What To Do When Your Noisy Kids Make Going to Church Feel Pointless

Recently our family traveled out-of-state to a missions conference in a nice hotel, with pre-printed name tags on lanyards, meals served in a banquet hall, speakers flown in from around the country, and families dressed up in their nicest church clothes.

And we brought our kids, ages 13 down to newborn. All five of them.

Let me tell you how it went.

One of our kids forgot to bring her nice clothes and had to wear shorts. One spilled hot apple cider all over the tablecloth (and my lap). One cried (loudly) during quiet moments of prayer. One couldn’t find her shoes before a session was about to begin, and made us late. One could not stay in her seat, no matter what bribe we offered. And all of our kids complained about having to sit next to a sibling. Every time we sat down for a meal or meeting.

It wasn’t great. In fact, a couple of times it was downright turn-red-in-the-face embarrassing. You can draw your own conclusions about how much I was able to focus on the speakers or participate in worship!

I’ve had very similar experiences at church, when my kids lie down when everyone else is standing, or stand up when everyone else is sitting. When the toddler attempts to crawl underneath as many pews as possible before getting caught. When my impatience gets the best of me and I can feel my ears burning and my face tightening, though I try to hold my “good-mom” face together for the sake of any sideways glances being thrown my direction.

These are experiences that make me wonder–why am I even here?! Why bother going to church if this is what I have to deal with?

But honestly, as moms, we know that those moments of chaos, noise, and distraction in our faith journey don’t just happen in public–they happen at home, too. It’s not easy to stay focused when the toddler climbs over you while you’re having “quiet time” on the living room floor, trying to keep the thin pages of your Bible from getting ripped by her tiny knees. Or when you start to pray, only to be interrupted countless times by, “Mom! MOMMY!! MOOOOMMMMMMM!!!”

What do we do with all of these distractions, both public and private?

For a long time, I could only see them as just that–distractions. But this quote by Kenda Creasy Dean, author of the book Almost Christian, helped to change my perspective: “It is such a preposterous claim–God-with-us (oh, please)–that young people are unlikely to believe it unless we give them opportunities to do some sacred eavesdropping on us as we seek, delight, and trust in God’s presence with us.”[1]

Oh! All of these moments that are so distracting for us are entry points into the Kingdom for our kids. These moments we want to escape from are actually an essential tool for passing down our faith to our children.

Just like making a slow and messy batch of cookies, taking twice as long to clean the bathroom, or turning raking leaves into a game that scatters the leaves back across the yard… bringing along small helpers into our everyday habits often makes things harder, not easier. But that doesn’t mean that we stop doing it. We let them “help” because they are our little apprentices of life–and we want them to experience and practice all of the essential elements of healthy adulthood.

This is the same thing Jesus did when he told his disciples to, “Come, follow me,” (Matthew 4:19) or when Paul told the Corinthians to, “Imitate me, just as I imitate Christ” (1 Corinithians 11:1). We could lecture our kids on all the important things–worship and anger and prayer and service and hurt–or we can invite their chaotic selves to follow us and do a little “sacred eavesdropping” on us as we (imperfectly) live out those truths.

When the 6-year old spies our hands lifted and tears rolling down our face during a worship song that hits a sore spot in our heart, it opens the door for her to discover that the Spirit of God heals broken spirits. When we let the 3-year old put the offering in the basket for us, it lets him practice one of the ways that we live humbly surrendered to one true God. When the 13-year old overhears us praying with a friend, it reminds her to take her own unsolvable messes to Jesus for perspective shifts, peace that passes understanding, and divine answers. We are quite literally sharing our faith with them.

Giving our kids a front row seat to our lived-out faith journey, distractions included, allows them to witness what really matters. Even more than our weakness, they will see our reliance on our Savior. The late church arrivals, shoeless and whiny children, ripped Bibles, apple cider spills, and interrupted prayers are humbling and annoying for us, yes. But for the sake of giving our kids the chance to experience sweet, real-time encounters with the living Jesus? It’s all worth it. Keep at it, friend.


[1] Dean, Kenda Creasy. Almost Christian: What the Faith of Our Teenagers Is Telling the American Church. Oxford University Press, 2010.

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