Whether it’s due to a lack of children’s ministry, a child feeling uncomfortable, or simply family preference, many parents these days are choosing to keep their kids in the church service with them.
But depending on the age of your children, this can be a real challenge.
Thankfully, there are many different ways to help young kids sit through church, especially with perseverance and gentle training.
Here are several tips for keeping your kids in church with you, while not being distracted!
1. Provide Snacks
I’m starting with this because it’s the most important to me, especially with little ones. Snacks keep their hands busy, their mouths quiet, and (usually) their body still. Plus, church tends to start right around our snack time anyway.
My favorite snacks to take are cheerios, veggie straws, raisins, other dried fruit, apples, and goldfish. These are all fairly low mess but keep the kiddos happy.
Bonus tip: save the snack for after worship so they can be engaged with the songs.
2. Keep Them Busy With Quiet Toys
While the goal is for our kids to be interested in and engaged with the service, they may need something to keep their hands busy. Quiet toys are a great option because, well, they’re quiet.
A few options include stuffed animals, baby dolls, pop its, Rubik’s cube, puzzles, and Little People. Small cars are also an option, but our kids send those flying across the sanctuary floor, so proceed with caution.
The main goal is that you want it to be quiet, something that keeps them calm, and not too many pieces since those tend to get lost. We also choose toys that they can use while listening.
Once my children begin reading, they won’t take books to church because it’s very hard to read a book and listen to the teaching at the same time.
And while keeping them quiet and happy is important, the MAIN goal is for our kids to hear the Word being preached and begin to learn from it.
3. Have Them Draw/Journal
This is the favorite for my kids. We take markers and either notebooks or coloring books. They’ll happily draw and color for most of the service.
For more impulsive kids, you may want to choose crayons instead of markers. Two other great options are Water Wow books or LCD drawing tablets – no mess with those.
As our kids age, we plan to implement journaling during the service. This can include writing down certain things the pastor says, how many times he speaks on a certain topic, questions they have, etc.
There are also special sermon journals for kids and teens that can be purchased. This creates something to refer back to during the week to help solidify the teaching.
4. Play a Listening Game
For elementary-age kids, this is a great tactic to implement. “Pat my arm when you hear the word grace.” “Draw a circle when you hear the word Jesus.”
Tasks and prompts such as these challenge the child to listen to what is being said and to engage in a small way. This is especially useful when you know what topic your pastor will be speaking on and can give them a word/phrase that will be used regularly.
5. Lower Your Expectations
Your children are not going to sit perfectly still in their seat and stay quiet for 1-2 hours. That’s not how kids are made.
To be fair, most adults even struggle with this task. We go to the bathroom, we move around in our chair, we turn around to stretch a little…
Let your kids (especially young ones) move! Of course church is a time to be calm and respectful, but let them sit on the floor, lay on their stomach and draw/journal, walk to the bathroom, etc.
It’s counterintuitive, but letting them move will actually help them sit more still when the need arises.
6. Incentivize With a Reward
I am not above a little bribery, as long as it is 1) easy to implement, and 2) short term.
Example: When my oldest was 2 years old, we’d tell her that if she would stay calm and quiet and not have to be taken out of service, she could play outside on the church playground for 10 minutes after church.
That was easy to implement because it cost us nothing, we were already there, and it takes us that long to get out the door anyway.
It was also short term because somewhere along the way, she didn’t require it anymore. She’s now 4.5 and sits through church without any reward.
Especially if you’re transitioning into church from nursery or children’s church, a reward can be very helpful!
7. Teach Them How To Engage
Talk to your kids about what church looks like and how you want them to engage. If there are songs that are played regularly at your church, listen to them at home so your kids can learn the words.
Encourage them to pray during times of prayer. Have them greet other churchgoers during welcome time.
Remember that church is for them too. Any time you can get them engaged in what is happening, they will benefit.
8. Get Them Involved
This one really depends on your church and what they offer. Children used to help pass the offering plates at our church – that’s a great way to involve your child.
We’re set up a little differently now, so our kids take our offering up to the front to put in the plate. They love it and look forward to it.
Maybe your kids could lead a prayer, hand out bulletins, pick up trash afterwards, be a greeter, etc.
Two things to note here- one, it will probably involve you as well. Be willing to step out of your comfort zone. Two, smaller churches are easier to get involved in, but don’t be afraid to ask how you can get your family involved in a Sunday morning service.
It’s something that should happen in every church; maybe they just need someone to ask about it!
Our current culture makes it seem like keeping kids in church service is unusual, but it’s been the norm for many generations.
Kids were there when Jesus delivered His teachings, and they were in the upper room when the Holy Spirit came at Pentecost. They’re ready for it.
It may not always be easy, but you will see the fruits of your labor when you faithfully and consistently implement these tactics to keep your kids in church with you!
Abbey Phipps is a wife, mom of 3, and homemaker from a very small town (population 609) in Texas. She runs the website Raising Jesus Kids because she desires to equip, encourage, and inspire you to raise your kids to know, fear, and love the Lord. She also enjoys reading, hiking, and baking all things sourdough. Feel free to say hi to her on Facebook or Instagram!