What does it mean to “welcome” a child?
Then they came to Capernaum. While Jesus was in the house, He asked them, “What were you discussing on the way?” But they were silent, for on the way they had been arguing with each other which of them was the greatest. Sitting down, Jesus called the Twelve and said, “If anyone wants to be first, he must be the last of all and the servant of all.” Then He had a little child stand among them. Taking the child in His arms, He said to them, “Whoever welcomes one of these little children in My name welcomes Me, and whoever welcomes Me welcomes not only Me, but the One who sent Me.” Mark 9:33-36
As someone who works with children, I cannot read this passage of Scripture without getting goosebumps. Honestly, I feel as though I could write endlessly about this beautiful picture of Jesus’ ministry to all ages, but I want to focus on one word in particular: Welcome.
What is welcome? There has been much written about this word, but I want to share an experience I had recently. A friend texted me; she needed to talk. I opened my home and invited her to lunch. We had a wonderful time together, but at one point she made a comment that it “really felt like” I wanted her there. I asked what she meant and she shared, “You didn’t just open the door and let me in. You cleaned your house, turned on music, lit a candle, set the table, made and served me lunch and dessert, listened when I shared, and truly welcomed me into your home.”
To her, there was a difference between me making space for her and me welcoming her. I see that in this “Jesus story” too. I see Him take a child, and have this child stand among the people gathered in the home, and then, very intentionally, take the child in his arms. And after that very intentional moment He says, “Whoever welcomes one of these little children in My name, welcomes Me…” (If I were a psalmist, there would be a “Selah” after that).
Think about that! Jesus modeled for us something very important. When we talk about welcoming a child, it’s not about just making room for them to be present. It’s not about just making space. It’s not even about making sure that there are enough volunteers for the nursery, teachers for the Sunday school, crafts for each attendee, and activity packets for each worship service. No, Christ’s welcome went beyond that. It wrapped that child in His very arms. It said, “You are not only allowed to be here, you are WANTED here!” It said, “You are not merely present in this space, you are embraced in this space.”
As we consider children in the context of the church and the larger faith community, it would be wise for us to reflect on this moment. We can say, “Children are welcome here” with our words and we can have all the right things in place. We can open the door and say, “Come on in!” But if we don’t combine that with a culture that says “You belong here,” a message of grace and honor, our welcome may fall flat. It has to be more than just making space for their presence. It needs to be a felt welcome, an embrace.
What happens if we do that? I mean, just listen to Jesus’ words!! “Whoever welcomes one of these little children in My name welcomes Me, and whoever welcomes Me welcomes not only Me, but the One who sent Me.” We not only welcome that child, we welcome Christ himself and the Father who sent Him. We welcome God!
If your church is looking for some ways to help welcome children more fully into the midst of your congregation, here are some ideas of where to start.
1. Welcome the kids, every week, by name – This may sound redundant, but there is much to be said for a personal greeting from a friendly face and welcome to the service.
- Engage the kids in worship– Kids love to be a part of something. Give them the opportunity to help lead worship, hand out bulletins, take up the offering, participate in communion, help with the sound/lights, read Scripture, share a testimony—anything that lets them know they are a vital part of the congregation.
- Reaffirm your covenant– When children are baptized or dedicated in churches, often the church will recite or affirm a covenant with them to walk with them as a community of faith. Every now and then, let the kids hear you re-affirm that out loud and with your actions.
- Engage the congregation– If having kids in service is new to your church, give the congregation fair warning, provide a time for them to meet the kids (put faces with names and parents with kids), and encourage a time of fellowship for all before adding the kids to the service. Some churches start with once a month and grow from there.
- Give kids a voice– You’d be surprised how much we can learn from children but often we still follow the “Kids should be seen and not heard” rule. Give kids an avenue to share what God is speaking to them by affirming to them that they can and do hear from God, and giving them a space to share that. A bulletin board where they can hang a picture they drew in service or a note they wrote about what they learned can create a space where the whole church can hear and affirm their hearts for God.
(List adapted from Practical Ways to Welcome Kids to Church posted on https://refocusministry.org/resources-for-ministers/family-ministry/practical-ways-to-welcome-kids-to-church/)