1. Cultural experience that helps answer bigger questions for kids
While there has always been a multiplicity of world views from which to choose, modern communications technology (primarily social media) has brought a dramatic increase to our everyday awareness of the variety of perspectives. The relatively-recent phenomenon referred to as “decision fatigue” has contributed to a sense of societal apathy that says, “I’m so tired to trying to decide which one is right; I’m just going to stop deciding on anything!”
For some decisions, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. But when it comes to religion, I believe it’s tremendously dangerous (I’ll recognize my bias as a pastor here). In a time when more world views are shaping our children than we even recognize, we—as parents—need to set some sort of standard. Our religious worldview is one decision that we cannot afford to give up on.
More and more parents are beginning to realize this, even those who aren’t so sure they believe in God themselves. Involving our children in the cultural experience of a church family helps provide them with language to describe the many joys and pains of life. Particularly at Christmas time, we have the opportunity to communicate to our children the truth that there are things so much bigger, and so much more important, than the shopping, the food, and the holiday stress. By bringing them to a Christmas Eve candlelight service, for example, we open our kids to the experience of the Divine. As they grow older and begin to ponder the bigger questions of life, they—maybe like you—will recall their experience in the church, and have a source from which to grasp understanding and hope.
2. A time to instill traditions and values
Traditions shape community. Think about it—what makes your family a family? Sure, you may or may not be related by blood, but if blood is thicker than water, then even thicker than both are traditions. The experiences that are unique to you and your family help define who you are as a micro-community.
It’s the same with church. When you bring your child to church, you expose them to the traditions of not just a particular congregation, but of an entire history of people who have been asking the same questions and finding the same answers for generations. As discussed in the previous point (about the importance of cultural experiences), traditions help to articulate the foundation upon which a particular worldview is built.
For example, when a family makes church attendance a priority, their physical participation shapes the meaning and purpose of their lives. Beyond just providing a moral compass for their children, these families are helping to define why they exist in the world. By taking communion, singing songs of praise, serving others, regularly reading Scripture, and studying the way of Christ, children are taught that life has a purpose greater than soccer, academics, and financial success.
During Christmas, families have the opportunity to “test the waters” of tradition. If you and your family aren’t the “church-going-type” yet, Christmas provides the perfect bridge to just try something religious. Since it’s already a large part of our social vocabulary, reading the Christmas story or attending a Christmas Eve service doesn’t have to come as a shock. Giving church a “try” in this manner just might lead your family into a new series of traditions that could have a life-changing impact on your children.
3) Services have evolved to fit the needs of today’s families
One of the biggest anxieties of people who are less familiar with church is just that: the unfamiliarity and the apprehensions that accompany it. Will it be boring? Do I bring my children into the service? What if I don’t know the words to the songs? Won’t people know that I’ve never been to church just by looking at me?
This is another reason Christmas is the perfect time to gather the kids into the car and head to church! More than any other time of the year, people visit churches during Christmas. You are guaranteed to be in good company with other people just like you who are asking the same questions.
Many churches today take these questions into consideration, and do everything they can to make church a comfortable environment for the whole family. At Christ United Methodist Church, where I have the privilege of being a pastor, we provide two family services on Christmas Eve that are designed for people with these questions. We completely understand that children have short attention spans and enjoy yelling out random sounds at random times. That’s okay! We’ve created a participatory service where each child will get to hang an ornament on one of the trees at the front of the sanctuary. There will be fun music and the Christmas story will be acted out in a live nativity. I even get to preach the “sermon” which is usually about 3 minutes long because we know that’s about 3-minutes longer than kids want to sit still!
I know my church isn’t alone in this effort to create a church experience that is family-friendly this Christmas season. Between the significance of the message (the Christian worldview that provides hope in times of trouble), the shaping impact of traditions (those shared experiences that bring definition to our community) and the family-friendly environments that churches today are trying to create (those in which rambunctious children aren’t shooed), the upside of bringing your kids to church this Christmas far outweighs the alternative.
If you’re already a regular church member, keep making it a priority in your life. If you’ve never stepped foot in a church, it is never too late to do so. Either way, I pray that God gives you the courage to make this Christmas season a year to remember for you and your family.