I walk into the sanctuary with my newborn daughter strapped into a baby carrier and a diaper bag on my back. I’m only a few minutes early to service, but it’s a relatively empty space. It’s my first Sunday alone with my daughter. My husband, who is the vicar (a yearlong pastoral intern) at the church, cannot help me with her cries. I want to find a place to sit and just blend in. I want to disappear into the crowd of worshipers. I find my seat and send a little prayer up that she stays asleep or remains quiet. The opening song starts, and I realize I have no idea where to go if she starts to get loud.
Where is the space for parents in your congregation?
As a soon-to-be pastor’s wife and mother to an almost one-year-old, my experiences as I became a Lutheran and a parent have made me passionate about seeking authentic hospitality and care for those who walk through the church doors.
Do you know where parents can go during a church service to calm a child down or let them get their wiggles out? Is it clear to newcomers where this space is? I hear it lamented often that there aren’t many young families in the pews. Are there Bible studies where childcare is provided or child-friendly spaces are utilized? I am not saying this will fix the problem, but simply thinking through these things and being intentional can help.
How can I take space to make space?
At my alma mater, we used the mantra “Take space, make space.” Basically, it was drilled into us that in order to make space for different voices, we had to speak up and participate. When others feel comfortable voicing their opinions and are met with encouragement, it creates space for others to do the same. This is good advice for congregation members in general, but I think it means more for parents. When your children see you participating in worship, voicing your thoughts in Bible study, or gathering with other believers, it makes space for them to do the same.
How can I help?
If you are currently parenting a tiny human, bring your kids to church, and don’t be too concerned by their noises during worship. Obviously, if you need to step out to change a diaper, calm a tantrum, or whatever else, there’s no judgment. By keeping your less-than-silent children in the sanctuary, you are making space for other parents and children in the worship service. Take inventory of things that a church could provide that would make it easier to attend. Send your thoughts or this article to your pastor, DCE, or other church employees!
If you are past the stage where wrangling children into the pew seems like an impossible task, there are two spaces I suggest looking at, asking parents for input, and evaluating: the wiggle/cry room and your restrooms.
We’ll start with restrooms:
- Do your restrooms, both men’s and women’s, have a changing area?
- Do they have stools for children who can’t reach the sink or other accommodations?
- Is there a visible way to know if a changing area is available?
For your wiggle rooms:
- Is there a comfortable and private area for feeding a baby?
- Can you still hear or see the service clearly?
- What kind of toys or books are in the area? Are they able to play quietly?
- Is there a changing table and a diaper pail?
- Would your church be able to provide supplies in case parents run out (e.g., wipes)?
- How visible is this area? How would a guest know to find it?
By trying to make these places more convenient for parents, you serve their spiritual growth.
What does this look like?
I’ll illustrate this with a story. It happened in a Bible study near Thanksgiving. We were closing out our time together by going around the room and saying something we were thankful for. The rules were simple: once one person said what they were thankful for, no one else could say the same thing. We were near the end of the circle, and a couple with their three- or four-year-old daughter were the last to go. The daughter had been playing with a coloring book but had popped up as her mom spoke. Her mom finished her sentence, and before her father could begin his sentence, the daughter piped up, “I’m thankful for cheese!”
This brought a giant laugh to our group. After all, besides the lactose intolerant, aren’t we all thankful for cheese? Our kids’ understanding grows each time we expose them to the Word. By encouraging parents to bring their children with them to church and making it comfortable and easy to be there, we let the little children come to Jesus and mature the faith of the old and young.
Download this month’s Everyday Faith Calendar to find daily readings, questions, and activities to create opportunities with your family to discuss and live out your faith.