An innovation increasingly found within congregations is “Children’s Church”. In some places it is called, “Youth worship”, “ Bible Hour ”, “Youth Ministry” or some other child focused monicker. It is characterized by a time during a regular congregational assembly in which some adults and some children leave and break off into one or more other groups. When did this practice start? What caused this practice to start? What functions occur during the group break off? Are these divisions authorized in scripture?
The teaching of Word of God to children extends back at minimum to the Law of Moses (Deuteronomy 4,6). This practice continues today under the Covenant of Christ (Ephesians 6, I Thessalonians 2). In modern times we see the first “Sunday School Classes” developing in late 18th century England (19th century America) as an opportunity to educate children. These were not during the congregational assembly. The Children’s Church as we study at the moment, did not begin until the latter half of the twentieth century and came about as part of a larger youth centered focus by protestant congregations as a whole (Youth Ministry / Youth Ministers). An integral part of these actions was the belief that a larger focus on pleasing and socialization of youth would create church growth and increase youth retention. While it is absolutely true that families are attracted to congregations with larger numbers of youth, studies have shown that youth retention has declined with the youth movement. Families are finding the socialization they were looking to find, but the development of spiritual minds for a lifetime is not occurring. Some Denominations are already moving away from the youth minister practice and looking back to families to provide youth development and socialization.
Unlike “Sunday School”, Children’s Church takes place during the time of the Sunday congregational assembly wherein we see the worship of prayer, giving, teaching, singing, and the Lord’s Supper by the Church. In some places, Children’s Church extends the entire period of this worship, in others only during the teaching segment. Predominantly, it is characterized by youth’s from birth to age seven. However, in some congregations and denominations this time involves teenagers as well. As Sunday School evolved from a teaching time to a blurred focus of child teaching / socialization / fellowship, the innovation of Children’s Church began with a blurred focus. It was created to provide a number of perceived benefits: 1. An atmosphere where children could have teaching at their level. 2. An atmosphere where children could be free to run about instead of needing to sit. 3. An atmosphere where they could socialize with children their age. 4. A time where adults could focus on teaching which was free of the distraction of their children and others.
The activities of children’s Church in some areas involve a mock adult service right down to a pretend Lord’s Supper. However, most are characterized by youth play time and activities like coloring in conjunction with short simple lessons and snacks. Essentially, the group of children which has spurred off from the main assembly requires a number of adults or even teens which acts as baby sitters / monitors / teachers. Of course, with an increase in the age of the group, the amount of teaching / biblical discussion typically increases.
Is the practice of Children’s Church authorized in scripture? There is not a single example of this in the Word of God. We do see the church coming together in Acts 20, I Corinthians 11, and 14 and worshipping as they are assembled together. However, we do not see any authorized division (as created today in many places) such as the innovation of Children’s Church. Hebrews 10:25 specifically warns against separating from the assembly. Children’s Church pulls not only children, but adults away from the assembly of the saints, the Church of God. How can all we do in word or deed be in the name of Christ (His authority – Colossians 3) if the Church is practicing something Christ never initiated? How can we be following an unauthorized practice in direct violation of scripture which we know was invented long after the time of Christ?
Children’s Church has become a popular youth ministry, it’s just not from God. Our children would be greatly aided by learning to sit quietly and in reverence of God with the assembly of saints. They would be deeply benefited by seeing adults, Bible’s in hand, turning to read the Word of God with hunger for growth. Our children could grow from observing adults actively taking notes. Our God would be pleased with children sitting next to their parents singing boldly as they praised God and edified the Church. Children and adults missing from a commanded assembly of the saints is sinful. Elderships have the authority to shepherd their flocks and provide differing teaching settings for all ages (Acts 20), however, no man has the authority to be in opposition to God’s Word when He has directed a full assembly of worship. Let us be more concerned with proper teaching and examples for our children (Proverbs 22:6), rather than leaving them with the idea that the Church of our Lord is a country club focused on socialization where they can do things according to their own will and desire.