While worshiping as a family sounds great in theory, in practice, it can be tough to pull off. But there are ways you can make the task easier. For toddlers and preschoolers, the key is making them feel like an important part of the church community. Encourage your child to be involved in the service. Let her hold the hymnbook and put the money in the collection plate. In the week before the service, learn some of the songs you'll be singing on Sunday so she can sing along. Sit in the front row so your child can see what's going on and you can explain to her what's happening. If she feels welcome and loved in church, she'll have a more positive view of worship, and that can last all the way to adulthood.
Remember, though, to have realistic expectations for your young children. No 2-year-old will sit quietly for an hour, so you'll need to find ways to keep him occupied. The First Baptist Church of Ellisville makes "worship bags" for its little ones filled with crayons, coloring pages, and other quiet activities. If your church doesn't have something similar, put one together yourself. Include stickers, books, and a small snack. Help your child decorate the bag and pick a special place at home to keep it during the week. You can make the bag extra exciting by telling your child that the bag is especially for church.
Older children get bored more quickly, so helping them enjoy church means keeping them occupied. The worship bag (or backpack) idea still works for elementary kids with a few adjustments. Some churches provide kids' bulletins filled with word searches and other worksheets that make good additions to a worship bag.
If you want to go a step further, you, your pastor, or a group of volunteer parents could make worksheets that use words and ideas from each week's readings or theme. Or come up with your own unique idea using the talents of your congregation. Carlson says at his previous parish, a member who was an artist made coloring books with drawings that depicted areas of their church. This gave parents an opportunity to teach their kids about the physical structure of the church, while giving the children something constructive to do during the service.
The Other Six Days
Don't limit your prep work to Sunday morning. Talk about church throughout the week and tell your children about any special symbols or rituals that will be present the coming Sunday. Or consider creating a prayer table at home that displays items that coincide with the church's calendar, such as a nativity scene or Easter eggs. It will take a little time to educate yourself, but one of the benefits of teaching your children about faith is that you're forced to learn a lot in the process.
Children of all ages learn a great deal by repeating what they've heard. Toddlers and preschoolers like playing "pretend church." Let your 3-year-old pretend she's the pastor or choir director or mommy to her stuffed animals (she might love teaching them to be quiet).
For older children, Deb Bradley, the mother of three children who directs the religious education program for children at her church, offers this tip. "If there is someone you know well who doesn't attend church—a spouse, a homebound grandparent, a good friend, or neighbor you see on Sundays—give your child the job of telling that person what happened in church and what the message was that day," she says. Your child will feel important about her task, she'll listen better, and you'll get to hear exactly what your son or daughter understood from the service.