Over the last few weeks, our family has traveled over 2000 miles. We stopped in one city on a Saturday night for a brief sleep. We decided to attend a church service Sunday morning before continuing our drive. This church met in a convention center, so they had an unusually large space available for the children. We walked through the children’s area as soon as we came in the doors.
My husband and I looked at each other and chuckled. The cavern was filled with numerous bouncy houses, craft tables, and activity stations. It looked like a lot of fun.
It looked like fun for my toddler, as long as she could see Mama or Daddy watching her. A frown is her standard response when adults she doesn’t know well attempt a conversation with her. Sometimes she cries.
Our family moved through the children’s area toward the auditorium. A lady flashed a toothy smile and said cheerily, “Are you going into the service?”
I smiled and nodded, thinking she recognized us as visitors and was going to welcome us.
“Have you registered your children?”
My husband explained we weren’t going to leave our kids in a place they didn’t know with people they didn’t know.
Still with a smile, she said, “Well, our vision for the children is that they have church on their own level.”
He repeated his explanation.
She rattled off something about their vision for the adult service.
“So children aren’t allowed in the service?” my husband clarified.
We walked out the door and got on the highway.
Now, let me clarify a few things. Children can be noisy. We try to respect others around us and take our children out if we feel they are disrupting others.
I also don’t think young children must be forced to sit still and quiet every week. If they enjoy going to their separate classes, this can be a good time of learning for them. Our toddler has spent some Sundays in the nursery, some in the service with us, and some outside the auditorium.
I wasn’t angry. But I was surprised. What if our family had never experienced church? What if we needed to meet Jesus? Was the speaker’s agenda so important that the church would rather turn people away than possibly face a disruption?
I know Jesus lived in a culture different than ours. They didn’t have a hillside nursery while He was preaching the Sermon on the Mount. But children were in the crowds listening to Him, at least sometimes (Matthew 14:21 and 15:38). And when the disciples assumed Jesus was too important to spend time with children, He quickly set them straight. He didn’t say, “Let the little children come to Sunday school.” He didn’t say, “Let the little children come to the bouncy houses.” He said, “Let the little children come to Me” (Matthew 19:14).
Children certainly might meet Jesus in Sunday school or a bouncy house. They can also meet Him on a kitchen floor, beside a campfire, or inside a homemade fort. They might meet Jesus tucked under the arm of Mama or Daddy in the midst of an “adult” church service. Who can say?
Sometimes in order to make visitors feel welcome—whatever their age, we need to be willing to sacrifice our agendas. The need to be heard. The need to be fed.
And we need to consider their needs. The need to be welcomed. The need to be loved.