I’m serious with the title of this post. What is it about our church buildings that makes us want to keep kids out of them? And, no, I probably don’t mean ALL kids. Our own kids are fine. The children of our friends are fine. Well-behaved, well-dressed, well-groomed, and well-mannered children are fine. But we tend not to want rambunctious kids running amok in our sanctuary or unattended children playing with toys in the nursery and we sure can get uptight when the youth group or the Boy Scouts or other group of young people leave behind a mess. Even the most welcoming pastor can have her heart sink when she sees the youngster spill the entire glass of after-worship juice on the floor.
Sometimes we’re so concerned about the physical plant of our building that make ourselves unavailable for the spiritual needs of young persons.
I’m not saying there aren’t some horror stories out there. The first church I served in Indiana had a horror story to tell me when I first got there. Apparently, several years before, there was a Boy Scout Troop using the upper classroom. No one is sure exactly how it happened but they somehow lit a garbage can on fire. No one was hurt and, from what I remember, very little damage actually happened. As they told me this story they finished it by saying, “And that’s why we won’t have the Boy Scouts back again!”
But it wasn’t just the Boy Scouts. They didn’t have a youth group anymore. There was no nursery care. No one could remember the last time they had Vacation Bible School. And there wasn’t much in the way of Sunday School for kids either. That one “trash can incident” made them not want to have any kids there at all.
So what is it?
Perhaps it’s because there’s a sense of “joint ownership” of church buildings and the sense that we need to treat the facility as if it belonged to the most nitpicky member of the community. Perhaps it’s because there we equate “holy” with “fancy” or pristine and can’t bear the thought of spills or scuff marks detracting from the perceived holiness of our facility. Perhaps it’s because so many churches are filled with older adults and we’re scared of them. Perhaps, because buildings as such huge financial responsibilities for churches, church committees see dollar signs with every handprint and tracked in mud and broken light fixture.
I don’t know.
What I do know is that last week I had to remind myself that the church should be open and welcoming of all children. AND THIS IS NOT SOMETHING I’D EVER SEE MYSELF NEEDING REMINDING OF.
See, I led a drama week for a local summer camp for kids. It was just one week. It was just three plays. It got me out in the community doing something that I love and hanging out with some pretty great kids for a week. It was a good thing.
Before the week started, we were just going to use our church in Seward for the “performance” of the skits for parents. It was to be a great, one-day use of our space (which is mostly unused during the summer). And the leadership of the church had talked about it.
But as the week began it became clear that it was really going to be best to have the kids there each day. It was going to be easier to focus on the plays.
What surprised me is that, for a very brief moment, I actually debated whether or not to have the kids in the church for a whole week. For a split second, I worried that we’d make too much of a mess. I had a fleeting thought about the clean-up it was going to take after five days of kids.
No one from our church had expressed any concern to me or rolled their eyes when we talked of it. And yet my missional vision for reaching out to those around us was temporarily blinded by my concern for a building…a beautiful, well-kept, yet ultimately soul-less building.
The week went on as expected. The performance was well-attended and we even had an ice-cream social afterwards. And the clean-up took all of 40 minutes or so with a couple of us working. It was a piece of cake. And I was thankful our church building could be a blessing to a large group of kids and parents for that time.
However, my brief hesitation made clear to me just how much work God still has yet to do in me so that to be as welcoming as I hope to be.
It’s just a building.