It's not a secret that Protestant churches have been hemorrhaging young people for some time now (USA Today). In the midst of this ideological exodus, parent's and clergy alike have searched the stars for some silver bullet to kill the secular werewolf. An entire cottage industry of youth ministry, children's church, VBS programming, etc. has blossomed partly because of this dire need to save the children. While I have my fair share of thoughts about the above initiatives, and their empirical lack of effectiveness, I would like to suggest there is a flaw further back on the effect chain. There has been an adoption of ideology by the church that I believe has been the seed of this pesky attendance snafu. The view that children/babies are an inconvenience has burrowed it's way into the American Church's subconscious.
I will preface my pending comments by acknowledging that I am in the vast minority in my position, and there are earnest Godly people that disagree with me. That being said I would urge those earnest Godly people to consider the lack of effectiveness, and lack of Biblical warrant they have for said practice: nursery...For those of you who have not closed your browser in order to craft, then burn an effigy of me, hear me out. Let me pose a question, what are we doing at our Sunday morning worship services (in which most of us shuttle our babies off to nursery or children's church)? You might say we are honoring and glorifying God, and you wouldn't be wrong, but that answer is incomplete, and the natural question is; "by what standard?". There is something more specific and timeless happening, we are renewing covenant (I have elaborated on this more in this article here). Once the focus of corporate worship becomes rightly centered on the table, we recognize it is not primarily about Christian education or a pietistic moment to transcend. Clearing up our conception of worship also undercuts a common excuse for nursery, "I need to focus on sermon notes, and connecting with God." Instead worship becomes the time we re-pattern our rhythm and make ourselves at peace with God. The family life is symbiotic to the local church's life.
Now that you all have read that article I linked to above, and thus immediately agreed with my presuppositions we can continue. Since God has given us instruction for corporate worship, it seems fair that their may also be some hints in Scripture about what he thinks about the worshipful-ness of not just children, but even babies. The great King David certainly seemed to agree that our babies are essential to corporate worship, in Psalm 8:2 he writes, "Out of the mouth of babies
and infants, you have established strength because of your foes, to still the enemy and the avenger." When we shutter away our infants, and frown at the coos and gurgles of our little ones we actually aid our enemy. Even in the womb John the Baptist was worshiping the pre-born Jesus, "And when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the baby leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit."(Luke 1:41) Why would we hide away such gifts?
Perhaps you are with me at this point, but you are thinking, "fine the newborns can hang, but surely we should be allowed to send away the scamps once they are mobile until they can sit and understand!" Wrong. Those years are prime years of formation. Jesus even said to let the little children come to him, are you so bold to think that children back then were any less "distracting" or "unfocused" as they are now? Consider the work and investment involved to drag one non-Christian friend to church. Every time you procreate you have a non-Christian friend in your house that you can physically make come to church. What a find! A child who gets to witness their parents worship in joy and truth is a blessed child. Scripture tells us that parents are the primary disciplers of their children, "These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates." (Deut 6:6-9). Parents are to live, breath, and walk in the word of God with their children, how does this not include corporate worship? Leading your children in worship is profound evangelism and discipleship, especially for fathers.
A fair question to ask is what are we to do with children that are Christians but don't have Christian parents at church with them? Easy, somebody "adopt" them, there are other parents, grandparents, widows, widowers, that are capable and should be encouraged to spiritually parent them (Titus 2:1-10).
Reclaiming worship as a generational commitment gives children a hunger for the table that brings them to Christ, and also a timeless framework that doesn't trivialize the faith. I am convinced that children's church and youth ministry, despite it's good intentions, is primarily teaching kids that faith in God is childish. The medium always effects the message, if that message is continually sent in baby-proofed worship it does nothing to communicate the gravity of God's covenant with his people. Our children are given to us so that we may steward their souls. God has made explicit commands for how he wants his covenant people to raise children. Obeying those commands with joy and grace will bear greater fruit as promises are passed to the next generation.