaborate and, honestly, quick well done. The floor plans are what I found most interesting. Every one of them I found on their page had a space marked “Kids’ Worship.” They always managed to work in the space for the “kids’ worship” somewhere.

Now, I think it’s perfectly find and appropriate that churches build new buildings with dedicated space for children. When churches don’t plan to have children present, they probably ought not be building a new building. The other excesses – the coffee bars, the water walls, the lounge seating – are a different story. But the choice to advertise it as the “kids’ worship” area is saddening to me.

The church worships together. They may have age-siloed Sunday School and Bible studies and other activities elsewhere in the building and at other times, but age-siloed worship is a new thing. If you’re blissfully and mercifully ignorant of this phenomenon, first of all, good, and second, let me fill you in. Here’s what I wrote about it a few years ago:

Over the past few decades, in a largely 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. Usually, this model advertises a one-hour commitment, sending the adults to a worship service with contemporary music and a self-help, teaching-style sermon, and corralling the kids in Sunday School, where they sing hyperactive “kid-friendly” music to a recorded track, do hands-on activities, and listen to a quick lesson on their own learning level. After an hour of separation, everyone goes home and gets on with their lives.

Supposedly, this is “worship,” separate worship for adults and children.

Except this is not what worship is. Worship is a lifelong discipline that, ideally, is cultivated from the very beginning. I was raised a Baptist, but I’m now what they call a “paedo-baptist.” I believe in infant baptism, and both of my children were baptized as babies. I understand why some may disagree, and that’s okay. But regardless, we all come to Christ essentially as helpless infants, and the baptismal grace extends to us in our helplessness. And if the church is willing to baptize children, either infants or those who have made a profession of faith, it is wrong to shoo them away to the “kids’ worship” space. It is depriving them of their proper place in God’s family.

In a high school English class, students may read The Great Gatsby or The Catcher in the Rye or The Scarlet Letter, not because they will instantly connect to it and enjoy it (though hopefully this is sometimes the case), but because it’s good for them. Because they need to learn to interact with new ideas, concepts, and worldviews. Even if they seem foreign. Even if they are boring. They may not immediately get it, but down the line, they will be better for it. They will be more equipped to meet the world as adults.

The church needs a similar, doxological education. We need to expect kids to participate, to sit (reasonably) still for a little while (and love them graciously when they can’t), to stumble through the words and sing the notes as best as they are able. Even 17th-century hymns. Even communal prayers that have tough, refined, “grown up” language. Even when they are years away from anything close to a full understanding about what they are doing.

Basically, if we baptize them, it is a grievous mistake to then segregate them in a different area, and prevent them from forming touchpoints with the formative liturgy of the church. There may be an appropriate place and time for energetic, “kid-friendly” lessons, games, and songs, but that isn’t “worship.”

Of course, what passes for worship in most modern churches is pretty childish, too, but that’s for another post.

The fact that modern church architecture trends are building separate spaces to keep children is a bad sign, and it needs to be reversed.

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