Promoting Reverence by Making Sacrament Meeting Child-friendly

kids stacking hymnbooks in church

Bored kids entertain themselves by making a hymnbook tower during Sacrament Meeting

There is currently a churchwide campaign to improve Sabbath Day observance. While Sacrament meeting is only part of the Sabbath day, many local congregations are focusing on Sacrament Meeting reverence.

I am pleased that Church leaders have been addressing this issue by not only encouraging members to adopt better personal behavior, but also by looking at policy solutions, such as moving Sacrament Meeting planning from the all-male bishopric to the Ward Council, a larger group that includes women.

I have some more policy ideas. I am a mother of four Primary-aged children and motherhood is my single greatest barrier to Sacrament Meeting reverence. Some elderly members of my congregation have helpfully informed me that their children were much better behaved than mine are. I suspect that these people have either forgotten what it is like to hush a whole rowful of children through a long meeting that is not age-appropriate for them, or that they raised their children back when naughty children used to get whippings. I think my children might be quiet if I threatened them with a whip, but I am not going to do that (even if I actually do want to whip them by the time Sacrament Meeting is over). What if we tried some of these strategies instead?

• Consider offering Primary and Nursery during Sacrament meeting. Of course, the downside to this solution is that some adults would need to miss the meeting to attend to the children.

• Shorten Sacrament Meeting. It would be easier to keep children satisfied for a meeting that is 30-45 minutes long, instead of over an hour long.

• Have Bishopric members sit with their families so they can help their wives care for children during the meeting.

• Allow multimedia presentations and visual aids during Sacrament Meeting. Many chapels are already equipped with movie screens and projectors. The church already offers quality videos, music and images at lds.org, but current policy limits their use to class time, not Sacrament Meeting.

• Allow music to play during the passing of the Sacrament.

• Allow a wider variety of musical instruments and musical styles, including upbeat numbers people can clap along to. Quieter is not necessarily more reverent.

Many of these suggestions would not only make Sacrament Meeting more entertaining for children but for their parents as well. Of course, feeling entertained is not the same as feeling reverent, but boredom is not reverence either. Better engaging children and adults might facilitate an atmosphere where reverence is more likely and temper tantrums less so.

April Young Bennett

April Young Bennett is an advocate, mother, professional, lover of the arts, hater (but doer) of housework and seeker of truth. Podcast: Religious Feminism Podcast Twitter: @aprilyoungb

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38 Responses

  1. Olea says:

    Kids are people too, and they need that time to think about Jesus, to develop a relationship with God that accesses the power of the sacrament. I agree that the meeting is too long, and we should basically always try to have as much music as possible (and maybe we can try some different styles of music), but I think a lot of people would find the clapping jarring (myself included – and I used to go to the weekly “praise music” club at lunch time in high school).

    Maybe we can have quiet books in chapels for families with children, and toys that encourage quiet, independent play (puzzles, colouring, sorting/matching games, mazes). One less thing for families to remember in the mornings, and a source of novelty for the kids. Maybe we can have a primary speaker in sacrament meeting, to remind us that these children are participant, and help us connect with the children that we once were (and help us get to know the children in our community). Definitely, the meetings can be shorter without losing anything.

    • joy says:

      I have 3 boys and i come to sacrament alone.. sometimes it is a struggle ) they are 18mo, 5, and 7. I don’t think that changing sacrament is going to help.I also feel that changing it to fit them dosent teach them anything. I am a teacher and children who are not taught how to sit still, get wiggly even with movies. children need to be told expectations and you need to stick to those and train them to sit throught it. also you need to bring things to entertain your children and keep them quite. maybe you miss stuff but you are doing what is right and showing them that sacrament is important during the passing of the sacrament i tell my kids what is happening and explain why and bear my testimony to them in a quite whisper.. it gets better just keep at it

  2. Olea says:

    Sorry about the weirdo parentheses – was supervising snack time for three small children while writing my comment.

  3. Heidi says:

    These are great ideas, April. I also like plenty of time to stretch and move for kids.

  4. spunky says:

    Fun ideas! I still like the sacrament to be quiet, but also appreciate soft music.

    How about if the themed- sacrament meetings came with colouring sheets and word finds? (and crayons!)

  5. HokieKate says:

    Some local churches have everyone together for a welcome and administration of the sacrament, and then the children leave for “children’s church” held during the main sermon.

    Glass “cry rooms” would also be nice.

  6. Emily U says:

    This post makes me think of what reverence really is. I think when our leaders say reverence they really mean quiet. I’d have to think about what reverence means; I’m not sure I could come up with a definition to satisfy myself.

    In my experience churches that have kids leave after the children’s sermon have a very hard time retaining teenagers (I’ve always been Mormon but I’ve also attended other churches for quite a few years). I wouldn’t give up keeping kids in sacrament meeting because I think it’s good training to practice being present for worship services.

    I think we have to accept some level of noise as a cost of keeping kids in the meeting, and be OK with that.

    However, I agree we should definitely do better at making the whole thing less painful for kids and parents. I like the suggestions to shorten sacrament meeting, to have music during the sacrament, and to provide quiet activities for kids. How about also singing Primary songs in sacrament meeting, that the kids know and can participate in. I think using visual aids and having a talk directed to the kids would be great, too. Sacrament meetings are currently (usually) conducted as if the kids aren’t there, and this is clearly not working well for anyone.

  7. Caroline says:

    Love this post, April.

    I think it’s interesting to think about how other churches handle this. At a UCC I go to sometimes, kids come to the main meeting for the first 15 minutes, then go off with their kids classes for the rest of the time — unless they are doing communion that day, in which the kids come back early so they can take it with their parents. So kids are taught in an age appropriate way and parents get to enjoy the meeting in peace. They also have a cry room for parents with infants. Which is awesome. I’d love to see our churches experiment with some of these ideas — not to mention many of the things you mentioned, April. I would particularly love it if we had good music during the sacrament.

  8. Christine says:

    Sacrament meeting is for families. Children can learn how to be reverent but it takes years… Like 15 years, sometimes longer. I’m sorry the elderly folks made you feel like that. I think a solution might be to have special wards for elderly members. They do this already in some retirement areas. I also feel though that families need to actively teach reverence to their young children. I often see picnic lunches brought out and spread on the benches along with huge bags of loud interactive toys. I understand that simple quiet snacks might be necessary but it is often much more than that. I raised five children. I didn’t take toys or food. They couldn’t make paper airplanes from the program and they couldn’t rest their heads in the bench in front of them. Sometimes we lasted only 10 minutes, then we worked up to 15 etc… It took years but as they got older we all learned. It’s fun to hear them all talk about it now. It wasn’t a punishment to leave sacrament to let little legs stretch and walk the halls for a little bit,We just quietly went out and returned when it was time. We kept snacks in the car for a treat after church. They learned how to be reverent but it was a process and they really can learn. I don’t think we need primary or nursery during the time designated for sacrament meeting, but I do agree than an hour and 10 minutes is too long. 45 minutes would be a welcome change. We don’t need to be entertained, we just need to seek to feel the spirit of the sacrament and through he talks we hear there.

    • EOR says:

      Hmm, really? I attended Sacrament Meeting for nigh onto 20 years, and never once as part of a family. I didn’t realize I had been doing it wrong all along.

      The family worship is way too strong in The Church. And blasphemous to boot.

    • TopHat says:

      When we had 11-2 church and had to leave the house at 10 to get there, you bet I brought a full-on picnic lunch and gave it to my kids in sacrament- when else would we have it? In the 10 minutes between meetings? We wouldn’t get home until almost 3- there was no time for lunch at all.

      Next year church is 12:10-3:10. We will have to leave the house at 11 and won’t get home until 4. Again, the kids will miss lunch if we don’t bring a picnic lunch. That’s just how it is and if people want to judge us for that, I guess they are free to do so.

      • Andrew R. says:

        Those are just stupid times for the 3-hour block. I don’t know the circumstances, but 12:10 to 3:10???

    • Andrew R. says:

      “45 minutes would be a welcome change. We don’t need to be entertained, we just need to seek to feel the spirit of the sacrament and through he talks we hear there.”

      Yesterday we had a baby blessing and a confirmation. Due to the blessing we also had about 20% extra in attendance. By the time the sacrament had been passed it was gone 2:30 (we start at 2pm). If the meeting was 45 minutes we would have had 10 minutes for testimonies. If, and it happens, someone who doesn’t fully understand that a testimony is a brief declaration of belief, primarily in the Saviour and the Atonement, were to have gotten up they may well have been the only testimony.

      I was a child when sacrament meeting was 1½ hours. My Dad was on the bishopric and/or organist. There were 4 of us, we were never beaten – and we also never left the meeting for anything other than nappy (diaper) change, or very infrequently the toilet.

      We have had 7 children – I have served on the bishopric and the high council. As a result my wife has spent years alone. Again, our children have never been beaten, nor have they left the meeting (caveat as above).

      • MJ says:

        You must have an unusually large number of blessings and confirmations in your ward. I can’t remember the last time we had a baby blessing–most opt to do it at home when family is able to be in town. We only have Sunday confirmations for converts, which is maybe a couple times a year. Hardly makes for a 45 minute sacrament meeting unreasonable. I assume you are somewhere in the jell-o belt? I can’t imagine a 20% jump in attendance for those things either. In smaller wards having a shorter meeting would also make the rotation for speaking less frequent, which I know many would welcome!

  9. Kari says:

    I know some parents seemingly make it work. But as I deal with my daughter’s newly diagnosed ADHD, putting a 504 into place with the school, it makes me appreciate just how non-diverse-learning-style-friendly our sacraments can be. It may be that some kids can go without snacks or toys. But some need full picnics to keep their blood sugar levels stable. My daughter actually pays better attention when she’s able to doodle. Audio-visuals (think photos that illustrate a point) are used in General Conference, they would make a huge difference for visual processors in sacrament.

    I also wonder if those elders who managed to do it with *their* kids were not doing it at the end of a 3 hour block schedule? (Which isn’t to say there weren’t downsides to that schedule, either, I recognize. ) What if we made a bigger deal out of standing up during the rest hymn, consistently, or allowing people a minute to chat with a neighbor a la pass the peace as a way to get us all up and moving?

    Thanks for the post!

    • Andrew R. says:

      “I also wonder if those elders who managed to do it with *their* kids were not doing it at the end of a 3 hour block schedule? ”

      Which may well be why we are being asked to have the sacrament meeting first in the schedule, except where not possible due to multi-unit building use.

      Having sacrament meeting from 4pm to 5:30pm after having started the day at 7am when my Dad took use with him to Bishopric meeting (church as a 25 mile round trip in the 70’s oil crisis) probably had us a little restless too. Some weeks between Sunday School finishing and sacrament meeting starting we stayed at the chapel because Dad and Mum (RSP) had correlation and welfare meetings.

      I think the 3 hour block is fine!

      • Melissa says:

        It is great that three hours is fine for you. And I think your wife is a saint for being with her children alone at meetings while you were at your meetings. Not all of us can function in the way that your family has. I have three sons, and am in grad school. I need my husband’s help. I have felt so guilty about that in the past, but I have cast that off this year. We are not all made the same, and it is not a sin for us to be different. It just means that we aren’t the same. God thinks it is great actually. We need to make a little more room for differences in the church rather then expecting others to fit nicely into the paradigm. I work on teaching my children reverence just as much as the next mother. I’m just saying that just because a three hour block works well for you (which may or may not have been easy due to the fact that you weren’t with your children anyway?), does not mean that it will be the easiest thing for other families. Let’s be compassionate.

  10. Latterdaynerd says:

    I always hold as suspect any Brother or Sister who talks about their kids behaviors if they children are older then I am. The block schedule is a wonderful and taxing program and the divided schedule we had before was a entirely different animal.

    I remember sitting in an empty classroom week after week with my nursery age son waiting for him to be ready to go back to sacrament meeting. And doing the same (although progressively less often,) with each of my other three sons. Were they reverent? How should I know? They WERE being quiet, however. And that seemed to be the same thing in the eyes of the ward.

    Now, as teens and tweens, they will occasionally listen to the speaker. But mostly read their scriptures or Church magazines. Quietly.

    I would like a shorter block for sacrament. 50 minutes to an hour would be nice. (Instead of the current hour and 15 minutes.) And I’m all for more hymns and gospel centered musical pieces. I think a more reverent atmosphere could be achieved with the right kind of heart. We pray as a reward for moisture throughout a week. Let’s do the same for reverence.

  11. Marivene says:

    I don’t believe music during the passing of the Sacrament would be appropriate. We don’t play music during any other ordinances, so why would we do so during this ordinance?

    • sar says:

      Except for that soundtrack in the temple…

      • Andrew R. says:

        The presentation of the endowment is not an ordinance. The parts when we make covenants do not have a sound track, and there is no incidental music as we pass through the veil, or in the Celestial Room.

  12. EFH says:

    I have such a big issue with reverence. I want it, I need it but it is so difficult to do it with little children.

    Members in US have such an unreasonable expectation of children. I think it has to do with US culture in general because I see the same expectation in restaurants, museums and any other public places – pregnant mother’s dragging crying and screaming toddlers out of the playgrounds when they have a fit so they don’t make a scene in public. I never see such scenes in other countries. Yes, I see children throwing a fit and crying but all adults keep their cool about it. No one gets offended and no one says “your kid is horrible”.

    We need to sympathize with the children. None of the speakers prepares a talk at their level, not even for the 8 years old primary children. Not many wards make sure to include a child from the primary to speak at Sacrament every Sunday. We give Primary only one day a year for a Primary program when I think children would enjoy preparing a song for Sacrament every week. Why not? They do not have any roles in the current administration of church. Christ taught via parables – simple stories for all to understand – and there were many children in the crowds that followed him.

    And since the LDS Church started placing more emphasis on reverence I see some useless actions in Primary – more reprimands for children who don’t stay quite and they get excluded from rewards because of it. We as a society create organizations such as schools and churches for children to fit in them rather than for them to fit the needs of children. Come on people, be real. Have compassion for your children.

    Primary should be a fun two hours and not another system that fails them because they are not reverent enough or good enough. And don’t get me started on schools since it is off topics. But please put yourself in the shoes of children you raise or teach or meet in your daily life and understand their limitations, their impulses and that the lack of attention is very age appropriate and lack of reverence has nothing to do with it. How can they be curious when they are not allowed to speak, to move for most of the day? Oh but they have to do it in a nice and appropriate way. It sounds to me like the rhetoric “it is not what you are asking but the WAY you ask it”.

    In primary, teach them topics about children rather than on and on about prophets and issues that are beyond their years. We can’t wait for them to be righteous members of the church and we dump on them all these expectations and information that is not helpful at all. Why not have a playground at church? Or a garden where children can go on walks or explore nature and listen to the sounds of nature? The best that Primary can offer is friendship among children that share the same religious and spiritual background. These relationship will sustain their faith when they start not getting along with their families and hang out with not very positive people.

  13. Marivene says:

    “Members in US have such an unreasonable expectation of children. I think it has to do with US culture in general because I see the same expectation in restaurants, museums and any other public places – pregnant mother’s dragging crying and screaming toddlers out of the playgrounds when they have a fit so they don’t make a scene in public. I never see such scenes in other countries.”

    I don’t think members in the US have unreasonable expectations of children. I do think some of our parenting methods could use a little more consistency. Too many young children do not really have any schedule or training in their lives, which makes it rather difficult for them to suddenly “sit quietly” for a long time.

    One of our daughters is in Switzerland right now, for several months, with a young baby & her husband. In Switzerland, if your baby crying disturbs the people in other apartments around you, they call the police, who then come to your door & lecture you about not disturbing others. One of her husband’s co-workers, who moved there from Italy, has had the police at their door – twice. It was not an experience he wanted to repeat.

    When I was in France 40 some years ago as a sister missionary, I do not recall seeing a child throw a tantrum — ever. Not once, the entire 15 months I was in country. It was unacceptable social behavior & we were told by the member sisters that their children were taught very young not to do that. I wish now I had asked them how they did that.

    • scoopy says:

      I do not think children SHOULD sit quietly for long periods of time. I think it’s ridiculous that we think children will feel joyful and happy to come to church if all they do is sit. They are tuning it out, bored and I don’t blame them at all.

      • EOR says:

        Why should children not be taught to sit quietly?

      • Andrew R. says:

        “I do not think children SHOULD sit quietly for long periods of time.”

        An hour and ten minutes is NOT a long time. It is quite a short time really.

      • Melissa says:

        Again, Andrew, it is a short time for the man who was not with his children during the worship service. I’m sure you had many lovely sacraments without them. It is not bad for children to learn to sit, but it is not bad for them to be allowed to move either.

      • Andrew R. says:

        Melissa, FYI (and maybe I should have said earlier) we had five children before I was first called to the High Council and did not always sit with my wife. I have dealt with children in Sacrament meeting.

  14. Joanne says:

    April, you have again come up with very sensible, practical, much-needed ideas for new practices in the church. How many male decision-makers at the highest levels of the church have spent years, week after week, Sunday after Sunday, struggling with kids through church at the same level of intensity and involvement as their wives have? This underscores again why we desperately need women in church governance at the highest levels in positions with real voice and decision-making power, positions that are more than just “going along” with whatever the brethren decide.

  15. Tina says:

    Besides the actual passing of the sacrament, I vote for one youth speaker (or short conversion story), one main speaker (15 min), and *way* more music (with a wider variety of instruments). That would make it far more tolerable for both adults and children. I also like how other churches make the worship interactive, like by having congregants turn to their neighbors and shake their hands and either introduce themselves or say, “Peace be with you,” or something similar. Anything to break up the monotony!

  16. Aubrie Ramos says:

    I do not believe that children in Europe or past generations are better than modern US children. Remember Europe’s low birthrate. Maybe one reason for this is their intolerance of normal behavior of children. Sacrament meeting as it is now is not age appropriate for children under 7 period. I do not think having an alterative activity for children would lead to inactivity in teenagers either. I say have a nursery for children under 7 supervised on a rotating basis by the members during sacrament. Once children are 7 they can have a year in sacrament to prepare for baptism, and then they are full fledged members who attend every week. Once my children have been around 7 they can tolerate sacrament meeting even if they do not find it fun. Children under that age have always been with me or my husband in the hallways. Do not judge others if your children can sit through the meeting. All children are different and their attention span has very little to do with parenting. I have learned this through raising my three children with different personalities. Judge not that you be not judged.

  17. Sara says:

    I was really interested in the title of this article and I think it makes some really good points. However, I want my children to be adept in many situations, not just those that are geared toward children. I have high expectations for them that I believe are reasonable. I want them to learn to use soft voices or even silence in certain situations and I reinforce that in sacrament meeting. I’m all about making sacrament meeting more meaningful for children, but wasn’t crazy about some of the ideas suggested.

    • I want my kids to be with me during sacrament meeting for the reason mentioned above but mainly because I think there is benefit for them. My four year old is learning to look inward and sit in silence and I value that.

    • I enjoy sacrament meeting for myself and would be disappointed if it was only 30-45 minutes long. I feel that there is too much to lose and that we need to find balance, as mentioned before, where kids can adapt as well. Daily life needs to work for all of us, not just the children.

    • I don’t really have a comment on bishopric members sitting with their children. No problem here.

    • I’m all for multimedia presentations when they are done well but the idea of watching slide show after slide show or sappy movies with emotional music all the time makes me disinterested in attending at all. I wonder how this could be regulated to make sure that talks were on point. People already have a challenge with this without imagery and sound entering the picture.

    • I prefer no music during the sacrament. I don’t want the lyrics of a hymn controlling my thoughts.

    • I’m all about more upbeat music. Bring on the clapping! I’ve been in many spiritual forums where this was highlighted.

    So all in all, I’m in with the big picture but am reticent with some of the suggestions. Maybe I’m especially lucky that people around us don’t seem to be too bugged when my kids make noise. There’s a lady who brings stickers for the kids, another who is a reliable source for picture books and a man who hands out jolly ranchers with each handshake. For our family, the solution to this problem can be found in openhearted, understanding ward members rather than big changes to the policies.

  18. Alexis says:

    In all the years I attended church I couldn’t sit through sacrament meeting. As a kid I would color, play, move around and cause my parents headaches. As a teenager I would bring food, read non church books, draw, lay on the pew to take a nap. As an adult I would look at my phone, write notes, talk, or fall asleep. It was never because my parents lacked at trying to teach me to sit quietly. I never had problems sitting in school and paying attention. But there is something about sacrament meeting – I just can’t pay attention. It’s boring and has never held my attention. I actually stopped attending church once I had children, so I don’t know how I’d handle trying to get my 3 kids, ages 5, 4, and 3, to sit still.

  19. MD says:

    I spend sacrament meeting wrestling my young children. Then I spend two hours wrestling other people’s kids in primary. Takes me the entire week to recover. I am burned out. I don’t give a crap an more if my kids disturb others during sacrament. I have not been spiritually or socially fulfilled at church for years. I’ve been banished to primary or the mother’s lounge with a nursing bab for years.

    • Andrew R. says:

      April, whilst I understand the thrust of what you are trying to achieve I don’t really see how any of your suggestions would help much.

      • Sacrament meeting is a time for family worship. Also, in a small unit with a lot of children, you could have more people in the “Primary” than Sacrament meeting. Those serving in Primary would not get to speak in Sacrament meeting. Really not a good idea, sorry.

      • I’ve addressed this in another comment. But basically with blessings and confirmations 45 minutes would be too short. Maybe 1 hour might work.

      • The point of the bishopric being on the stand is in part to be an example of reverence (not that that is always achieved I grant). In my experience the bishoprics’ children are not usually the worst. Quite often there can be two parents and a couple of children causing the most disturbance.

      • I am not really sure what you mean. You could mean show a short film, or just allow speakers to use AV. Either way I think it could become difficult to control. There are copyright issues, people trying to outdo others with their presentation, and that it may not be appropriate, so each would have to be vetted prior to sacrament meeting. So not practical, and really for lesson time I feel.

      • There is no place for distractions in the partaking of the sacrament.

      • There are plenty of upbeat hymns in the hymn book. The problem is they are often played too slow. I think the church music policy works well, but it is not fully adopted. More musical items for instance.

      As I said the thrust of your argument for better Sacrament meetings is great. Just not sure you have hit the nail on the head. More music would be good, always having an intermediate hymn, and standing for it.

      Spunky mentioned themed colouring or word sheets. I think that’s great and something a ward council could come up with – ie it doesn’t need world-wide policy change.

      Different units in different situations need different solutions.

      I do believe that too many people pay too much mind to what other peoples’ children are doing. Is there noise in my ward? Yes. Is it a distraction to me? No, not often, we choose to sit in the second row and focus our attention on the meeting. I’ve had 7 children, I know that can’t all be perfect, and certainly not all the time. But children learn, and they understand expectations. It is not the responsibility of leaders, and ward or general level, to change things so that it is easy for those with 0 to 10 year old kids.

      Those of us with children often get spiritual moments as we kneel to pray with them, read the scriptures with them, and answer their questions. For us a 20 minute sacrament meeting where we just partake of the sacrament would be fine.

      But for those with no children, maybe single, this “sweet hour of prayer” may be vital for their spiritual well being.

    • Melissa says:

      My heart goes out to you! Stay at home mothers (or fathers) of young children should be spared primary calling, IMO.

      • Andrew R. says:

        And I agree, in so far as it is possible. In many units across the world there would be no Primary if such were policy.

  20. Bree says:

    If kids can sit through a 90 minute movie, they can sit through sacrament. I’ve rarely had one of my kids come to me midway though a movie claiming starvation.

    There’s nothing holding kids back from learning how to be quiet and still… there’s just a lack in parenting. I struggle too, but I always considered it to be my fault, not the fault of the church.

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