"NO! Church people LIKE BATMAN!" comes booming out of our two year olds voice. Every day he dresses as a different hero but on Sundays he prefers batman; at some point he came to believe that church people like batman best. And so almost every Sunday he puts his batman shirt - or on some Sunday's his batman costume on - and heads to church. Our four-year-old daughter believes that some of the church people are "her biggest fans!" Whatever that means to a four-year-old. And so they head off to Huron. They are happy to go to church on Sunday morning and see all the church people. Sure it makes it more special when some of their friends, or people their age, come but in the end it doesn't matter if they are the only children they feel comfortable there.
Some might think that it is just because they are the "pastor's children" but that isn't the case. I have seen and witnessed countless times when this congregation goes out of the way to make a children feel comfortable and welcomed in church. Sure we have a smaller number of kids in our church but having large numbers of kids isn't what makes these children come to church when they are adults. Statistically, the adults who felt the most welcome and safe in a church building when they were a child are the adults who come to church now. What a powerful thought isn't it? Some churches have giant children's programs and spend lots of time teaching children about God but they don't integrate the children into church and the children spend their childhood feeling uncomfortable with the adults. But not here!
A few years back we had several smaller children and in an attempt to make it easier on the parents we started offering nursery care for the whole worship service. Imagine our (as the pastors) amazement when one of the oldest attending members with probably the worst hearing asked where the children were for the first half of church. When we explained they were in nursery he made it a point to not only ask that they come up for church but talk to parents about how wonderful it is to see and hear children in worship service! What a welcome.
Each year we hold a Sunday school Sunday in which the children teach the congregation a bit of what they have learned. Each year the numbers keep getting smaller as some of our children grow up and some just grow out. But I want to take some time to assure you that even without a large church school program, your efforts to love the children don't go unnoticed. That the fact that you all care to know the kids by name and shake their hands during passing of the peace is witnessed. That you all take the time to talk to the children or provide special child-friendly options at coffee hour. And most importantly that when they come dressed as batman you accept them for who they are.
And to all those looking for a church out there. It isn't about picking a church with all the programs for your children to feel excluded from the body. For studies have shown that those children don't grow up to go to church. The most important factor to if your children will grow up and attend church is if they felt welcomed at church as a kid. Huron makes children feel welcomed. And they truly do make the kids feel like they have "fans" at church. People who care about them and who care for them; people who pray for them and watch over them.
So thanks for being our kids fans, thanks for calling our son batman, but most of all thanks for letting all the children be children. For sitting in the walkways or floors when they are too wiggly to sit in the sits. For screaming in the basement when they just want to be upstairs. For sleeping under the table on the chancel when the day has been too long. For helping them get food at a potluck so parents can have a break. For knowing their names and showing you care.
And finally encourage people to send their children our way. Even if our Sunday school isn't full, it is full of people ready to love their child and show them what God's love is truly about.