There’s a huge disconnect in the way that parents are being encouraged to raise their children and the way that the Christian church conducts its services. When I say services, I’m referring to the time of worship and teaching in church, not outside community services. This time on Sunday is supposed to be for the body of Christ to gather, worship God, and learn from the Bible. However, in most churches this time is set aside for adults, not families, and certainly not for small children. When a person is parenting in an age where research says, “Bond with your children, engage with them, and keep them close,” the system the church is using almost becomes an enemy of that family.
What I am talking about mainly affects families with babies. When you have an infant, everything becomes harder. It’s tough getting out of the house to attend church anyway. You’re exhausted, you feel terrible in your post-partum clothes and like a foreigner in your post-partum body, and you really want to see people, but you can be emotional and impatient. I always felt like even making it to church was a huge accomplishment. Then, when I’d get there, I’d always run into someone who was trying to tell me that they needed to take my kid, or I needed to go somewhere else. Why did I come again? I’d sit wherever I was banished to and break down into a drippy mess, feeling the weight of my inadequacy come crushing down on me.
If your family cannot attend church together, and your children are not welcome, then why even try to go to church? Most people who go to a traditional church will say: children are welcome… in the nursery or in the cry room. Parents who have babies, especially ones they are breastfeeding, are not allowed to be in the main area of the church. They are politely, or not so politely, asked to leave and sit somewhere else. Many churches have designed their services and buildings in a way that quietly ushers mothers with babies out of the area. I talked about this last year after one such incident. Sometimes, a sweet looking older lady will tell you that you are welcome to sit in a “cry room” where you may or may not be able to see and hear what is going on. Sometimes a pastor will ask to sit in the lobby. Sometimes, an usher will tell you that there is a lovely couch in the women’s restroom if you want to nurse.
Because I have personally encountered every one of these scenarios, I’d almost given up on going to church. I love Jesus, and church is a fantastic idea. In reality, church is the place where I feel judged the most, where I am often scooted to the outskirts, and where I struggle to fit in more than anywhere else.
I won’t lie: this is often because I push the boundaries of what many people think a good Christian should be like. My ears are gauged, I often dye my hair bright red, I have tattoos, I’m ADD, and I can be loud when I talk about something I’m passionate about. I had four kids in 6 years, but I’m not the picture-perfect version of a traditional conservative woman. I keep my kids close, and I don’t trust many people with them, even if they attend church. I know better than to think that because I’m running into you in a place of worship, that you’re perfect. I am not perfect, so why would you be? Just because you’re a Christian doesn’t mean I will hand my child over to you without question.
I’ve talked about family-integrated church before, and those churches are re-thinking what it means to go to church. They don’t require quiet babies to exit the building where the service is taking place, they allow contented toddlers to hang with mom and dad, and they keep in mind that families learning and growing together is more important than having an immaculate, silent service. People under 5 feet are not sentenced to spend 2 hours with strangers in germ-infested rooms (I’ve worked in some that were never cleaned by anyone until I spoke up) that are staffed with people who may or may not know how to care for children.
So, while I read news stories like this: “10 Reasons Why People Leave Church” by Benjamin L. Corey and this: “Dear Church, Here’s Why People are Really Leaving You” by John Pavlovitz,” I sit at home thinking: this is me. I’m part of this generation that wants to stay home and listen to a sermon online. I want to chat about Scripture over Google Hangouts with my best friend. I want to bring my Bible to coffee and talk about what I’m reading with people who also love Jesus. I want to read the commentary and the history myself, instead of getting involved with a church where the leaders may or may not be well-versed in Scripture because anyone can start a church. I want to pray in private and meditate on beauty in the middle of a quiet forest. I want real community and dialogue instead of going somewhere I’m talked at. I want to spend time working with people who help out in the neighborhood I live in, and who meet the needs of people that Jesus said we should be helping.
When you’re in your leadership group, or your church meeting, and you’re talking about why people are leaving the church, you’re talking about me. Many of us aren’t leaving Jesus, we’re leaving a system of worship and learning that was created by a different generation. We’re walking away from being told that we’re not good enough for God, not right now. We’re walking away from being told we need to go somewhere else. If you tell me that often enough, I just might listen.