A View from the Pew: 5 Tips for Helping your Kids Pick a Church

We recently packed up our oldest and dropped him off at college for his first semester, setting off all the alarm bells parents experience when relinquishing direct control over their child’s choices.

As church-goers, my wife and I have been concerned about where—and how—he will worship. Our conversations have me wondering: is there a way to navigate this transition that helps your child make a good choice? Can you impart your values while simultaneously giving your children space to follow God’s call on their lives?

Here are five tips for dealing with this important stage of your child’s faith journey:

  1. Do it with them. There are many difficult experiences children go through on their way to adulthood. This doesn’t have to be one of them. You can make this a shared experience without guilting your child into making the same choices you made or avoiding the mistakes you made. Notice I said “with” and not “for.” This is one transition your child needs to make on their own. You simply can’t do this for them, or it will not be their decision. I’ve heard it expressed this way: everyone must reach a point where their values shift from learned to owned. Visiting them on a Sunday and worshipping with them in the church they have chosen may be the single most empowering action you can take to affirm the building of a lifelong habit of church attendance.
  2. Talk about it. If church is important to you, there is absolutely no reason not to bring it up. But how you talk about it makes all the difference in the world. Engaging with your child on why this needs to be a priority rather than putting them on the defensive is the way to go. Think in terms of “While you are looking for a church, have you thought about…” rather than “Why didn’t you go to this church this weekend?” or even “Why didn’t you go to church on Sunday?” Talking through the process of visiting churches will help them know what to expect.
  3. Don’t judge. I imagine this is easier if your child is making choices close to the faith expression you have chosen for your family. It gets tricky when they make choices that run counter to your tradition. Try to focus on the core beliefs and don’t get hung up on the style. Judging their choice, no matter how much you disagree with it, will drive a wedge between you and your child and prevent them from coming through the process. They may very well end up making a choice you affirm, but if you don’t give them room to try other faith expressions, they will shut you out of the process or worse, give up on it altogether.
  4. Celebrate their choice. Whatever type of church they choose to attend, be happy for them. Church is a place to go each week to be re-charged to go out into the world to serve. Affirm them for making the commitment to take responsibility for their spiritual care and feeding. When they talk with you about their experience, find ways to congratulate them for finding their place or for ruling out where they know God is not calling them. Each step is an opportunity for affirmation. Keep the end goal in mind and use positive reinforcement to get there.
  5. Pray for them. Like many of their decisions once they leave your house, your child’s church attendance is out of your control. And like many of the circumstances in your life that are beyond your control, you can give that over to God through prayer. The more this part of your child’s journey gives you anxiety and concern, the more frequently you can spend time with God in prayer about it. Your child is an autonomous person making their own decisions. God has given them the same freewill given to you. God may not change anything about their choices, but through prayer, you can come to see the situation as God sees it. That’s a much better vantage point for this amazing journey.

As always, I’m interested to learn from you. Those of you who have successfully navigated this tricky transition, please leave a comment and let us know how it went for you and what you did that worked… or didn’t.

Lance Wallace is a Baptist layperson and member of Parkway Baptist Church in Johns Creek, GA. He earns a living in higher education communications.

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