Under 5s and church: how can churches encourage parents?

12 June 2017

Being a parent of an under five can be challenging in a church setting. In this post Becky shares some of the ways that churches and parents can work together.

Under 5s and church – there are so many ways for this to pan out! There are so many variables – is my under 5 clingy and quiet, or bubbly and boisterous? Is the church a welcoming space for under 5s or is it more challenging? Does the person leading the service acknowledge the presence of little people, or … not?

There are so many ways that churches and parents can work together. This post features thoughts on what churches can do to encourage parents and their under fives. We’d love to know your thoughts too. What does your church do for parents with under fives?

Let’s look first at some small practical things that churches can do to help parents and little people:

  • Are children welcomed with the same warmth and enthusiasm as the adults?  Do the welcomers remember their names?
  • If you are able to, could you create a space at the front of the church where families can sit so small people can see – it’s very difficult to be engaged by something when you can’t see it!
  • Would it be possible to have instruments or ribbons so that the children can dance and join in with sung worship? What about training up some of your older children to sit with the under 5s and encourage them in worship by modelling using the instruments or ribbons or by dancing?
  • What could you have on hand to help parents with small people – how about some drawstring bags with a selection of books and toys, or some children’s Bibles?
  • Think about the hymns or songs you are using.  While under 5s won’t be able to read, they do pick up songs they enjoy quickly and love the fact they know a song when it is played in church.  Find out which songs your children are using and consider if they would be appropriate in church.  If there are actions or signs for the songs, find someone to lead those and encourage the children to lead as well.
  • If children are in for the whole service, change what you do to reflect that.  Think about how you tell the Bible story – could it be acted out or told with audience participation?  Think about the language you are using – do you need to explain anything or use a different word?  Could you have an opening activity they could join in with?  For the sermon, perhaps give the children a task – to draw something or listen out for key words (sermon bingo can be fun!).  Are there any roles they could take on (perhaps with an older helper) – for example, bringing up the bread and wine, or helping with the offering, or handing out ribbons to the other children.
  • Bear in mind young children’s attention spans may be shorter than the average adult, so sometimes less may be more!  Lots of words can be difficult for them to follow – so you may want to use a shorter liturgy or make your talk shorter or more visual.
  • If small people are present, could you make your intercessions more interactive?  Maybe offer people a chance to draw their prayers, or move about or pray with their bodies?
  • During communion, welcome under fives and while they are unlikely to be having the bread and wine, could they have a blessing and a grape?
  • Expect your under fives to be mobile and noisy!  Some parents will be more relaxed than others with this, but just as you wouldn’t expect young relatives to act like adults if they visited your home, don’t expect your under fives to be like adults in church.

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A Family Portrait © Hanny Naibaho licensed under CC0 / Cropped & Scaled