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Should You “Make” Your Kids Go to Church?

I think the reason many adults abandon church is because they were made to go to church as a kid.

Of course, at some point you have to “make” your kids do all kinds of things they wouldn’t naturally do. Clean their rooms, go to the dentist from a site like Asecra, mow the yard, do their homework, , etc. Also, we “make” our kids do things they don’t always grasp when they’re young. Like sharing, being courteous, watching their diet, going to school, etc. Since we make our kids do so many things, why not make them go to church?

The question obviously has unique individual applications per situation and child. Making your teenager go to church poses more difficulty and risk than making your third grader go to church. Making teenagers do anything is a formula for disaster. Especially when it comes to something as important as God, Christ, Scripture and their own salvation. Is the only real way to make your teenager want to go to church to force her to do so as a third grader? That’s the real goal of making your kid go to church, isn’t it? To make them want to choose to go to church as they get older.

At some point, if church and spirituality isn’t voluntary, it’s pretty much worthless.

I was made to go to church as a kid. My father booted me out of the house when I turned 18, effectively ending my relationship with said church. About 4-5 years later I was back, but on my own terms. Did the fact that I was “forced” to attend church as a kid play a part in me returning to the faith as an adult? Yes and no. Despite the religious trappings, the Christ-story had been sown in my heart and an appetite for God had been whetted. However, it was the compulsory attendance, the parental hypocrisy, the lack of philosophical substance, and the religious trappings that made me ultimately sour towards voluntary church attendance. So being made to attend church as a kid both helped and hurt me as a young adult.

It’s led me to this conclusion.

If parents aren’t regularly explaining WHY they go to church, and WHY church attendance is a good and important thing, they are simply imparting to their child the empty shell of ritual. Which, I believe, is the real crux of the problem. The empty shell of religious ritual is all many parents have. Many parents go to church without really having a compelling reason to go. They can’t articulate with any urgency a good argument for their faith, much less how church attendance answers that.

At some point, if church, Sunday School, Bible study, or Youth Group are not made voluntary for our kids, we are in danger of gutting the practice of its real power.

So the question is, how do parents transition their child from compulsory church attendance to voluntary church attendance? They do it by practicing their own faith. They do it slowly. They do it intentionally. They do it with respect and understanding of the individual child. But they can only really do it effectively if there’s a good reason they’re doing it all.


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{ 8 comments… add one }
  • Susan Baganz August 20, 2012, 7:51 AM

    My 12 year old has some special needs and since I can leave him home alone now I do give him the choice (most of the time). However, if he chooses to stay home he chooses boredome. No television (we don’t have one) and he’s locked out of teh computer until we get home and loses the opportunity to earn computer time (if he went). Sometimes I do say it’s not a choice: Christmas, Easter, Mother’s Day and this past weekend when we had a church picnic. Then it’s more about “we are a family and we are doing this together as a family” – we’ve done this with other events too. He attends a Christian school. We talk about our faith and I pray with him at times (or more for him) and at some point I want him to be able to own his faith. Sometimes he attends another church with a friend – which is great, even though I think he does that more for social reasons – for him that is huge in and of itself. Youth group is the same – he’s choosing to go more and more and hopefully the love of the adults around him and the truth will grow into his own faith that supersedes mine in the impact he will have for the kingdom. It’s a tough road as parents paved with prayer all the way.

  • Nikole Hahn August 20, 2012, 9:16 AM

    I know its hard to believe, but I was made to go as a young adult. I was made to wear a dress because wearing slacks was unacceptable by parental standards. If I skipped any of the programs, I got cell phone texts. The Bible was used as a weapon against me if I didn’t live up to every standard. It’s amazing I didn’ t walk away for good, but like you said, God whetted my appatite. He put a thirst for Him in my heart and I sought a more authentic relationship; one not about works, but of Lordship Salvation. For the record, I wear jeans to church. :o)

  • Jill August 20, 2012, 10:53 AM

    I wasn’t going to agree with this until I read your conclusion. This is exactly right. My parents forced me to go to church, but their biggest influence on me was their own faith–not perfect, but honest and heartfelt. My parents truly love Jesus, and it showed and still shows in their lives. Being forced to go to church was neither here nor there. It hasn’t prevented me from going to church as an adult, but it has taught me that nothing made/done by man ever changes.

  • Melissa August 20, 2012, 11:34 AM

    I think part of the reason I have such dismal church attendance is because I, too, was forced to go to church. I hated that we had to go every. single. Sunday. Then I felt bad because I didn’t want to go, and what kind of person doesn’t want to go to church? My mom always made me wear dresses when some of my friends got to wear pants, and that ticked me off, too. (So I can relate, Nikole!). I suppose my mother’s legalistic views tended to skew things, too. (I am still struggling in getting over THAT aspect of my childhood).

    That being said, though, I look back with fond memories of that time – we had a great church family and I miss having that now. Unfortunately, they inexplicably got rid of our pastor (who I adored) when I was in the sixth grade or so, and we wandered from church to church, trying to find a place we would fit in – in a town of 1600 people, this wasn’t easy.

    My daughter and I read the Bible and we talk about God and our faith, so I know I have planted the seed. She has gone to VBS and some other church events. But we aren’t forcing her at this point – and I am not forcing myself, either. This is something I’m really, really struggling with. I hope God can help me to figure it all out soon.

  • Iola August 21, 2012, 4:47 AM

    I’m still at the stage where my youngest isn’t legally old enough to be left home alone (and my oldest isn’t legally old enough to supervise him), so missing church is not an option. If we go, he has to go.

    But some weeks I’ll go and son will stay home with Dad and do ‘home church’, where they study all those OT war stories that our Sunday School doesn’t look at (we have several boys with behavioural issues. They don’t need war stories). Our son enjoys that ‘Dad time’.

    Next question: should you ‘make’ your husband go to Church? Mine has recently been reading ‘So You Don’t Want to go to Church Anymore’, and he really recognises himself in that. Hard to ‘make’ the kids go when Church isn’t always meeting men’s needs.

  • Melissa Ortega August 21, 2012, 2:47 PM

    This can be difficult. I was made to attend things I didn’t want to attend, but for entirely different reasons. I was never lacking in faith or a desire to be with God, but extremely shy and afraid of going anywhere on my own. My parents forced me to attend events I would have shied away from socially and I’m so glad they did! Once I was there I always enjoyed myself. My dad always promised that God would bless me for leaving my comfort zone and he was right.

    All of that would have been totally different if it was God Himself I was shying away from. Never an easy thing for a parent. Each kid is unique. But you’ve hit the crux of the matter by saying that the demonstration of faith by parents rather than ceremony is the most critical element in every situation!

  • Lara August 23, 2012, 10:41 AM

    I love this. I was not made to go to church as a teen even though we went every week when I was a kid. By my teen years, I wanted to go and I think that it was because my parents were always clear as to why it was important and why they went. And they showed us by example that it was a positive place for them. I saw firsthand why it was important. My husband and I are trying to do the same things with our teenagers. They don’t always want to go but we are clear with them about why we go.

  • Patrick Todoroff August 24, 2012, 4:47 PM

    There’s a subtle but huge difference between raising your kids in church and raising your kids in Christ. I didn’t always get it right, but I was always aware of the distinction.

    All three of our kids attended regularly until they were out of the house, because faithful attendance and involvement was established in our lives. My wife and I always stressed they were free to make their own decision. Right now, two of them are walking with God.

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