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Should children worship with adults or among other children? Both ideas are explored.

Of all the issues that’ll get children’s ministers debating, this one has to be the hottest. Where should kids worship­-with adults in “big” church or in their own children’s church setting?

We asked that question in our poll at and got a whopping response. Of the 2,032 people who responded, 48% said definitely in the corporate worship setting; and the other 52% said in a separate children’s church setting.

To dig deeper into this issue, Children’s Ministry Magazine asked two children’s ministers to tell why they believe strongly in one side or the other. In this article, you’ll see their views, poll respondents’ views, and basic models for how churches handle this important issue.

Pro Family Worship

What children’s ministers at say…

  • “My children need to see their parents worshiping. They learn so many things by parents’ example-including worship.”
  • “Families are separated enough in our society. Worship should involve everyone…Keep my family together on Sunday morning!”
  • “If kids learn at an early age that it’s acceptable in the house of God to separate themselves from the adults, later on they learn that it’s okay to segregate themselves.”
  • “We try very hard to incorporate plenty of kid-friendly elements into the service…I’ve seen kids’ eyes light up when we’ve used video clips from Finding Nemo to explain the parable of the prodigal son.”
  • “If children are set apart and not allowed to learn what’s expected, what’s going to happen to our churches? When the older members die out, what are we going to do?”
  • “There’s nothing more beautiful than to take part in services of worship with children present. Just to see their little eyes widen and faces light up fills me with joy.”

Build Families Together

by Jessica Nelson

We in children’s ministry know that one of our goals is to bring families closer in their relationship to God, yet when families enter the church, we seem to be in a rush to separate them. Many churches take children out of worship to provide a separate children’s church, but the traditional model of families worshiping together and then dividing into age-appropriate classes has much more to offer modern families.

Worship is a place for families. Parents need to understand the importance of the religious training children need to help guide them throughout their lives. For these and many other reasons, we have to build the kind of worship environment that facilitates families growing together.

Build comfort in sanctuary.

We need to prepare our children for the inevitable difficulties they’ll face in life. Every child will have a loved one die or face a major trauma at some point. Imagine a child who has never been in a sanctuary facing that massive space for the first time at a grandmother’s funeral. If a child or young adult visits a chapel in a hospital during a time of grief, no one is going to come out in costume to hear their prayers. The child will be alone in a quiet space for prayer and reflection. This can be disconcerting if the first time that place of refuge is introduced is when needed most. We need our children to be comfortable in the house of the Lord and to help them find peace and comfort in quiet prayers. This takes practice, time, and effort on all our parts.

Build family unity.

There’s an amazing amount of chaos going on in the lives of families. School, work, soccer, and ballet practices are only part of it when we look at the rates of divorce, adultery, suicide, and drug use in families. Look up those statistics for your community and look into your congregation. What could be going on inside their homes that you don’t know about? Families today need a haven, and that could be your church.

Our families need time together in peace. Children need calm and security, and they don’t always get that at home. Sitting in worship, holding hands, and speaking community prayers together can give our families a respite. Once families are comfortable with these practices, they’ll be able to use them away from the church when a crisis or difficult situation emerges and they need family spirituality.

Children's Ministry Magazine, a division of Group Publishing, is passionate about helping you make a difference in the lives of children. Group Publishing provides ministry resources and services for Christian churches worldwide. Learn more from Children's Ministry Magazine at Group's new Kidmin Conference held Oct. 7-10 in Chicago: This article was reprinted by permission, Children's Ministry Magazine, Copyright 2009, Group Publishing Inc., Box 481, Loveland, CO 80539

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  • Mark Hollywood

    Ouch..Rowley's comment on "Learner based" seems a bit harsh…doesn't good preaching of the Word take into account what will benefit the hearer? Most preachers are just as concerned to connect with their audience as children's leaders are.
    On the whole. let me say "thanks" for a very helpful article exploring both sides of an important issue.

  • Ron Parker

    I hear these same pros and cons every week. Have pastored 30+ years and definetly feel that the separation of the youth on a consistent basis is detrimental to teaching the younger people how to worship. It basically teaches them how not to go to Church.

  • Sayer Strauch

    Thank you for an insightful article and survey, including touching on the challenges of each way. I personally favor, for most though not all occasions, offering childrens church.

    However, I have found that having an integrated ministry that draws the family forward in a faith journey together is a dynamic way of overcoming the problem both forms of worship present. I'm the author of [b][i]High Definition Family[/i][/b] and have been teaching workshops that help integrate a church's ministries to children, youth, adults (and singles) and equip everyone in the family for growing in faith, together.

    Again, thanks for presenting this survey and article.

    God's best,

    Sayer Strauch

  • Jonomok

    it doesn’t have to be either / or – we do both! for example the first sunday of the month – why not have special kids praise and worship session? then the other sundays have a combined family worship session. mix it up. Kids will learn from both.

    • Pastordclift

      Because we have a very good band, the kids like the music. This may not work in large settings, but we have the kids stay in for worship (the music part) and then dismiss them at our “meet and greet” time before the message so they can have an age appropriate message.

  • LS

    I agree that it doesn’t have to be “either/or.”  For example:  We do not have the staff or resources to run a full children’s church, except perhaps on special occasions.  What has worked for us for a good number of years is having children’s church during the sermon time.  Thus, the children are a part of the congregation gathering together during the “worship time” in the sanctuary, and then go to another area of the church for their own teaching/worship time.  We have ministry teams set up, so most children’s workers take their turn once every 3 or 4 weeks.  (Except for the teachers, who teach for a month, then are “off” for 3 months.)  We appreciate this system because it meets the needs of the church right now, including the needs of the children’s workers–we want them not to miss all the sermons, communion, etc.
    I know the Lord will lead each congregation in how to take care of the various needs represented.  It is definitely not “one size fits all!”

  • Florence

    I always have difficulties handling the children when they stay in the adult church simply because their attention span is short as well as the sermon not being age appropriate for them and that is when you see them wanting to use the rest room a lot or wanting to drink water.
    We all stay together during worship time after which the children move to their classes. We still do a bit of singing when we get to the children’s church to help them more in worship also

  • liberty

    I agree with the other comments. I suggested to our Pastor that the children stay with parents during the worship and then move to classes for the lesson with crafts and games. It is working out perfectly. The parents are seeing changes in their kids too. They are learning and growing in Christ. It also makes the time shorter for the children church workers and they get to worship the Lord so they don’t miss the whole service.

  • Tim

    There’s nothing that a pastor says on a sermon that kids shouldn’t hear. Often churches that start out with childrens ministry take it all the way through High School. If you do that you now have destroyed any chance of mentoring by anyone else in the church. The stats bear it out, only 25% of the children who were brought up that way have any church affiliation when they become adults.

  • Brian

    Even if you can teach your children and get them to be attentive and participate in “regular” church…what about new visitors? What about those that are newly saved, that have several kids that have NEVER set foot in a church building before, and have never behaved ANYWHERE? Do you expect them to magically conform to the standard set by the regular families around them? I have news for you…it isn’t going to happen.
    Having families worship together on Sundays is an ideal, but it’s not in the slightest practical. If you are a church of seasoned members with few, or no, visitors, it can work. But if you desire to be a church that reaches out to the unchurched, childrens church is the ONLY way to go to feed everyone.