Parents ask me: What do we do when our kids don’t want to go to church? It’s a valid question.
Several times a year I teach a Child Dedication class, and one of my favorite parts of the class is embracing the tension between letting kids making their own choice and making some choices for them. In the class, we cover Deuteronomy 6:4 and this tension lives in the part of the passage, “Impress them on your children.” What this verse unpacks for parents isn’t quite applicable for the parents of babies in the dedication class, but it’s a huge principle that parents need to carry with them as their kids grow.
In over 15 years of ministry I’ve seen some patterns emerge. There are almost always more 4-year-olds than 9-year-olds at your church. There are almost always more 9-year-olds than 13-year-olds and lastly, there are almost always more 13-year-olds than 18-year-olds. Why?
There are probably lots of answers to that question, but what I’ve found is, very simply, kids just don’t want to go to church, and parents don’t want to make them. I think that most parents mean well. They don’t want to force faith on their kids in fear that their kids will reject it.
So what do you do when your kids don’t want to go to church?
Several months ago, Ruth Meyer from the blog TruthNotes.net wrote a great post called “Why I Would Never Force My Kids to Go to Church.” She uses the very same examples I’ve been using in my Child Dedication classes for years. Kids don’t always understand what is best for them, and they don’t have the wisdom (life experiences) to make certain decisions until they’re older. For example:
- If my child doesn’t want to brush his teeth because he doesn’t like it… it doesn’t matter. I know better than he does. He’s going to brush his teeth.
- If my child doesn’t like school… it doesn’t matter. I know better than she does, and it’s the law. She’s going to go to school.
- If my child doesn’t like vegetables… it doesn’t matter. I know that they are healthy and that there will be a day that his/her taste will change. We’ll keep trying them.
These things don’t make me a bad parent. They make me a good parent.
Church is no different. Kids will wake up and say they don’t want to go to church. They may be like this for months or maybe even years. It’s normal. Parents need to be encouraged to parent well through these phases. They know better, and this is a time when they need to do what they know is best for their child.
Exception – I think there is space for an exception. If you’re forcing a child to attend a church that makes Jesus boring… then I’d maybe reconsider your church or see how you can help be the change to make ministry to kids and students relevant, exciting and relational.
Here’s a final thought from Ruth’s post:
Church isn’t a place you go to get pumped up about life. It isn’t entertainment like a movie or concert. It is literally a life and death matter. Eternal life. Just as a loving parent wouldn’t allow their child to wander in the road or to quit school, a loving Christian parent also does not give the option to their children about going to church, learning Bible stories at home, and praying together. Do your kids always jump for joy when they hear you say, “Time to get up! Let’s get ready for church!” No. They won’t. Do they get excited for school every morning? Hardly. But you still make them go. Why? Because you are the parent and you know what’s best. Even when they complain, you serve them healthful meals and limit their junk food intake. You set boundaries for their own safety when playing outside. You insist they go to school because you’re looking at the long term picture. And you are right to do those things. How much more so are you responsible for doing all you can to secure their eternal well being?
Communicate this to your parents. Encourage them. Cast this vision when they have babies, when their babies become preschoolers, when the preschoolers become elementary age, when the elementary-aged kids become pre-teens and when the pre-teens become teenagers. Stick with it because this is they only chance they get!