Smile - even if you’re nervous and don’t know how to deal with children, even if you’re annoyed that kids kick the pews, even if you worry the baby may scream and interrupt the sermon, even if you wonder why they didn’t take those kids to the nursery, especially if you are happy they came to church. Because you’ve been blessed with the chance to be like Jesus - to teach and listen and care for the littlest among us.
- Say a prayer that Christ will open your heart to the wild, wiggly, shy, kind, thoughtful, silly, sweet children in your church. Then go where God leads - even if it means moving seats to get close enough to interact with that family (you know the one, with kids that are always crawling all over the pews or toddler that sings songs during the silent prayer).
- We all need help. We all need to experience the love and grace of Christ from another person. Guess what? If you are reading this, that person is YOU!
- Introduce yourself, and not just to the grown-ups! If your body will cooperate, crouch down or sit so that you and the child are on the same level. Offer your hand for a shake or a high five. Say what you wish to be called- whether it’s Mrs. Roper, Mr. Pete, or Sally - and ask their name.
Some children might be too shy to respond so you may need to ask an adult later, but pay attention to the child and be patient. Remember their names (and ages and whatever else you learn about what makes them unique and wonderful). Don’t be afraid to write them down.
- Kids very rarely arrive to church empty handed, so look for their hands. Has he brought in a special toy? Make sure to introduce yourself to Mr. Bear, Pretty Baby, or Big Truck. Do she have a pack of crayons? Grab a pencil that you can pass along when those crayons end up on the floor, and make sure she has enough paper. Does he have a book? Ask, “What are you reading?” or “Can I see the pictures too?”
Show interest in the things that they love.
- Look the kids in the eye and SMILE. Whether we are 1 month, 1 year, 11 years, or 100 years old, eye contact = connection. You can generate a lot of joy with a game of peekaboo! Babies, preschoolers, even older children enjoy a special wink or a silly face.
- Help the family follow the worship service. This can be as simple as finding the right page in the hymnal or the bible, or helping young readers find their place in prayer.
Children also benefit from simple explanations and visual cues, so use yourself as a model for worship. “This is how I pray, with my hands open and eyes closed. Can you show me how you pray? Let’s help Mr. Bear pray.”
- Point out interesting things in the worship space - like stained glass windows, banners, the baptismal font or altar rail. Make sure to direct their attention to important moments in the service -like the priest breaking the bread or the pastor reading the gospel.
- Draw a picture of the scripture and give it to to the child. Don’t worry if you aren’t an artist. Remember, a picture (and the effort and intention) is worth a thousand words, especially to a child.
- Make sure to pass the offering plate to the kids. Everyone has gifts to offer to God - it might be a picture or a stone or a hug - but we all need the chance to give. We dishonor children and God when we assume they don’t have anything to offer. Extra points if you help them prepare their gift so they are ready for the offering moment.
- If you are willing and able, ask if you can hold the baby. If the adults are wrangling multiple children, often the baby is the easiest to hand off. Even with one child, a caregiver can appreciate a few minutes to focus on their own needs.
Help out by gathering up the toys and getting juice (or coffee) during fellowship time. There are many reasons why parents may refuse, but a genuine offer of help is always appreciated.
- Give special treats. Many of us have fond memories of church folk who always had a peppermint or stick of gum to share with kids in church. Take note, snacks can be a great way to connect and keep kids quiet, but you should always ask parents before offering food.
Stickers, crayons, even paper clips from the bottom of your purse can be a novel toy! What counts is not the treat, but the relationship that grows in giving and receiving.
- Say, “I’m glad you are here. It's important for kids to come to church.” (This is true, so say it like you mean it!)
In all these things, seek to build a relationship with the family. You probably won’t be able to use all these tips on the first Sunday, but if you are blessed to join them in worship for a season, you will be amazed at how you all grow in your worship of our wild and wondrous God. And it all begins with a smile and a prayer!