How To Engage Young Children In Church

A child in church

Many Protestant (and even some Roman Catholic) churches separate the children from the adults during worship. They may send them to a Sunday school or to a nursery, or to a “Children’s Church”. Often in these environments, children never experience worship until they are “old enough”. However, the Orthodox Church follows the teaching of Christ, who said, “Let the little children come to Me, and do not forbid them; for of such is the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 19:14). The children belong just as much as we adults do. As such, they participate fully in the Sacraments (especially communion and confession) and in the Liturgy. And it is such a beautiful thing…to hear the voices of little children singing praises to the Lord along with their parents!

But having young children in church can be exhausting. It is easy to fall into frustration and resentment, because in the moment we forget a simple truth: they are children. They will get bored. They will want to run around. And they will want to make noise. As parents, you will need to channel that energy into something productive, so your child learns the joy of worshiping the Lord. In this post, we’ll provide some tips and tricks for how you can engage and connect with your children in church.

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1. Use the whole body

One of the most unique things about worship in the Orthodox Church is the incorporation of our entire bodies in the experience. We do not simply sit and watch. Rather, we see, smell, taste, hear, and move with our bodies. Movement is a natural part of our worship!

Read More: What to Expect in an Orthodox Church

This gives you many opportunities to channel that desire for movement that many children have. Walk your child around the church and point out the different things you see. Let your child walk over to the candles and light one with you. Teach her the sign of the cross and watch how quickly she will catch on to how and when she should make the sign on her own.

With some children, you may not even have to explicitly teach your children how to move in church. They will watch you and begin to model your movements themselves!

2. Venerate icons with them

For some strange reason, children are drawn to icons. They can see into heaven through these glorious spiritual windows and feel an innate desire to venerate them. Even toddlers as young as 15 months old can recognize the cross, the Virgin Mary, Christ, and many other Saints. If you have a fussy child, try taking them around the church to venerate icons. Stop before each one and quietly explain who it is. Model how to kiss the icon and your child will soon do the same.

Most, if not all, Orthodox churches will allow you to do this. Since movement is a natural part of the Liturgy, parishioners are used to movement during the services. It is no longer a distraction, but part of the common work we do together in worshiping the Lord.

3. Use the service books

Another great way to engage your children in the services is to let them follow along in the service books. If your child is younger, there are many fantastic Liturgy books your child can bring along to the service. One of our favorites is A Child’s Guide to the Divine Liturgy. It has illustrations to help your child follow along and mark the most important parts of the service.

Older children can use the same books as the adults. Have your child follow along and sing the hymns with you. The more engaged your child is in what is taking place, the less likely she is to misbehave. And don’t be afraid to practice the hymns at home. Incorporate the hymns of the church into your morning and evening prayer routines, so your children can become more and more familiar with them. The more they know, the more they can participate in church!

4. Answer their questions

Children are naturally inquisitive; they will ask questions about just about anything. What happens around them in church will be no exception. When your child asks about something they see, hear, smell, or do during the service, be sure to answer him. Respond with a smile and a brief answer to satisfy his curiosity. This communicates respect toward the child, who is an icon of Christ and provides the child a point of connection with you in the context of worship.

If your child ever asks a question you cannot answer, you can say something like, “I’m not sure. Why don’t we ask Father about that after church is over?”

5. Give children jobs

Children love helping. Give your child age-appropriate things she can help with during the service. Let her place the money in the offering plate. Or perhaps allow her to light a candle with you. You could even ask your child to let you know when it is time for the Gospel or time for communion. This will encourage her to pay attention, and she will quickly learn all the signs for when the Gospel is approaching, or when it is time to receive the Eucharist.

Related: Handling Children In Church

If God has blessed your children with beautiful voices, consider letting them join the choir. Your sons, once they reach a certain age, will almost certainly be accepted as altar servers who can assist the priest in performing his liturgical duties. If you need some other ideas for how to involve your child in the life of the Church, consider talking with your priest or with other adults in the parish.

6. Pray for them…and for yourself!

In our quest to bring up our children in the Lord, we must not forget the incredible power of prayer. Pray that your children will grow in their love for Christ and His Church. And above all, pray that the Lord can help you to set a godly example for your children. At the end of the day, your children will grow up and have to make the conscious choice to pursue a godly life, or an ungodly one. We must remain steadfast and pray, trusting that God will take care of His children and perfect His love in them.

7. Remember that they are children

Too often as parents, we lose sight of the fact that our children are just that: children. And it can be all too easy to become frustrated with them. We may say unreasonable or hurtful things out of impatience or anger. We may begin to resent the fact that our children distract us from our own worship. Or we may feel mortified that our children are yelling, running around, or throwing things.

Your children will make mistakes. They will make noise. They will act like children. If we can remember this while we are in church, we can respond in a way that respects them as icons of Christ while still remaining firm in our expectations. Of course, this doesn’t mean all your problems will disappear. But if does mean you can control your own reactions to your children and maneuver these situations with grace and tact.

Bring your children to church, and help them connect with God!

In the Orthodox Church, children are full members of the Body of Christ. Even if our children cannot understand all that is happening during the service, they can see, hear, smell, taste, and touch for themselves. They can experience the presence of the Holy Spirit, just as we can!

If we want our children to love the Lord’s Day and to love spending time in His house to worship Him, we need to help them connect with God at the earliest possible age. If you are struggling to engage your child in church, try some of the tips we laid out in this post. And don’t let the bad days (or the rude comments you might hear from others) discourage you.

Keep Reading: Strengthening Your Children As They Navigate Public School

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