I certainly don't expect every church to function the way that our church functions. Every culture, every community, every target group is different, and therefore, every church should decide for for herself the best way to "do church". My thoughts and opinions come out of my own experiences, come from the purpose, vision and strategy of my own church.
"You're welcome at our church."
"You're not welcome to cause a distraction to others when you have the ability and maturity to control said distraction."
At NHC, these are two things that we communicate to people, both in word and action. We believe that these two statements are not contradictory. We believe that these two statements better allow us to fulfill our purpose as a church, to reach people to discover life in Christ.
We also believe that there is a HUGE difference between parents who don't care about the distraction they are allowing and those people who come to church because they want to know God but may cause a distraction to others because of their natural tendencies. There will always be something that could be a distraction to me during a church worship service. The lady behind me sings off-pitch, the guys beside me smells funny, the couple in front of me plays footsies. But, it's my responsibility to not allow the natural distractions around me to keep me from worshipping God.
But, it is also my responsibility to be aware of my own naturally distracting habits. I like to bounce my legs when I sit, I like to fiddle with things in my hands when I'm listening, I like to move when I sing. However, corporate worship is not about me...corporate worship is about US giving worship to GOD, and I realize that simply doing what I want to do (bouncing my legs, etc.) can be a hindrance to the worship of those around me.
On Sunday mornings, I want my worship to be pleasing to God AND unifying to those around me. This means that I've got to be willing to lay aside my personal preferences and attempt to subdue my naturally annoying habits so that I don't distract others in worship. I certainly hope that those around me do the same, but I also realize that the people around me represent the spectrum of the spiritual journey...those who are maybe in church and hearing about God for the first time, and those who have known God intimately for many years...other people may not always smell, or look or act in a way that I find pleasing, but again, I can't allow that to distract me from worship.
But, as a church leader, it is also my responsibility to address those who choose to be or allow a distraction that prohibits others from worshipping. Whether we want to admit it or not, there are distractions in church that are impossible to ignore. Children, to continue to use the example I wrote about before, are not a distraction. Noisy, energetic, unattended, ill-mannered children CAN be an unignorable distraction.
We seek to be proactive in avoiding any possible distractions in worship. We make our nursery and kids church highly visible to everyone who enters our building. We have greeters who target young families and inform them of the options for their children. We invite young families to sit near the back of our auditorium so that they can limit any distractions their children might cause, and so that they can exit easily if necessary. We inform families with young children early in the service that many of the topics we discuss on Sunday morning are sensitive issues (sex, addiction, etc.) and give them one last shot to make use of our Kids Zone.
Nobody looks down on any family who chooses to bring their children into the auditorium. Nobody gives them a guilt trip. We have never had a family communicate anything but appreciation for our commitment to helping their entire family worship God.
And, when a child (or anything for that matter) becomes an ignorable distraction during a service, our ushers quietly invite their parents to follow them to the lobby where the parents can allow their kids to vent some energy AND still listen to the service. We have never once had a family refuse to exit the auditorium OR become upset with us that we asked them to exit.
In fact, just this past Sunday, one of our ushers did just that, and ended up having a long conversation with the family. They are new to our area and were checking out our church for the first time. He gave them a tour of our building and our Kids Zone and explained to them why family is so important to NHC.
Bottom line...they felt welcomed and valued. Those still in the auditorium also felt welcomed and valued (as did our preacher). Our usher made a much deeper connection with this family than he ever would have if he had not invited them into the lobby. And, their kids were able to see what they were missing in our Kids Zone.
Again, there are many different ways that we can worship God in a corporate setting. And, at NHC, there are many opportunities for parents and children to worship God together, far beyond Sunday morning. But, for our church, Sunday morning worship in our auditorium is targeted at adults who are seeking to learn more about God and grow in Him. Any kind of ignorable distraction simply prohibits that from taking place.
You might think that we're unwelcoming and unfriendly to families, but until you understand our strategy from an experiential point of view, it's hard to make that call. I'd love to discuss this further with anyone, which is why I wrote this second post.