I think about this question over and over again in relation to churches. I don't think children have a prominent place in the thinking in many Anglican churches. I don't feel that children should be the focus of the church but that they be recognised as equal members who have a right to belong.
I was pondering this thought experiment whilst settling LittleLanky down to sleep earlier. I stress this is a thought experiment before I get myself into hot water!
You belong to a church that has lots of young people and middle aged people who are all quite vibrant. You like similar music to the people around you, you appreciate the liturgy, the times of silence during the prayers are magical and the sermons are a wonder of academic excellence that take at least 25 minutes. (I've never been to a church like this so don't worry that I'm having a dig at someone!).
The only fly in the ointment is that you have a number of older people in the congregation who are a little bit noisy and can be a bit disruptive. They sometimes take unexplained journeys round the church with their zimmer-frames (with their carers in hot persuit) and the rustling of the toffee wrappers always starts up during the Eucharistic prayer (ok this one point is real - my grandma could always be relied upon to supply some kind of sustenance during a service, I like to think I will continue this tradition!).
So it seems like a good idea to take the older people out to the church hall during the sermon and give them a slightly simplified version of it and a cup of tea. They seem to really enjoy it and they go back in for communion, so all is well.
So what's wrong with my thought experiment church? I find it a hideous idea that this would ever happen with elderly people and I've never seen it happen ever, but why is it any different when we do it with children? It's not a perfect thought experiment as we can't directly compare the two groups but it struck a chord with me.
We don't take children out of churches due to any poor motivations, far from it, but we are reducing their interaction with the church service every time we do it.
I don't know what the answer is, I barely know what question I'm asking.
I think the following things are true:
1) Younger children often make noise in church (in LittleLanky's case sometimes an enormous amount of noise!)
This can get irritating for all people concerned, as the sound of screaming will never be an attractive sound for anyone, least of all the parents. So after a while parents get embarrassed and fed up, so they take their children out to another location to let everyone else worship in peace.
I think often parents are much more acutely aware of the noise than anyone else. I completely understand though as you do feel like you're the centre of attention when your child is screaming.
2) Children can get bored by the service.
This is true. Counteracting this boredom is one of the biggest successes of Sunday schools and godly play sessions. It brings church alive for children.
I just wish it could happen in the same space as the rest of the congregation. That we could co exist rather than separate.
Perhaps the children should stay in church to do godly play and those who want to hear the sermon can pop out to the church hall. I think it would force the vicar into preaching a good sermon!
3) Children can learn more if they go to another location and have a lesson on a story from the bible.
I think this is true but at the expense of learning more about the church service they have left.
4) It's enjoyable for the children to be part of a group.
Again I think it's true, but they could have a sense of this and still be in the church.
Ultimately I think some of it comes down to being part of a group that doesn't just meet once a week.
One of the reasons that some of our church activities have been so successful is because the children are all part of a tight knit group and meet during the week at many different activities. If in a parish church most of your congregation only meet once a week for an hour you are naturally limited on what you can do for anyone.
I'm starting to think that children particularly need many opportunities to interact with the church during every week and that the church needs to get its act together to interact with them.
Hmmm, this all seems like a big job!