This won’t come as a surprise to you but folks my age are not showing up for church. As a card-carrying Millenial, (okay, it’s just my driver’s license) I often wonder where we all have gone? My church’s national organization has completed multiple studies on reasons for not going to church. They’ve consistently found that only ⅓ of kids that were actively involved as children are still present in the pews as young adults. While I’m glad that we know how large the problem is, it’s probably time for us to stop admiring it. This series of writings is one Millenial-momma’s attempt to obliterate every excuse that we, as a generation, can think of that keeps us from darkening our church’s doorway. No more expewses!
Expewse #1: My Kids Behavior
Today, I’m going to start with one that I struggle with on a weekly basis: the three-ring circus that I refer to as “Pew 4 Seven”. I’m not sure the last time I’ve heard a full sermon. I also count myself fortunate if I can make it through the scriptures readings without a diaper change. As a Millenial, we parent in a Pinterest-Perfect world. We are inundated in social media with unobtainable images. Smartly-dressed cherubs traipse long garden paths, holding hands with their darling siblings. That’s. Not. Real.
So, let me be real for you because maybe it’s the fear of what other people think is one of the reasons for not going to church? I’m going to post the nutty things that my kids have done in a span of 60 minutes on a Sunday morning. This way, when your kids decide to lose it during the sermon, or have a throw down during a hymn, you will know that there are kindred souls out there who understand what you are going through.
Olympic Gymnastic Trials
I’m not sure who designed the proper spacing for seating in a church. I bet they didn’t realize that every sanctuary can double as a gymnastics training facility. At the entrance of each pew, the backs of each perfectly mimic the even bars. My kids are not even gymnasts! That doesn’t stop them from attempting a pike during the readings.
If you think I’m being overdramatic, just watch any toddler round the corner of their pew into the aisle. It’s the perfect length and width to complete a tumbling pass. It must look like the lights on the floor of an airplane that will lead you to the nearest exit. Except, the only path to freedom is the altar at the front of the church. Not to mention there’s plenty of lecturn and pulpit to utilize for dismounts. I used to be embarrassed when they would streak to the front of the church. Now, I have no qualms of tackling any of my offspring to the floor so that their out-of-controlness is not livestreamed by cameras that record all the activity in the front third on the santuary.
Balconies: Late Arrivals and Launch Pad
I used to think that balconies were a great compromise. It’s a birds eye view, your crazy is contained, and it’s next to the organ so cries of exasperation are completely drowned out by the swell of the low notes. It’s also a great place to “sneak” into when it’s already fifteen minutes into the service. The only problem is, organs are not part of everyday normal, unless you are a carnie. Everytime our organist gets into “A Mighty Fortress”, I’m pretty sure any child under the age of two gets wide-eyed and starts crying. In all fairness, it does sound like the top of the church is going to blow off.
The good news is, organs get old. Once the kids realize that we sing along like in the 7th inning stretch, they become less scary. Which should be good, right? The newly arrived comfort means that they are confident. Therefore, the next thing most logical thing for them to do is run right to the edge. Fortunately, there’s usually a mess of choir members that slow them down and remove anything they have in their hands because that’s the next thing that will happen: UFO (Unobstructed Flying Objects).
T-Rexes Can Fly Too
I bet you didn’t see dinosaurs as one of reasons for not going to church! The combination of this desire to watch things drop from high points and the overflowing busy bags means that there is an un-ending aresenal of things to toss over the balcony’s edge. This may be one of the only times in my life that my training as a goal keeper on my high school soccer team has come in handy in places other than in front of a net. But even the greatest Olympian will let one through every once and a while.
The most memorable flight was that a stuffed neon dinosaur. We were sitting in the middle of the balcony and I was clearly unaware that my child had developed enough gross motor skills to launch a neon micro t-rex from the spot we were sitting into the santuary below. As it flew past my face, the world seemed to slow as I followed it over the railing into the middle of the santuary. My eyes, tracking its progress then locked with the pastor’s. Not missing a beat, he continued to preach but I could see his gaze follow the projectile to it’s final resting place; the middle of the center aisle. The creature was gone by the time we got to the floor. I’m hoping that instead of an irritated elder, a toddler picked it up and ran with it like it manna from above.
Fashion Faux Pauxs
Church mornings are often a scramble to get everyone vertical, dressed, and out the door. Why this is different than any other day of the week is mystery but still, we struggle. My dress code has become less formal over the years. I tend to find things that wick away sweat and offer a great deal of coverage when crawling under pews work the best for my wardrobe. I have been de-skirted and de-shirted enough by little hands to know that there is a delicate balance in the appropriate spandex percentage in your semi-formal garments.
Dressing up kids in clothes they hate is also a favorite Sunday pastime of mine and it’s probably the kids’ number one reasons for not going to church. It’s the one day where I gussie them up so that when they transform into wildlings by the second reading, I can at least take pride in their ensemble. Even the best laid-out outfits can still be destroyed by the smallest of daiper fails. After one such explosion, I just threw the whole thing, kit and caboodle, in the trash. We did our best impression of the nativity scene and I wrapped the babe up in a blanket and made for the car like we were fleeing for Egypt.
Destruction of Property
Children love to test the properties of any types of matter. Be it book pages, or the tension strength of busy bag handles, they will do their best to conform it to their will. One of my children, as we now refer to as “Cave Painter” was always so moved by the spirit. She often wrote her praises in crayon all over the pew, the wall, the hymnal, and even the Bible!!! In case you were wondering, we didn’t get struck by lightning on the way out that day. You can guess that I was a little paranoid about any electrical activity in the clouds for the next few days.
Any given Sunday, our pew looks like a ticker tape parade. Confession; I don’t even know what ticker tape is but I’m pretty sure that’s what it looks like. When we leave, the elders just grab leaf blowers. They blast our mess of cracker crumbs, crumpled paper, and chewed on visitors leaflets that litter the ten-foot radius of our pew.
Interrupting other people during worship may be one of the biggest reasons that congregants with small children don’t attend church regularly. Just like when we were kids and the only time we acted a fool was when our mamas were on the phone, our kids have paid us back full circle by filling any void of silence with the call of their micro-people. Yes, this includes the typical crying, yelling at siblings, and vocalizations of frustration towards mom and dad. Don’t forget the unfortunate timing of the ending of the hymns. It’s a great time for them to yell out “MOM, you’re BEATING ME!” This is in reference to a game of tic-tac-toe. I waved the paper in the air so that no one called child protective services during the reading of the Gospel.
Hymns also cover up the noises that are amplified by sitting on furniture made of wood. Yes, these are the organic kind. One of the babies once leaned over to grab a toy. The compression of his tummy was just enough to produce a bout of flatulence. The episode so pronounced that I was convinced I heard an echo. I comforted myself by thinking “it only sounded loud because I was sitting right next to him.”
My a young girl in another pew said “Mommy! Did you hear how loud that little boy farted?!” I turned red. Everyone else in a two pew radius started giggling, including the baby that didn’t know he was butt of the joke. Literally.
Truth Be Told
The best part of this post? We’ve never, ever, been kicked out of church. In fact, if we ever miss a Sunday, people ask where we were and wonder if everything is okay. (If we ever show up early, that causes alarm as well. I think it’s because we are sure that we’ve forgotten someone somewhere.) Let’s be honest, my kids are annoying some days. Perhaps it’s out fear of how others will view our parenting? Is the opinion of others one of the reasons for not going to church that you battle. While it’s been a worry of mine, I’ve never been shunned for my unruly brood. If that’s happened to you at your church, you can come to mine and sit by me!
“Whoever welcomes one of these little children in my name welcomes me;
Mark 9: 37
Give your child the gift of hearing the word and meeting their fellow brothers and sisters in Christ. ( It’s been one of my greatest blessings) Know that those in the pew around you have been in your shoes and the have wrestled their own toddlers and reasons for not going to church. They will not hesitate to play human foosball your children under the pew. Last but certainly not least, I say to you weary moms and dads. Go easy on yourself. Even the Apostle Paul wished grace AND peace when he greeted congregations. That just proves parents have struggled in the pews at two thousand years ago too!