If, however, you currently have kids, or want to have kids at some time in the future, and believe that taking them to church is something you are going to want to do, then read on.
Let me start by saying that I believe parents need to steer their children to God. After all, Jesus said "Let the little children come unto me", not "Well, if they find me on their own, that'll be pretty good."
Think about it. The chances of a child finding religion on their own in their teens or twenties or older, are not very likely. Really. What teen wants to be told what to do? And don't we spend our entire childhood eagerly awaiting the day we can finally be our own boss? So why in the world would we think that suddenly after a decade or two or three of living however society says is okay (such as sleeping in on Sunday morning), our children would decide that they want to be restricted by what God says is okay (like getting out of bed on Sunday and putting on clothes that look presentable rather than being all that comfortable)?
Let me also say that I was not brought up going to church every Sunday. Up until age eight, I went occasionally with my maternal grandfather. He would come pick me and sometimes my younger brother up on a Sunday morning and take us to church with him. Or, if we spent the night at his house on Saturday, Sunday morning automatically meant we were going to church. He'd take us by himself, not with Grandma (who rarely went), and not with my parents (who at that stage very rarely went). Brave Grandpa. Obviously having us grandchildren exposed to religion was important to him.
From age twelve to about sixteen I did go to church just about weekly. I took the 7th & 8th grade catechism class, and got confirmed into the church. Mom and Dad made sure that my brother and I were worshiping regularly during our catechism years, but after my brother got confirmed, well, attendance was less important again. Kind of the "there, we did it, now we can go back to what we'd rather be doing" mentality.
Shortly after I turned twenty, I looked at DH (who was my live-in boyfriend back then) and said "I'm going back to church, and I want you to come too." Like me, he'd had a pretty hit and miss church attendance record in childhood. But the foundation was there, and we both recognized a need in our lives to hear the Word of God. We've gone to Sunday worship pretty much since then.
DS1 was two years old then. Teaching a two year old to sit still for an entire hour, out of the blue, takes some work. That was when I started accumulating tricks for training kids to go to church and not be a disruption. All his siblings went pretty much from birth onward, especially DD1 who made her first church appearance at the tender age of 49 hours old.
Trick #1: practice at home. Practice with your child, sitting still and quiet on the couch (or, if you have them on unpadded chairs or a wooden bench--much more like a church pew) for ten to fifteen minutes at a time. Whispers are okay, but not constant whispering.
Trick #2: bring a snack. Finger food, non-melting, non-sticky and preferably not crumbly. Most likely you should remove it from it's store packaging and put it into a container that does not make noise when little hands go in and out of it. From personal experience, I advise you to stay away from anything sugary. Bored toddlers and preschoolers amped up on sugar in a confined space (like a church pew) in a setting where they are supposed to be quiet is not a good situation. We did Cheerios for a while, but they tend to crumble into the carpeting when dropped (and they will get dropped) and stepped on (and they will get stepped on when they get dropped). What I finally settled with was Teddy Grahams, which were bite sized (so hard to choke on), didn't melt, weren't stick or crumbly, and I could measure a desired amount into a plastic container with a lid. I only let the kids eat Teddy Grahams at church, during the sermon (full mouths are quiet mouths). To this day, my teen and twenty-something offspring refer to Teddy Grahams as "Church Bears".
Trick #3: bring quiet activities. To expect a kid that is too young to go to school to sit and listen to the preacher for an entire hour is expecting too much. Really, what you are doing at this tender age by taking them to church is exposing them to God's Word, and training them how to be in church so that as they get older they will be able to retain more and more of what is being said there. So it is perfectly fine to have them playing quietly in the pew for part of the time. Quiet play means bringing soft, quiet toys. We had a collection of small stuffed animals that were kept in the "Church Bag" and, like the Church Bears, only accessible to the kids on Sunday in church. That way they don't get tired of those toys quite so quickly. I also rotated the toys in groups, each group only spending a couple of weeks in the Church Bag before it was the turn of another group to go to church and be played with. Other things that were kept in the Church Bag were religious themed board books (Jonah and the Whale, the Christmas story, the Easter story, Noah's Ark, etc), small pads of paper, and crayons or pencils (I really advise against markers in church, they seem to 'escape' onto things they shouldn't much easier than crayons of pencils do).
Trick #4: take the child to the bathroom when you get to church, and before sitting down in the pew. This aids in teaching them to sit still during the service. Because if you let them get up to use the bathroom a couple Sundays in a row, pretty soon they are using "I gotta go potty" as an excuse to get up and wander around. Which is totally the opposite of what you are trying to teach them. I'm not saying don't ever let them get up and use the bathroom once the service has started, sometimes that can't be avoided, but don't let it become a habit.
As a rule of thumb, I figured any kid old enough to go to school all day (so, first grade on; although 3 out of 4 of my kids did attend all-day Kindergarten three days a week) was old enough to be expected to stay in that pew the entire hour of the church service. Our denomination has a very participation-required kind of service in that, with the exception of the sermon, which usually is 20 minutes long, the congregation does a lot of stand up then sit down during the service (probably only sitting 5 min at a time before standing up again), and also a lot of hymn singing and responsive reading. So kids have opportunities to get some wiggles out with all that standing up and sitting down stuff, and make a little noise during the hymns. Really, the hard part is the sitting quietly for the twenty minutes of the sermon. And by kindergarten age, 20 minutes should not be too much to expect of a child.
Younger than kindergarten age, sometimes I did have to take my kids out of the sanctuary and to the smaller attached room known as the "Cry Room", because it was intended as a place for parents to take crying infants and noisy small children so they would not disrupt the worship of the rest of the congregation. As soon as the infant or child settled down, back into the sanctuary and our pew we would go. No staying in the Cry Room playing for the remainder of the service. No sir; because that would have taught them that they were in church to play, rather than to worship and learn God's Word. In fact, a few of mine, along about age three or so, got the bright idea that if they were bored and wanted to go to the Cry Room (where some toys and cushy furniture were kept) all they had to do was act up. Once I caught on to that, we skipped the cry room and went to the church basement (aka the fellowship hall where potlucks and other group events were held) instead. In the church basement there were no toys, and they had to sit on folding chairs. There was a speaker in the basement (and also in the Cry Room), which was always on during the service so that anyone down there could hear what the preacher was saying. Needless to say, my kids didn't like sitting in a folding chair in the usually darkened basement listening to the sermon via a speaker on the wall. No, sitting in the pew where they could see other people and the preacher was much more interesting. So that pretty much nipped the "I want to go play in the Cry Room so I'll just misbehave here in the pew" thing right in the bud.
What about older kids, you ask. What if your kids are all ready school age, but aren't used to going to church? How do you handle them?
Well, if they are all ready in school, they should have the concept of sitting down and being quiet while someone else is talking pretty much mastered. There should be no need to get up to use the bathroom (remember, do this before sitting in the pew in the first place). There should be no need for a snack to keep quiet. Although my kids did graduate from the Church Bears to Life Savers when they hit full-time school age. The Life Saver was a treat saved for during the sermon, and yes, it did keep them quiet. (My Grandpa used to give me a Certs during the sermon when I went to church with him, so this sermon treat thing wasn't totally my brainchild.) Toys should not be necessary, and no books either. Keep the little notepads and the writing or drawing tools, though. School age kids can doodle while they listen. Or they can be given an assignment to help insure they focus on what the preacher is saying during the sermon. I used to give my kids a word to listen for, a word like Jesus, or Savior, or sin, or love. They would make tally marks on their notepad for each time they heard that word during the sermon. For kids who are still learning their letters, give them the bulletin and have them do things like circle every letter 'A', or fill in every letter 'O', or underline every letter 'S' or some such activity.
Now, how about dealing with discipline problems in older kids who decide to be noisy? As I did with my smarty-pants three year olds who thought they'd figured out how to get play time, skip the Cry Room and go straight to the basement. As soon as they can sit quiet in the folding chair for as many minutes as they are old, take them back upstairs and sit in the pew again. If you have to repeat this more than twice in one service, or if you have multiple children who try to mutiny on you, as mine did one Sunday when DH was out of state for work and I had all four of them in church by myself (ie single parenting it that Sunday), you may have to execute a little tough love.
If you ask any one of my kids about the Sunday they all decided to be rotten little
Now, you might say "But wasn't that what they wanted? To leave church?"
No, it wasn't. They wanted to entertain themselves by misbehaving and give Mom a hard time in church. They didn't want to leave. That was quite evident by their dropped jaws and whispers of "But Mom, it's church, we're supposed to listen to God."
I quietly replied "But you aren't listening to God, because God tells you to obey your mother. And nobody else here can listen to God because you are being so disruptive."
I took them all straight home, where they had to go lie in their beds, no books, no toys, no talking, until it was the time we would normally return home from church. It was only when the clock had reached that exact moment were they allowed to do anything other than lie on the bed, stare at the ceiling, and think about their behavior.
I never had to do that again. It was effective. Not to say I didn't have times where I had to take one or another of them down to the basement for a few minutes during the service. But I never had them attempt a mutiny in church again. Honestly, I think that was about the time that "The Look" came into being. Meaning, a child would start to purposely act up, I would give that child the hairy eyeball, and they would immediately straighten up.
There is a reason that God says to train up a child in the way he should go. Because children don't train themselves. That is the responsibility of the parent. If you do your job right, they fit nicely into place in church. If you don't do your job, because let's face it, training a child is W-O-R-K, they are not going to know how to listen to God, or respect His Word, let alone the words of others. And if you don't think God's Word in important, but somehow you have kept reading this post thus far, let me say that all the things taught a child by church training (sitting still, being quiet, being respectful of others), are beneficial in all areas of his or her life. A kid who can sit still in church can also sit still in school. A kid who never has been taught to sit and listen in church isn't likely to do so in school. Think about it.