Over three years ago, I wrote a blog post titled "Why I hate church nurseries". Here and there, I still get comments on it, because the subject really strikes a nerve with many people.
To date, our church neither offers, nor has any plans of ever offering, a "church nursery". To some (especially pastors), this means one of two things: that we either have few families with babies and young children attending our services, or that our church services are a complete pandemonium of screaming kids running up and down the aisle, while a flustered preacher is trying to keep his train of thought.
Of course, neither could be further from the truth. I venture to guess that we (proportionately) have more children ages 3 and under in our church than the vast majority of churches. For example, our Sunday morning attendance averages between 60 - 70 people. Of these, about 15 are age 3 or under (20-25% of the total attendance). Some churches do not allow children in the services until they are teenagers, offering them "children's church" instead. If we took the number of children ages 12 and under, it would make up about HALF of our congregation!! Clearly, it is not because there are few children in our congregation that we feel no need to make special arrangements for them.
As far as said children being a disruption and bringing down every service - see for yourself. Pretty much all of our sermons are available online to listen to, or view. The recording equipment is set up at the BACK of the auditorium, so in order for it to pick up the pastor, it is also picking up everything between him and the camera. Since our sermons are downloaded thousands of times every month, I'm thinking they must be worth listening to, to someone. And apparently, they are both intelligible, and coherent.
Are there times that a child becomes disruptive? Of course - including our own! But did you know that adults are no less disruptive? Seriously! Not that this is an excuse - it's just a fact. At least as many adults shuffle back and forth during the service to use the restroom, or get water, as children. Adults are no less likely to have a coughing fit, snort in funny ways, blow their nose loudly, blurt out comments, whisper with others near them, noisily thumb through their Bibles, unwrap candy, etc. than a little child is to coo, babble, or cry. But overall, disruptions from both adults and children are rare, because we all possess the basic social skills that teach us how to act in a group setting such as church.
In six years as the pastor's wife, I have yet to see the mother or father who stays in their seat listening to the sermon, while ignoring their crying or disruptive child. Invariably, they are mortified, and quickly take the child to the far side of the building until said child calms/quiets down.
What I am saying is that this is a self-correcting problem. Nobody wants their child to be a disruption to a public event, whether it be church, a funeral or wedding, a family gathering, a picnic - you name it! Kids are there, some kids will have a rough day and act up, and responsible parents take the necessary steps to remedy the situation. It's why kids have parents. Few parents would be so derelict that it would override their innate desire to not allow their children to be a burden to others - and these types of parents don't usually make a point to take their children to church for their moral edification. If they do, these people more than anyone should be encouraged to step into the role given them by God of taking responsibility for raising their children, rather than having their kids ushered off because they as parents are not fit to keep them under control themselves.
So while having children in the service has few, if any disadvantages, these are more than overshadowed by the many, many downsides to church nurseries. To list some:
- Health: Nurseries are germ havens. Period - there is just no way around it, no matter how well-intentioned and diligent the sanitation efforts are. Not only will the children in the nursery be sharing their own germs, but very likely they are also carrying, and passing around, any bug their older sibling(s) picked up at school or from their friends. Just as illnesses have a tendency to affect an entire family, the same is true for children sharing close quarters, three times a week, for "church". Back when our children were forced to stay in the nursery, and we allowed ourselves to be bullied into complying, they were always sick. I remember my husband got five sick days, and five paid vacation days per year,in addition to 8 paid holidays. Yet, he never once had a day off just for the fun of it, because he always ended up having to use all his vacation days as sick days after picking up one illness after another from Solomon, and later Isaac as well. Long before the year was up, he would run out of all sick days and vacations days, and be forced to either show up to work severely ill, or take unpaid leave. Both were terrible options. I was often missing church, staying home with sick kids. When they finally got well, it would only take one or two services before they were back home and ill.
- Safety: Yes, this is (or should be) another major concern. These days, many churches assure parents that they do "background checks" on all nursery workers, and that may well be true. Of course, I have heard a pastor claim they did this, and yet the people working in the nursery had never truly been checked up on - I guess having the intention to run a background check sometime was enough. Even so, background checks are not foreground checks. Maybe your child will be their first victim? Furthermore, a clean background check just means a person has never yet been caught and convicted, not that they have never committed certain crimes. In sexual abuse cases, many suspect that less than 10% of cases are ever found out about. As the wife of a pastor, I have talked to many abuse victims, yet I cannot think of one of them in whose case the perpetrator(s) were ever brought to justice. Wicked people will seek out easy targets. And it doesn't get much easier than young children in the trusting environment of a church family. The Bible explicitly warns us against such "wolves in sheep's clothing".
- Care: Most parents will provide care far superior to that of anyone else, because they love their child more than anyone else. Besides, few people have triplets, quads, or higher order multiples - yet nursery workers often have as many as 3-6 babies in their care at the same time. It is impossible to adequately provide for so many children simultaneously. One particular nursery at a very large church we went to had a strict schedule of feeding babies, changing their diapers, sticking them in the swing for 20 minutes, and then laying them down to sleep. They literally had dozens and dozens of swings and cribs so all babies could be on the same "step", at the same time. On more than one occasion, I picked my baby up in a soiled diaper, because he happened to go after the scheduled diaper change time (which was at the very beginning of the service - as if kids don't get dropped off in clean diapers, anyway - duh!). Holding or comforting babies was not only impossible with two to four workers for about 50 babies, but it was also discouraged. Babies who cried were laid down to sleep, tummy/face down, with a receiving blanket over their head, to help quiet them. Several children that I know of personally have died in that nursery, during the service, and I cannot help but think that being left to scream was at least partially to blame for such tragedies. Being laid down to sleep on their tummies probably didn't help, either.
- Learning: Children of any age, including in the womb, are constantly learning. They absorb every word they hear, and everything they see. Though they may be too young to understand a sermon, it still teaches them, and one day all that teaching will sink in and make sense. I heard someone once comparing learning to snow falling on a child's brain - it makes a thick blanket, until the understanding is finally such that the teaching will "melt" and sink into the brain very rapidly. I have been shocked and amazed at what our young children have learned in church, when they seemed as if they were not even listening. Suggesting that babies and young children should be kept out of the services until they are old enough to understand is like saying that nobody should ever read to their child, or sing to them, until that child can understand, speak, and read himself. It is utter nonsense! With that sort of philosophy, reading will be learned much later in life, if at all, and even then only poorly. Before any skill is learned, whether it be recognizing one's name as a baby, to talking, to riding a bike, to helping with chores, to learning another language - there is a need for much practice, encouragement, and correction. It is neither easy nor convenient - but that does not make it any less necessary. How can a child learn to sit still in church, if they are not allowed in church???
- Segregation: Just as single-grade classrooms offer much less opportunities for learning than the one-room schoolhouse approach did, so age segregation in the service is to the detriment of all, but particularly the younger ones. Furthermore, separating families for church will do little to grow the family spiritually, as a unit. Dad is off teaching junior church, mom is working in the nursery, and the kids are all in their respective classes/nurseries. Coupled with the fact that most families are separated the whole rest of the week as well thanks to work and school, it is no wonder we see families all around us falling apart.
- Workers: Compulsory nursery often goes hand in hand with compulsory nursery service. Even if they are all volunteers, there is often tremendous pressure and guilting to "volunteer". Not only are the children missing out on the service, but so are the caregivers. This is one more factor contributing to splitting the family up during the service.
- Authority: I do believe that the Bible gives pastors certain authority within the church. However, just as the Bible gives governments limited power, so the pastor's jurisdiction is limited. Telling people what job to take, where to live, who to marry, etc. are all not areas in which a pastor can force his way on those in his congregation. Neither is forcing parents to relinquish their child(ren) to the care of others. My husband as the pastor can command only one wife, and six children in our church what to do: those he is responsible for, those who he pays to support, those whom God has given him authority over. Someone else's wife and children are not under his authority. Whenever you have to force people to participate in your program, it probably isn't that great of an idea to begin with.
The bottom line is this: if any church or pastor says they cannot permit children in the service because they would be a disruption, what they should really say is that they have failed in providing an opportunity for children to learn, and for parents to teach. They should say they are too lazy and comfortable to help and do their part in reaching the next generation. They should admit to being more concerned about what some random visitor may think if they heard a baby cry for a second in the service, than they are about the spiritual growth within the regularly attending families. Any pastor who actually forbids parents from having their children sit with them in the service should come right out with the fact that they abuse their pastoral authority to strong-arm, force, and guilt parents into submission when they have absolutely no biblical directive or authority in their favor regarding this issue.
If you/your family is in the unfortunate situation of only being able to attend a church with compulsory nursery, I am very sorry, and really have no good advice to share. Most churches that I know of just try to play the "guilt card", rather than plain force parents into compliance, in which case growing a thick skin and deaf ears may be the best approach. Training children to sit still in such a hostile environment is very difficult, and no matter how perfect the children are, the haters will be many.
Okay, I'm off my soap box for another three years or so.