My husband and I were recently with a couple young boys who occasionally attend our church and occasionally attend other churches, as well. The conversation steered toward what the other church was like.
Them: "We go with all the kids and play games and stuff."
Me: "So, you don't sit in the sanctuary?"
Them: "No, we aren't allowed in there...not until you are 13."
The conversation went on for awhile, but let us just take a moment to ponder these words -
"We aren't allowed in there."
This, my friends, is the honest thought of a child who attends a church with a "children's church." He is not allowed in "there."
I understand the desire for children's church. I do.
First, we think it will make kids like church more. Well, duh. Yes, it will. They play games. They sing songs. They watch puppet shows. It is great. Of course it will make kids love church...
Except it won't, because they aren't learning to love church. They are learning to love a form of churchtainment we have come up for them to attend. Someday (according to the boy from our church, when they are 13), they will be expected to know how to act and what to do in a place very foreign to them. Church is suddenly not exciting and rather boring, because they have little to no idea of what is happening.
Second, we think it will make church better for the adults (especially the parents). Well, duh. Yes, it will. I have three children four-and-under, and I sit alone in the pew. I get it. The idea of listening fully to a sermon or letting a hymn run completely through my brain is like some distant dream. Of course it would make church better for me if they weren't fidgeting all over the place...
Except it won't, because it splits families into age groups and doesn't allow them the joys and struggles of learning the faith together. We take away the joys of answering the questions our kids come up with during a service. We take away the beautiful site of the young and the old receiving Christ's gifts as a Christian family. We take away the moments when our children look up at us and see us living the faith in Word and deed.
Third, we think it will grow the church. Well, duh. Yes, it will. The more programs we have and the bigger our children's church, the more people who will come themselves or allow their kids to hop on the van. Of course it will grow the church...
Except it won't, because we don't grow the church through the quality or quantity of age-appropriate programs we offer. God grows the church through His Word being preached correctly into the ears of unbelievers. Law and Gospel grows the church. The Word preached through the mouths of pastors grows the church. That Word is found in church.
Fourth, we think it will allow our teens and young adults a way to get involved in church by teaching the younger kids. Well, duh. Yes, it will. They will probably feel a lot of pride toward their kids. Of course it will allow our youth and young adults a way to get involved in church...
Except it won't, because they won't be involved in church. They will actually be missing church in order to go teach about things they learned when they were younger, too. Thereby missing the instruction they need to be receiving in the pew. And this goes for the adults and older people running the children's church, too. We are all like children in church and need to hear the Word.
Do our kids need age-appropriate instruction in order to understand the great mysteries of the faith? Of course! Sunday School rocks at this. Catechism class rocks, too. And you know what rocks the most at child-centered, age appropriate, kid-geared faith learning? Parents.
Parents who attend church with their children.
Parents who see the struggles their child faces in life.
Parents who seek out ways to learn the basics of the faith so they can instruct their children.
I do want to throw out a little caveat here. I am the grown version of a children's church raised kid. And I think I am pretty awesome. HA! It is not impossible for God to work through children's church and the people who teach it. My parents rocked at the whole teaching-the-faith thing at home. We memorized Scripture together and prayed together. I do, however, believe I would have learned to vocalize my beliefs at a much younger age and in a much deeper language had I been able to witness the church in its fullness every week.
The church has a language and the best way to teach a child any language is by immersing them in it from infancy. That language and vocabulary they hear week after week will be what starts to spew from their hearts and their mouths.
That is why my kids are in church.