Many parents consider weekly church attendance a critical part of helping their children grow up with a strong testimony of God. However, church attendance is only one part of the process. A child or teen can easily attend church and then go home and forget all about the lessons learned until the next week. How do you help your child keep those valuable lessons learned on Sunday in his heart all week? How do you help him put the lessons into practice in real life?
Getting the most from church begins before the child attends. It’s important that Sunday morning (or whichever day you attend church) start out calm and peaceful. To do this, the day before church needs to be a day to prepare for church. Help children choose their nicest clothes for church. While God doesn’t necessarily care about our clothing, choosing the nicest things we own allow us to demonstrate our respect for Him. We dress up to go to job interviews, parties, and meetings with important people. God is the most important being in our lives and church, which is His home, should be the most important place we go. Dressing up helps children recognize that visiting God’s home to learn about Him is the most important thing we do all week. The clothing does not need to be expensive or fancy, but it should be the nicest clothing we own. Mormons encourage their female members to wear dresses, for instance, and their men to wear dress slacks, white button front shirts, and sports jackets. They dress the way they would for other special events. The clothing isn’t party clothing, but rather it is modest and “dressed up.”
Make sure the clothing is clean, pressed, and set out. This ensures there are no frantic rushes to find something to wear. Pack whatever is going with you the night before. Plan breakfast. Go to bed at a reasonable hour and get up with plenty of time to get ready and a little time to spare. Make sure Sabbath morning is peaceful and unhurried, no matter how early you have to be at church.
Take some time Sunday morning to set a spiritual tone. Have a family prayer and spend a few minutes reading scriptures together. Talk about spiritual things over breakfast and in the car. Play soft church music to set the mood.
Before entering the church building, review the rules of behavior with your children. Set high standards and your children will surprise you by eventually living up to them. Take them for a walk around the church just before the meeting begins to ease restlessness and then settle them in time to get them ready to be reverent when the service starts. If children attend services, as they do in Mormon churches, bring small quiet things to keep them busy. Gradually reduce what is brought until toddlers or preschoolers have only a doll and a book. When they are about three years old, begin delaying the moment the toys come out. When they handle that delay well, delay a little longer.
Encourage children to listen to the sermons or talks by letting them know you’ll be talking about them after church. Play quiz games and discuss the topic on the way home. When they know it will be talked about, they are more likely to listen.
Find a way to learn what your children are learning in their classes. Mormons put the lesson manuals online, allowing parents to read the upcoming lessons each week. If your church does not do this, ask the teacher to give you a list of upcoming themes or scripture stories. This allows you to reinforce what is being learned at church.
Suppose you know your child is learning about Noah and the ark on Sunday and that the story is being told to help children learn obedience to God’s commandments. Knowing this is coming up, you can plan to do activities related to this lesson at home. On Sunday evening, you might decide to ask the children to retell the story and then you might read it together from the Bible or a children’s Bible. Ask questions to make sure they remember the important parts of the story and that they understand what lesson they were supposed to take from it. Then you might follow up with something fun related to the story. Children enjoy making puppets and putting on shows. You don’t need fancy puppets. The children learn better when they make their own. You could even have them act the story out with their stuffed animals and dolls. Try putting the dining room chairs into a circle to represent the ark and letting your children be the animals. You can be Noah. Then switch roles and let the children gather you into the ark. Perhaps you’d like to try making some Noah’s ark crafts. Let your children decide what to make and how to make it. Maybe this is a good time to make a boat—a little one, of course, maybe for the bathtub.
Prepare for these impromptu craft sessions by collecting a box of “junk.” The things you might throw away often represent creative opportunities for children. Cereal boxes, string, nails, old jewelry, bits of foil…use your imagination. Bring out the box and let the children dig through it to find what they need.
Can you think of a game to go with the story? If you can’t, your children can. When I taught Noah’s ark to my toddler class at church, I drew a very simple ark on a piece of science fair board and cut out a door. The children enjoyed taking cutout animals, matching them up, and dropping them in pairs through the door. The very youngest toddlers were happy just pushing the animals through the doors. Acting like the animals topped off our fun lesson.
Throughout the week, take time to talk about the story and tie it to your family’s lives. What situations do you face that are similar to the challenges Noah faced? Imagine how people reacted as they watched Noah building an ark in the desert. Do your children think people made fun of him? Have they ever been in a situation where people made fun of them for doing the things God wants them to do? What can they learn from Noah that would help them in that situation?
Look for ways to implement the lesson behind the story in your own lives in the coming week. Perhaps you could set a family goal to keep one commandment better than you have been.
Your children’s teachers have them for a very short time each week. It is not enough time to give your children the spiritual strength they need to grow up firm in their faith.
There are two goals to keep in mind as you plan. The first is to help the children learn the stories or scriptures that were taught, so they become a part of their personal memory. The second is to understand that what is taught in class is meant to change their everyday lives and influence their eternal lives. By helping your children apply what they learn, church attendance becomes more than just a nice feel-good tradition. It becomes a way of life.