Keep an open mind when it comes to family worship services

danielgriswold@gmail.comAugust 20, 2013 

MCCLATCHY-TRIBUNE NEWS SERVICE

Have you ever been to a "Family Worship Service"?

I have, and it was fascinating. The service I'm thinking about was a Christmas service at a church I had served near Boston. I sat in the balcony, where I had a great view of the hundreds of moms, dads and their children. Whole families were sitting together in the pews -- and it was noisy.

Sometimes when we think of church, we think of contemplative chapels with candles lit, silent prayers of confession, worship with a well-trained choir who sing with well-picked pauses and preachers who stop to let one think. Family services are nothing like that. Children have very few boundaries, and so the sanctuary becomes a place of constant movement (sort of like a hill of ants after having been kicked).

I worshipped with these families in an incredibly participatory style. We danced, played and listened to stories. Our eyes darted as children decided to dance in the aisles, and there was not candle lighting at the end like at most Christmas services I had attended. This was family friendly.

I left feeling exuberant, and having been raised in a family of five as the oldest, I enjoyed every minute. My church had brought families together and demonstrated an act of incredible vibrancy. Not all people felt as I did, however. I asked one of the worship directors (not a children's ministry worship leader but a whole church worship leader who had led with guitars and singing) how he felt about it after giving my glowing review, and he was not as optimistic. The same energy, seeming chaos and unpredictability that I was celebrating was a thing of disconcertment for him. He felt out of control, unable to perceive where the service was going to go, and I believe he didn't feel a sense of connection with his intended audience.

On Sunday mornings in a gathering of more than 1,000, the harmony of many adult voices singing would be quite different. I left him and wondered to myself about the canyon between our perceptions on such a lively worship event and I'll admit I was a bit discouraged.

The question that bothers me the most is this, "Should children worship with adults?" We're quite good at segregating the ages and sending children to "Kids Church," youth to the "Youth Service," and young adults to various small groups and offering fellowship offerings throughout the week. But I've always wondered how that affects the future of the church. What does it say to a child? When you take them into a place where we say we are entering and recognizing the Glory of God, and then, we send them to another place?

One who studies basic behavioral psychology knows that children develop patterns early on, and those patterns remain with them the rest of their lives. One alarming statistic going about the church today is that millennial young adults are not returning to the church. But I think to myself, we've been sending them away for a long time, why would they come back?

In Matthew 19, we see a similar tendency to segregate when the disciples rebuke parents from taking children to have Jesus pray over them. He says quite explicitly, "Let the little children come to me."

I think this deserves some attention in our sanitized, clean and orderly modern worship services. How undignified are we willing to go to be welcoming and faithful to our future generations -- who are the church of today not, as people often say, "the church of tomorrow"? Personally, I love when something out of the ordinary happens in church. A crying baby means there is life in that church. A teen might seem bored but at he or she is trying -- and it means the family cares enough to build patterns of faithfulness in that young person's life.

So how far are you willing to go? What would a family church look like? God's family has all ages -- from the Greatest Generation to the least.

Let's get uncomfortable together.

Columnist Daniel Griswold is the director of youth at St. Andrew By-the-Sea United Methodist Church. Follow him at twitter.com/dannonhill. Read his blog at www.danielgriswold.wordpress.com.

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