What do we do with our kids if we are doing house church?
With the increase in measures to control the spread of COVID-19, Pastor Aaron reached out to RVC’ers who have lived in overseas settings where we often meet in homes for church to hear our thoughts. As a mother of young children who has been involved in house churches for several years, I wanted to share some of my experience.
Let’s talk about house churching with young children present. Kids are a blessing from the Lord (Ps. 127:3), but often we are used to them being in separate children’s programming during the weekly church service. So having them present in the house gathering is quite a big difference! Hopefully this post will help you think through some ideas to make the idea of children present feel less overwhelming.
Remember the needs of the kids (and mothers)
House church is a unique situation allowing us to model to our children our value of the Body and the Word. When we gather we want to make sure to include them because the Word is not simply for adults. We want our gatherings to keep in mind the needs of the youngest present, the mothers who often bear the primary responsibility for caring for the kids, and the others present. The goal is not to simply have all these parties present but to care for the hearts and minds of each of those present. Thinking about the kids as well as adults applies to the music we sing, the way we have a Bible study or teaching time, how we have prayer time, and how to celebrate the Lord’s supper.
Sometimes we can forget our kids’ needs as we gather and grow frustrated with them for their noise or decide that the service would just be better if they would go in the other room and have some screen time. I want to propose some helpful ideas to include our children in these small gatherings of the Body.
Snacks and drinks
One basic need we need to account for our children is their hunger and thirst. Have you considered when your children may become hungry or thirsty? If it will be during the service, consider having a prepared snack already in the room where you will gather to feed them during the meeting. Our kids actually have often wanted more of a snack than they would normally eat and often earlier than I would have otherwise provided it, but having a snack present and prepared that all the parents are comfortable with has enabled longer and more meaningful conversation. I also realized I need to have drinks and appropriate drinkware for the children already at hand so I as the mother would not miss part of the service.
For very young children, it may be necessary to come to a house gathering or host a house gathering with all the supplies prepared for your child to nap. If you are going elsewhere, make sure to have whatever sleep props, bedding, and any baby monitor you may desire. Talk with the host to make sure you have a plan for a place you and they feel comfortable with the child being. Make sure you have thought through in advance how long you are comfortable with the small one crying or making noise and discussed who is responsible for getting the child up when needed. It is easy to allow distractions to keep us from the Word so minimizing these important.
Your children may need your help knowing what they can and should do during the parts of the gathering when they are expected to be quiet. Perhaps you can prepare coloring pages, playdough, kinetic sand, or simple crafts. Maybe you can pull out toys that are not in the normal rotation or get out toys that are quiet but can be used to build or put together. Provide your child with age appropriate activities. If your child is old enough, provide them a Bible to read along or a printed copy of the text that they can color/write on. Remember that simply providing activities is often not sufficient for young minds. You can help make the time special for your children by sitting beside them, or on the floor with them (if they are young) and doing their activity with them. As an adult, you will be able to learn to focus on the text even as your hands are busy doing something else.
Remember as you prepare to talk with any other parents to make sure they are comfortable with the activities that you are planning for your children. Some parents may not be comfortable with Veggie Tales coloring page or Barbies or Ninja Turtles, etc. The things that are not an issue in your family may be something another family would prefer to avoid for one reason or another. In the house church gathering, conversing about these things is often even more important than it would otherwise be.
Help them learn from the Word
Another thing to keep in mind as you plan the activities for the children is how to help them to learn from the Word. Consider drawing basic pictures to help explain what the text is saying for the child sitting beside you. Consider reading the text in a simpler translation perhaps even after reading it in the translation you prefer so the children will better understand. Summarize the text with simple words or ask the kids some simple summary questions before you get far into the study of the Word. If appropriate, you might even wish to ask the kids if they have a question they would like to ask. Our children might not be able to understand everything in the service, but they can understand to some extent.
Set boundaries ahead of time
After thinking through all the ways you can be helping your children, it may be important to remember that children need to know what is expected of them. They need to know the boundaries. If they are allowed to make noise (sing or play “instruments” like spoons on pots or shake plastic containers with rice) or dance during music time, they should know that in advance. If they aren’t allowed to leave the main room unless they have permission to go to the bathroom, they need to know that in advance. If they need to be quiet during the time when you are in the Word, they need to know that too. Communicate your expectations and remember you are responsible to enforce the boundaries you set. Think through in advance what you will do if/when your expectations are not met.
How others can help parents
These ideas might seem like they apply mostly to the parents of young children, but they are also valuable for others to consider. Mothers and fathers get tired caring for children especially when they are seeking to have their children quiet and not distracting others present. Perhaps the non-parents present can help simply by sitting beside children and doing activities with them. A non-parent who is willing to color or play with playdoh can be a novelty to a child helping them to listen longer as well as allowing a parent’s mind to more fully engage in the service. The house gathering church is one that allows for many unique ways to serve one another in love.
Lastly, you are not alone in figuring out how to help your child learn during house church! There may be a learning curve for you as well as the children. The benefits of having your children present are great. I encourage you even when it is hard to not keep them from the Word, worship, prayer, and the breaking of bread if appropriate. You have a special responsibility and gift of caring for these young hearts and minds. May our Lord give you wisdom and grace as you navigate these new waters, Red Village!
-Guest post by an RVC’er who lives abroad and has been involved in house church gatherings for several years.