About two years ago, I blogged on "Why I hate church nurseries". Seeing that our church has grown a lot in the meantime, and that we now have a lot more young children and babies, as well as several expectant moms who will contribute to the steady addition of more little ones, I thought I would share a little update of what church is like when there is no nursery.
This past Sunday morning, we had a total attendance of 68 in the service. Of these, 11 were in the newborn to 4 year-old range (the typical age at which children are put in the nursery). That is a relatively high percentage of babies to adults. The sermon was, as usual, about an hour long, bringing the total length of the service (with congregational singing and announcements) to somewhere around an hour and a half.
So, how did it go? Contrary to popular belief, it was not a circus. The children were not loud and disruptive. Our family was the largest one in attendance, with six children ages newborn to 9 years old, all of which I was able to care for singlehandedly without disruptions/outbursts, or having to leave the auditorium. Is this unusual? Hardly - all the children in the service were from families who attend regularly week after week.
How can this be? I believe there are several factors that make having babies and children in the service enjoyable for all those involved.
- Start young: We all know that babies are able to hear while still in the womb. Those of us who go to church 3 times a week, have all experienced that our newborn babies are usually soothed to sleep by the preacher's voice - a familiar sound to them. I have heard of expectant parents reading "Cat in the hat" to their unborn children during the last months of pregnancy, so that they would then be able to soothe the baby after birth by reading something that has become familiar to the baby. Surely, preaching not only can have the same effect, but be more beneficial on a spiritual level.
- Accommodate mothers: Having comfortable seating options in the auditorium for new moms is a very welcome luxury. We currently have only two gliders set up, but I have been meaning (and needing) to purchase more. Why? This will allow them not only to cuddle their youngest and rock them to sleep, but also accommodate...
- Breastfeeding: Yes, you read that right. Our church does not ban mothers from feeding their babies in the service, or anywhere on the premises for that matter. I feel weird even writing this, but sadly, the reality is that in most churches ladies would be ushered off the premises if they fed their child, notwithstanding the fact that most states give mothers the right to feed their children in any location in which they are legally allowed to be themselves. Now, I am not at all in favor of ladies feeding indiscreetly. I am currently nursing our sixth baby, and have never yet had to expose myself in public in order to do so. There are many options such as slings, cover-ups, blankets, etc. that help make feeding in public discreet - I won't go into that in this post. Why people find the act of feeding itself offensive I cannot understand - there is nothing sensual about it. Personally, I find bottle nipples (note the name) a lot more explicit and suggestive than a lady who is covered discreetly. It sure is a lot less revealing than the clothes worn by many ladies in church these days, such as tight-fitting and low-cut tops. Why does breastfeeding in the service make such a big difference? Because it keeps babies asleep and happy. Because nurslings and moms suffer when they are separated - physically, as well as emotionally. Because it helps babies go from sleeping through the service, to sitting through the service quietly by associating preaching with a time to settle down and be quiet.
- Provide an alternative: Of course, there will be times when children behave in a disruptive manner. If that happens, they should not be left in the service to distract the preacher or those listening to him. For times such as this, we have a "Mother-Baby Room". Ours looks out into the auditorium through a large window in the wall, and the preaching is transmitted into the room. In the room, we have a swing, a playpen, an exersaucer, and some quiet toys such as board books and soft toys. For the mothers, we have the most comfortable sofas ever. However, this is not a nursery, because every mom is in there watching her own child(ren). Another big difference is that this room is used as necessary, rather than three times a week regardless of whether the child is being disruptive or not. Typically, I find myself using this room most between about 9 months to about a year and a half. By two years of age at the very latest, children are old enough to be taught to be silent in the service. They may not sit down the whole 90 minutes, but they know that church is a time to be silent. This takes work and training on the part of the parents, which is certainly harder than simply dropping a child off at a nursery, but the rewards of children learning the Bible and hearing real preaching from the womb are well worth those efforts. At our church, men are not allowed in this room, so when Dads take their children out of the service, they usually stay in the foyer, which is open to the auditorium so they can still see and hear the service perfectly well.
- Be tolerant: It is amazing to me how much disruption we can put up with from adults, but not children. If an adult has a coughing fit in church, we probably will start digging through our purse looking for a cough drop to help the poor coughing person. Men often yell "Amen" and similar other statements during the service, and nobody seems bothered. Other more inappropriate, but real, distractions are cell phones going off, someone going to the bathroom, hard candy being unwrapped, whispering back and forth, etc. Usually, people just put up with these without saying anything. But woe to the baby who dares coo in church, or smile at a person sitting nearby. I have literally heard pastors saying that babies should not be left in the service even if they never make a peep because their cuteness is too distracting to nearby ladies. Ha! He must have been thinking about my babies! :) Jesus said to "suffer" little children to come unto him, and not to forbid them.
Now why, you may wonder, would any mother want to keep her babies and young children in the service with her, when there is such a "convenience" as a nursery available? I have found that those mothers who love their children so much that they feel uneasy surrendering them to the care of others during the preaching, are the same who love their children enough to teach them how to act right in church. Those who are slacking in their parenting, or who are new believers and have not brought their children up in church, may certainly prefer a nursery. But there are definite advantages to NOT having a nursery:
- Everyone is in church: Church is the assembly of believers. If everyone is split up in various groups all over the property, that is NOT church. Especially for families, it is vital to serve the Lord together, rather than with peers outside their family.
- Children learn the Bible from a young age: Sure, every nursery prides themselves on the fact that the ladies in charge teach Bible truths. The problem is, that these are the most impressionable and important years. I do not want our children to think that church is a place where a friendly lady shares a positive, loving message week after week. I want them to hear real preaching from a man of God. It is amazing to me how much even our youngest ones pick up from the preaching. Even if they only understand 1 or 2 % of what is being said, that is a lot more Bible truth than what they would get from a cute little coloring picture and a positive pep talk in the nursery.
- It is safer: Thinking back on the workers in the nurseries that our children attended back before we knew better (about the first 2 years of our parenting), I would say that about 50% of them I have since found out such horrible things that I would never even want to leave our dog in their care. No doubt, there were also many loving, kind, helpful ladies, but the risk is just too great to me. I am not just thinking of something as grievous as molestation. I don't even want our children to be cared for by someone who is an adulteress, or otherwise sets a horrible example.
- It is more sanitary: I am not going to elaborate on this point. Think daycare - kids always get sick there. Back when our oldest two used to go to the nursery, they would get sick all the time, causing me to miss many services and making us miserable as we would all get sick from them.
The most common concern about babies and children being allowed in the service is that they will disrupt the preaching, keeping those in attendance from hearing the gospel, or applying the sermon because they will not reach a state of "conviction".
For starters, church is not for preaching the gospel - that is something that should be done door to door, or before or after the service if there are unsaved visitors. The sermon is for the edification of believers. Even so, I would venture to guess that our church sees more people saved per capita and has members with stronger convictions than any church I have ever seen or heard of. Over 90% of our members go out door-to-door soulwinning regularly. Almost all have high standards in their personal lives, such as having no TV, homeschooling, and men who support and lead their families while the ladies stay home and raise the children that God blesses them with (as opposed to using birth control and pursuing a "career"). Almost all of our members are people that we reached - the "unchurched" - rather than transplants from other churches or those who have grown up in Christian homes. Apparently, having babies and young children in the service did not keep them from hearing and applying the preaching, and making substantial changes in their lives.
I am not saying that having or utilizing a nursery is a sin (although I do think that having a mandatory nursery policy is very wrong). But I am saying that it is unwise. It is also a waste of such a perfect opportunity to attend church as a family, and to just sit and cuddle/nurse your baby for and hour and a half three times a week - I mean, when else would I ever be able to do that in the middle of the daytime? Families thrive when they are allowed to be in church together.