As a mother of children currently ages 4, 2, and 6 months; at the first mention of meeting in homes as a body of believers, I thought “What do we do with the kids?” and I often still wonder “What do we do with the kids?”.
When we met with two other families with young kids in Augusta, we started off hiring a teenager from the neighborhood who worked as a Mother’s helper. We quickly found that especially the kids under 2 kept making their way back to their mothers. Since we all lived next door and our kids played together almost every day and knew the rules of each house, we finally decided to all have a meal together and then let the kids play on their own while we studied the bible. Of course babies stayed in the room with the adults and all the kids were welcome to come quietly sit in on the study with their parents. On most occasions this set up worked really well for enabling the adults to study, but we never focused on prayer, worship, or teaching the kids anything about God. We were meeting as friends and neighbors doing a bible study and we all went to our respective churches where we worshiped and our kids were taught on Sunday mornings.
When we moved to Marietta, we began to meet exclusively with a house church group that had no young children other than our own. Especially in the beginning, there were many occasions where I just didn’t want to go. It was so much work to keep the kids inline in someone else’s home that wasn’t set up for young children. It took forever to get out the door with food for a potluck meal, materials for our study, toys and books for the kids, diapers and sippy cups and two kids who really didn’t want to go. Then we had a another baby so we added at least one more bag and a heavy baby carrier to our list of supplies. There was so much prep just to get there and once we got there, I was so tied up setting up a spot for the kids to play, fixing their plates, making sure they didn’t spill or drop food all over the place or break anything, and trying to keep them still and quiet during the main study time that I came home more frustrated than ever. But with all of the frustration from the kids, the group of believers that we met with was great. We truly worshipped the Lord and even though I was never really able to participate much in the study and discussion I saw the benefit of talking through things as group instead of having one presenter on a pedestal.
One day a family with two boys ages 3 and 5 visited our group, adding a few challenges to our meetings. We had been with Breaking Bread for several months, so my kids were accustomed to rules that I had given for each house and the routine of the meeting. But just like my kids a few month previous, these boys and their parents had never met with a body believers in someone elses home. Having four children playing was a much more chaotic. While this family unfortunately only met with our group for a few weeks before deciding to go back to an institutional church, it provided an excellent opportunity for the entire group to evaluate how to incorporate children into the meeting more and support parents so they could interact more in the study. After a few weeks of discussion, the group decided to add a short children’s devotional, a couple of children’s songs to the singing time, and have people sign up to take the children out do a lesson with them during the main discussion time. We tried this schedule for a few weeks and decided to take out the children’s devotion because they listened more in a one on one setting during the lesson and my oldest child in particular would not speak in front of the whole group. The kids really enjoyed the one on one lesson and it was great not to have to pack so much stuff to entertain them and be able participate more in the discussion. Unfortunately, we moved soon after starting this idea so most people were only able to sign up once.
Now we have moved to Roswell, too far away to travel to several of the houses in the Breaking Bread group. We haven’t found a closer group to meet with yet, so we are looking at starting a new group. Given the opportunity to revaluate how to best teach our children who God is and how we relate to him, we have tried going to a few nearby institutional churches. I think especially preschool age children learn better in groups where they can do more hands on activities and play games related to a lesson. We’ve tried this for two weeks now and I don’t know that it is the best decision. Will it be too much to try to go to an institutional church on Sunday’s and have home church on some other day? Can Wes and I really sit through the Sunday morning production every week without being cynical? Today at the end of the prayer just before the closing song a couple gave their 9 or 10 year old son the ticket to get his sibling out of the nursery. When the boy started to walk our during the song, the parent quickly shooshed him, sent him back to his seat, and the father told him just watch the last song then you can go. Will we end up like that? The production isn’t over yet and they better watch whether they care to or not.
If the house church model is best for adults, why shouldn’t it be for kids too? Maybe it’s just important to have a group with other kids in it? If everyone in the group thinks of it as a family, coming together to worship would the group as a whole be willing to be dedicated to teaching the children?
I think each group will have to find their own way of handling children in an organic house church. Church is a living organism and the needs and strengths and each group will be different and charge from season to season. As we start to seek a new body of believers out in Roswell, we are going to try to find a group of people who intends on truly treating the body as a family with a commitment to love and strengthen all members of the family. As long as we come with that mindset, the rest will work itself out.