At What Age Do We Include Our Children in Corporate Worship?


About a year ago I wrote an article entitled Wading In on the Sunday School Debate.  In that article I addressed what I thought was the main issue, “How do we raise our children to know God?”  I stated that I believe that our children should be in corporate worship with us, but I left it rather open ended as to what age they should join us in worship.  Now, I am sure that most Christian parents do believe that their kids should be in church with them, the questions arise around what age they should be ready.  On one side, there are some “old school” churches (mostly of the Reformed/Presbyterian variety) that do not even have nurseries as they desire the entire covenant people together in worship which includes the newborn, the infant and the toddler. In the middle of that spectrum there are churches that have a nursery for babies and toddlers, usually up to around 3 to 5 years of age. On the other end of the spectrum there are churches that have “Sunday School” or “Kid’s Church” during the worship service for kids up to age 12 and beyond.

Where do I stand on this issue? Well, both of our daughters have joined us in the worship service at the age of 3.  But I should disclose that there was no other option available to us. Our first daughter, while still a toddler who bounced, played, giggled and made noise, was (in hind sight) not very difficult.  Our second daughter, well…where do I start?  This one time, while I was operating the sound booth, she grabbed the camera and moved it off of the Pastor while he was preaching and pointed it at the ceiling …(Yes there is video evidence); another time she screamed something about taking her clothes off and tried stripping in church, when she was stopped she subsequently threw a tantrum as she was denied this apparent toddler’s “right”; she runs up the aisles, dances on the pews, throws candies, has no idea what an indoor voice is (and we try to instruct her in the *whisper*…) she is stubborn, she is obstinate and I have to admit that it is frustrating.  Do we discipline her at home?  Yes we do.  Is she ready for church?  I…don’t know…

Please allow me to reaffirm to myself why my kids are in the worship service with us… (This list is adapted from an article by Jason Helopolous on The Gospel Coalition)

  1. My children are members of the covenant along with their mom and I: A lot can be said for Bible study, hospitality, outreach programs, VBS, Gems and Cadets, and all the other church activities… but, attending Corporate Worship twice on Sundays  is the primary activity the covenant community engages in together (Acts 2:42Ephesians 10:24-25). Therefore, our children as members of this community should be included in this vital part of church life.
  2. My children will be present in the midst of the means of grace: My children benefit by being where the Word is preached (Romans 10:14), the sacraments are administered (Matthew 28:19-20), and corporate prayer is practiced (Acts 2:42-47). These are the chief means by which God pours out grace upon His people. Why would I knowingly rob my children of this blessing because of my comfort?
  3. My children will be present in the midst of the entire congregation: My children benefit greatly by being in the presence of Christians of various ages. They are able to see that the faith of their mom and I is not a faith that they own alone, but is a faith that is important to all of these people who are gathered around them on Sunday morning. This only reinforces what we are modeling and teaching when they see this incredible gathering of people reading the Word together, praying together, confessing together, and singing together (Deuteronomy 31:9-13). They need to see the body in action.
  4. My children will be present with my wife and I: Worshipping together as a family helps to counter the current trend in our society of fragmenting our families. If my children join their mom and I in worship from a young age until they are adults they will worship with us in well over 1500 worship services! Think about the cumulative effect of my kids worshipping together with their mom and me together, in the midst of the means of grace, meeting with God and his people, twice per Sunday for over 800 Sundays in a row.
  5. My children will witness their mom and me worshipping: It is our Biblical role as their parents to disciple them in the faith (Deut. 6; Psalm 78; Eph. 6). What a benefit there is when children witnesses their mother or father singing with conviction, praying in reverence, listening intently to the sermon, or receiving the Lord’s Supper in joy. In these moments my kids witness the importance of faith and worship to both mom and me. There are few greater encouragements to a child’s faith then seeing their parents worship God with reverence and joy. (Exodus 12:1-28Deut. 4:9-11; Deut. 6; Psalm 78; Ezra 10:1Nehemiah 12:43Joel 2:12-17Acts 16:33).

Now I am sure that most of my readers, at least those who adhere to a high view of the covenant, agree with what is in that list.  But the question still arises as to what age should they be included?  Should we include them as newborns?  Well, as reformed Christians we certainly include them when they are baptised. Even Christians who are not of the reformed persuasion “dedicate” their children to the Lord in their first days of life outside the womb.  Then we remove our children for a time so they are not distractions.

I sit here and I scratch my head.

As I scour the pages of scripture. I cannot find a biblical reason to keep children from attending the worship service; there is certainly no age restriction to prevent a child from worship nor is there an age requirement mentioned in the Bible.  But then I am hardly a theologian. So I thought I would look up the history of the church. As I scour church history I find that it is only a recent development in the past century that children are not included in corporate worship, regardless of denomination. Again I am hardly a historian.

So, all I can think of are rational or practical, but not biblical, reasons to keep a child from joining in worship. This begs the question, “What is wrong with practical reasons?”  I don’t know the answer to that one either way. 🙂 Reasons like children should not be a distraction to others, or they will not get anything out of the service, or we are training them to sit still and zone out.  You have heard them, I am sure.

In my congregation, for practicality, we remove newborns, infants and young toddlers because they are distractions.  So if we use this argument, that we remove young children because they are distractions, then my video altering, tantrum throwing, candy tossing, whisper-yelling, unabashedly stripping, pew dancing, 3 year old is not ready either and should not be in church.  But, if we follow this line of argumentation, neither should we include the hyper active 8 year old who can’t sit still, nor the teenager with allergies who can’t stop sneezing and hacking, nor the sweet old lady who chews her “dubbelzout” with her mouth wide open, nor the guy who falls asleep and snores so loudly that you have to borrow the earphones from the ushers to hear the sermon.   But that does not make sense because we should include every member of the covenant community which includes chewing lady, snoring guy, hyper active 8 year old, and if we continue on this thought, then we should also include my daughter, and every one of the toddlers, infants and newborns.  This means we should close the nursery… 🙂  (for extra points – Who knows which fallacies I have committed here? Or have I committed any?)

This is what I wrote last time:

…it is my opinion (note I said opinion and not biblical based argument)  that a child must be ready and able to sit in the worship service without being a <major> distraction to the parents and others around them. As the parent is to teach the child, so is the preaching to teach the parent. If the parents cannot focus, they are not edified. If they are not edified, they do not learn. If we do not learn ABOUT God, then how do we KNOW God? If we do not know God then how do we teach our children about HIM? Knowing God is our greatest aim in life! To know and be known – what a wonderful God we have!

John Calvin stated,

“Wherever we find the Word of God surely preached and heard, and the sacraments administered according to the institution of Christ, there, it is not to be doubted, is a church of God.”

There is much emphasis on the preaching in our church and rightly so! However also note that Calvin clarified his statement with a resounding “and heard…” If a preacher stands on a street corner and preaches the pure gospel and no one is around to hear it that is not a church. Thus it is with preaching in a building to the believers. If we are present but distracted, we do not hear, thus we are not edified.

I believe that families should be together in worship.   I am not able to figure out what the age to start this is of course…so if you have any insight please let me know. Maybe I am just not seeing it. I do believe that children should be ready and not major distractions to those around them. However that should not be used as an easy excuse to keep our kids out of the corporate worship service for comfort’s sake.

For practicality’s sake I would like a place to take my 3 year old until she has learned enough discipline at home to at least sit still without screaming “NO DADDY DON’T …” during the prayer, or tossing Mentos into the offering bags. Perhaps extending the age of the nursery would be a good thing.  Perhaps not. My theological mind is telling me it is time to train her up and include her in worship.  It will be challenging for us either now or at 4 or at 5.    As Rob­bie Castle­man said in her book, Par­ent­ing in the Pew, “It has been said that mod­ern peo­ple wor­ship their work, work at their play, and play at their wor­ship. We need to work at our wor­ship. With chil­dren, we often have to work harder.”   We sure do.

So, while our first was ready at 3, I am hoping our second will be ready at 4 – maybe 5 – but she is in worship at 3.   To the people worshipping around us, sorry… you may get an impromptu dance lesson or the occasional lemon Mentos tossed your way.

I realize that I have not answered the question in the title. From one struggling parent to another…I would love to hear your thoughts on this.

Thanks for reading!


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  1. Rob Sp. says:

    Hey Ryan. Slippery slope? 🙂 I had an unsatisfactory discussion with a learned brother about this very thing when my eldest child was 2. My opinion was that the children don’t get any learning from the sermon, so why bring them? I likened it to school: I wouldn’t bring my child into college hoping that they might pick something up. I would first enroll them in kindergarten then Gr. 1 etc.
    Since then my opinion has changed.
    Both of my children are and have been attending worship services since they were 2 or 3. They have learned not to be a distraction to us or to others by having simple rules, (they’re kind of the same ones as on a bus 😀 ) sit down and be quiet. Arms stay below the bench, no turning around to stare at the worshipers behind, and no talking louder than a whisper.
    They have learned what Lord’s supper and baptism are, they witness their parents partaking. They have learned that they are a part of a whole bunch of people all doing the same thing.
    It was not a smooth road, there was a couple of times where I had to brave the stares to carry one or the other out to enforce one of the rules, but the end result is worth it: worshiping together with our family in our family.
    Maybe the children do not understand deep theological concepts, but the simple ones, the foundational ones, they pick up on.

  2. Belinda Carrico (CanRC in Prince George) says:

    You may already be doing this but I wanted to mention what my husband and I have found helpful (with our four children). Have a time of quiet, sitting still at home, on your lap time. Usually during family worship is the best, but it could be done at other situations such as at the computer. Then you are free to discipline promptly and consistently, and they learn to obey. And there is still a ruff period but it was made shorter even with our most stubborn.

    • Thanks for the idea belinda, If I could get her to sit still I would…she is getting better, but is not there yet. She certainly understands discipline, and we finally last week got her to “attempt” Lord bless this food…:) Thanks for your comment!

  3. Marci Luther says:

    In Italy, I have been to countless churches and I have yet to see one with a nursery. In Canada, when Ben was a baby, I would sit in the parent room with him because it seemed expected but I like it better here in Italy
    because it is expected that the whole family is together for the Mass. I have friends here that didn’t bring their son to Mass because they were scared of the uproar he would cause…well, he started at six years and still causes a bit of an uproar. People smile a little bit more at the two and three year olds that have trouble than they do at the older ones 😉 Ben learned from a very young age what the expected behavior was because he didn’t remember anything else, although I did sit at the very back when he was one and a half because we could make a quick exit when needed!

    • I wonder if it is a cultural thing. I know that in the past generations in our church, the moms just stayed home with the kids…not that I condone that, but it is interesting. Thanks for the comment Marci!

  4. busyquiltmom says:

    I agree with Rob, they learn not to be (too much of) a distraction. Some children are more challenging than others to take in church for sure. I think the expectations you have for your children at home during family devotions will play a roll in how they act in church too.

    My experience in Brazil was everyone in church all together. Babies, toddlers and here and there a stray dog or cat. 🙂 It worked for them and that is the way their culture is. (I am thankful we have a nursery though…)

    • I had no idea you went to brazil 🙂 I would love to see a stray cat or dog in church lol Our kids are expected to sit still during family devotions, but mostly Meagan just sings or runs away…sigh.

  5. cecile says:

    Ryan….thanks for this post. Having raised a handful of boys, and certainly one more challenging than the other in terms of sitting reasonably still, there isn’t really a magical age when to take them to church. I am not one to offer advice on such matters because we had plenty of challenges in that department as well. I suppose one thing would be to sit near the back if you feel that taking her out is distracting to others. Or you could just put her beside me on the left side because I’m deaf anyway lol….

  6. LP says:

    Ryan, thanks for your post, loved it. My husband and I have two girls, one is 2.5 the other 15 months. We’ve had our oldest in church since she was two, and she has done quite well, so far.
    I had worried for so long about when the time came to bring our first daughter to church.but then my father in law gave me some brilliant advice. He said if the kids know when (and listen when asked) to be quiet at the supper table and not interrupt when mom & dad are talking, if they know to be quiet and fold their arms/hands during Bible reading and prayer, also to have any bathroom duties done before or after the meal and not during (same as in church) then there’s a good chance they may be ready to try out a service. Clearly dinner time and a church service are slightly different in terms of length, but it still gives a good indication if they’re ready to sit still and know when to be quiet for a period of time.
    Also -another quick suggestion – I sat my 2yr old on the couch with me one day and picked a sermon online to listen to, and treated her like we were actually in church..worked great to get her more aquainted with ‘how to be’ in church, and gave me an idea of how fidgety she’d be.. . Anyway, just my two cents, Thanks again for your post! Blessings..

  7. Elaine says:

    Our children belong in church with their parents as soon as they are able (for us that meant shortly after their 2nd birthday) Faith is worked in two ways (LD 25, QA 65) through the preaching of the gospel and the use of sacraments, how can we expect our children to develop true faith unless they are given these? I am always amazed at what my little ones pick up from being in church, but I shouldn’t be because that is the Holy Spirit at work 🙂

  8. Hilmer says:

    Once again, an interesting post. Personally, my wife and I have brought our kids in around 3 (although our second only lasted about a month – I think we’ll bring her back when she’s 12). I think that ultimately this varies based upon each child – I’m not an advocate for a hard and fast rule. Recently, after our move to Hamilton, we were able to enroll our kids in a Little Lambs program for the afternoon service (ages 3-5). We have found this to be a really enjoyable balance. We worship together as a family in the morning, and in the afternoon the really young children enjoy a Bible lesson that is very age specific. They also sing songs, learn a memory verse, and I’m amazed each week at how much they both enjoy (and learn) during these lessons. So for us, we find this a great way to enjoy Sundays together. It allows the children to become familiar with corporate worship each Sunday morning, and yet to have an age appropriate lesson in the afternoon (plus it’s a little easier for mom and dad to focus in the afternoon:))

  9. Shawn says:

    I don’t have any experience having to bring a child into church so I definitely can’t answer the question from the title, but I will contribute my perspective as an onlooker.

    Some can focus even when there is a “distracting” child nearby but that might not be true for everyone. Another group – the parents – well they can’t focus much, if at all, on the sermon when their child is the distraction.

    That being said, an important thing for us to consider is that the parents and others who get distracted need to be fed by the preaching of the Word. If a distraction is preventing this, that’s not so good. Parents need to be fed so they can teach their kids the right things at home (in addition to at church). If the parents aren’t fed on Sundays because they are constantly dealing with their children, then they may not be as equipped to face the week either.

    On the other hand, maybe we all need to learn to ignore distractions more, both onlookers and parents. Maybe we are not as able to do this because we rarely have to practice. Maybe having more younger children being “bad” in church, and more crying babies would in the long run make us people who are less likely to be distracted by “bad” kids and crying babies.

  10. Colin says:

    If a child should be in church at a young age (1-2 years old) then we should assume that they get done understanding from the sermon. If this is true then at what age should children be included in home visits? They should be included there as well do you not think as the children would be able to answer some faith based questions. It may reflect on a truly Christian home if they could give honest answers to the elders and/or deacons.

    • I am not sure if you are provoking with your question or if you are trying to build up. I am not following the logic of a 1 or 2 year old being church and understanding the sermon and including them in home visits. Obviously a child who cannot speak will not understand the sermon and will not be able to answer faith based questions… with that said, I do believe that kids should be included in home visits or at least in a part of them. For one, kids are usually more honest than parents. So when the elder asks how we do family devotions/worship, how often we sing/read the bible or how often we pray, etc. the kids are the ones who will hold the parents accountable which is good for us. For another, the children are also part of the family, why shouldn’t they be included?