Depending on the person to whom you speak, there are either 3 or 4 marks of a true church. You have likely heard of at least three marks: the proper preaching of the word, the administration of the sacraments, and the utilization of church discipline. It is the so-called fourth mark of the church that puzzles me. Unfortunately, it is an alleged mark that causes people to leave congregations. What is it?
Children are very important and, according to Presbyterian ecclesiology, members of the church (Jer. 31:31-34). Covenant youth have every right to sit under the preaching of the word, interact with the saints of God, participate in other aspects of worship (e.g., singing, confession of sin, confession of faith, etc.). In fact, at Crown and Joy, children remain with us throughout the entire service. Furthermore, I have shared with the congregation virtually since day one, I am their children's pastor, too, and they have a right to be shepherded just as much as any adult.
For some, however, churches need to go a bit further. She needs the fourth mark. She must supply consumers with AWANA, Pioneer's Club, Vacation Bible School (VBS), children's church, and youth group. If some or all of those programs are unavailable, people leave churches. The other option is that people won't even visit your church if they find out those programs are unavailable. I have had several conversations with people about our church, and in doing so, one of the first questions I am sometimes asked is, "What is available for my children?" This inquiry precedes questions about the preaching of the word, administration of the sacraments, and church disciple. In fact, when someone asks that question, it is almost never followed by any questions about the three marks of the church. Needless to say, those persons do not visit our congregation.
Whether someone does not attend your church because you do not offer a variety of children's programs or someone decides to leave because, after a short season with you, they realize you will not have the programs they desire, their reason for leaving is invalid. I will go so far as to say if you maintain that a church must have a certain set of children's programs in order for you to remain in that local congregation, or she must have those programs before you are willing to visit, you require more than God.
This is not a rant about children's programs. They can be beneficial. Many children have come to faith in VBS or Pioneer's Club. Covenant youth are sometimes nourished in those programs, but those programs are benefits, not requirements. Unless I am missing something, you will not find one passage of scripture that remotely suggests a church must have certain children's programs in order meet a certain criteria for saints to attend. If the scriptures are silent regarding this area, why, then, do so many people leave churches that do not have numerous children's programs?