A View from the Pew: When Your Kids Don’t Like Church

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We make our children do lots of things they don’t want to do.

Homework. Brush their teeth. Go to school. Take a bath. Go to bed. Eat their vegetables. Share their toys. The list goes on and on.

Many of these activities are non-negotiable for our children. We insist on conformity because we are the parents, and we believe we know best on a particular issue. But for many families, attendance at church or church activities can be tricky.

Forcing their kids to brush their teeth won’t threaten their lifelong dental health. In fact, it’s just the opposite. Helping them to instill the habit as children will lead to a lifetime of good dental health. But many parents believe that forcing their kids to attend church will cause them to turn away from faith and abandon the church.

I will confess up front that I grew up in the “never miss” camp and have employed that philosophy in our own household. Still, the question is legitimate, so here are five strategies for addressing your children’s reluctance to go to church:

Give up. I didn’t say “good strategies,” I just said “strategies.” Alas, many parents opt for this approach, allowing their kids to drive their entire family away from church attendance and involved membership. Rather than fight regular battles with their children, parents give in and let their children’s spiritual formation suffer. Make no mistake, when you elect to give in to your child’s reluctance to attend church, you are sending a clear message about your own priorities and giving your children a life lesson that will be hard for them to unlearn.

“Because I said so.” Parents often resort to tried-and-true method of forcing the issue without discussion. The upside is that it gets your children in church. The downside is that resentment can build, causing your children to bolt for the door as soon as they’re old enough to make the decision for themselves. This strategy often comes from a place of frustration or lack of patience. I’d describe it as a short-term solution at best.

Empowering good decisions. Many parents feel a need to over-explain and over-discuss everything. That said, it can be really helpful to sit down with your children, depending on their ages, and help them identify their reasons for not wanting to attend church. Then, make a chart with them listing the advantages of church attendance and the disadvantages, as they see them. Help them see that there are some advantages they may not be thinking of, especially long-term advantages. It’s risky, but you may have even give them the opportunity to make the decision one week. If they elect to stay home, then you have a follow-up discussion on what that experience was like and what was missed. You don’t have to let them stay home every week to make this point, but if they know you take them seriously, you may win them over to your side without an argument.

Faith learned vs faith owned. The hope of every person of faith who is also a parent is that their child(ren) will choose to make worship attendance a life-long commitment. We hope that a genuine profession of faith and authentic relationship with Jesus Christ will emerge from our efforts. We teach, take them to church, ensure they are at church activities, and model a healthy Christian lifestyle. Ultimately, they will make the choice for themselves, but if you equip them with an understanding of the reasons for church attendance, they are more likely to chose to make church a part of their life as an adult.

“Train up a child.” This is the approach my parents took. Straight from Proverbs 22:6, my parents never gave us any options. It was never even discussed. It worked. All three of us turned out not only being lifelong attenders but committed ministers, both clergy and ordained. Children can be led to a love of church without being forced. Anger and resentment comes from attitude. It’s possible to be firm and loving. That’s the spirit of Proverbs 22:6.

You may have other ideas on how to have these conversations with your children. If so, please leave a comment so others can benefit from your experience. And by all means, don’t beat yourself up if you’ve given in a time or two… or two dozen. A family practice of church attendance can start this Sunday. We celebrate the resurrection weekly because we all need a fresh start each week.

Lance Wallace_for_webLance Wallace is a Baptist layperson and member of Parkway Baptist Church in Johns Creek, GA, does media relations and issues management at his day job, and blogs at newsouthessays.com.

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