Thank You for Coming. Please Leave.

“Thank you for being committed to being in church with your child. In order to allow those seated near you to engage in the message, please enjoy the remainder of the service in our lobby…A Connection Team Member will assist you.”

This message was printed on a card handed to a parent in attendance at a church she was visiting with her family. There is a lot to unpack here, I know, but I’d like to focus in on some of the unspoken messages that might be understood from the sentiment on the card. Much of what influences us as people, what shapes us, molds us and forms us doesn’t come in overt ways, but in consistent and unspoken messages that tell us who we are, what we mean, and why where are here.

The Context of the Message Above Matters for These Very Reasons.

This card very clearly says that there are some people who are welcome in the corporate assembly and some people who are not. It tells parents that they are not welcome to have their child attend worship services with them. It lets children know that there’s no place for them in the corporate gathering of the congregation. It also assumes that children and their parents will be a distracting detriment to the service, a bother to other people (adults), and that their proper place is outside the doors, not inside.

And These Messages Matter…a Lot.

Because regardless of what one thinks about children and youth being included in the corporate assembly, we can’t deny the fact that when we read the stories of those who have chosen to leave the institutional church and in some cases their faith, these are the messages they heard and they repeat back as part of their reason for leaving. Messages of not belonging, not having a place, not being wanted or welcomed, not being known. Messages like, “Thank you for coming. Please leave.”

One of the most common concerns I hear about including children and youth in the corporate gathering is that they don’t get anything out of it. People will share their own stories about how church was so boring and all they did was waste time coloring or crawling around the pews.

My first response to them is, “But look, you remember. You remember being in church. You remember seeing the people and hearing the voices and watching the way the service unfolded. It’s part of your forever memory.”

And That’s Part of the Bigger Picture. Children Remember.

So what if we used that time when they are in church to do something more; to connect to that memory in meaningful ways? What messages are we sending, spoken or unspoken. Rather than leaving children with negative impressions, why don’t we work to ensure positive ones? Of course, there will be some “boring” moments in church, but what if they also remember…

…that lady who always asked me how school was going and came to my tee ball games.

…that man who always had the lollipop that he gave to mom for me and told me how glad he was to see me.

…that young adult who sat with me and colored every week and helped me to memorize the Bible verse.

…my mom holding me and letting me lay my head in her lap as we listened to the sermon.

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