8 Reasons Why Kids Don’t Want to Go to Church

Why Kids Don't Want to Go to ChurchThe number one topic that brings people to my blog via Google search is whether or not to force kids to go to church (Google has put my page, “Should You Force Your Kids To Go To Church?” at the top of search results on the matter). Given how many parents search on the topic, it is obviously a common problem and question.

I have not yet had the experience of dealing with this as a parent since my kids are so young, but I happen to have a wealth of first-hand experience with the issue:  I was a kid who NEVER wanted to go to church.

Reflecting on years of reasons for desperately wanting out of church, I would not have been able or willing to articulate those reasons to my parents. I can now, however, encapsulate the spectrum of my personal experience in the following eight reasons.

For those struggling with the issue, I hope this list encourages you to dig more deeply into your kids’ excuses of “I just don’t want to go” to identify and address the real underlying reasons.

 

1.       They think it’s boring.

 

I put this here not because it is a real reason, but because I bet this is the most common thing that all kids say about church. I probably told my mom this 1,000 times, but what I really meant if I could have expressed it was one of the other real reasons on this list. Don’t accept this as a reason unless the youth program at your church really is poorly conceived (in this case, consider other churches where the youth program is more solid).

 

2.       They would rather (fill in the blank).

 

Addressing this one really depends on what you fill in the blank with. It is either a heart issue (they have no desire to prioritize God in their lives), or a schedule issue. By heart issue, I mean that they would literally rather do anything than go to church because they don’t have a strong relationship with Jesus (see number 8).

For kids who have their hearts in the right place with Jesus, but would rather do other things, there is likely a schedule issue. If they would rather sleep, have you overscheduled them to the point that they desperately need rejuvenation? If they would rather see friends, have you allowed for enough social time during the week? The list could go on, but the key point is that everyone needs time to breathe. If your list of required activities during the week leaves your kids feeling like the only optional activity they can clear to make time for themselves is on Sunday morning, their schedule may need to be revisited. This doesn’t mean they will be willing to cut activities themselves, but it does mean you may have to work with them on it.

 

3.       They don’t have friends there.

 

I don’t have to tell you how important social relationships are to kids. If they feel like they have no one with whom to connect at church, the feeling of alienation will outweigh the ability to learn or worship. This is something that younger kids probably won’t be able to express and older kids won’t be willing to express. I was a shy kid who had trouble making friends, and dreaded church from 4th to 6th grade because I felt alienated. You can treat this situation proactively just like you would at school – make friends with other parents, talk to the teacher, invite kids over to your house, etc.

 

4.       They don’t like other kids there.

 

It’s one thing to have few or no friends at church. It’s another thing to outright not like other kids. Just like at school, church groups can have bullies, snobs, mean kids and more. Depending on the situation and the potential to rectify it, it may be best to look for another church. Yes, in the “real world” we can’t always run from the people who bother us, but church should be the one place our kids can feel safe. I would rather teach my kids lessons about how to deal with difficult people pretty much anywhere but at church (if possible).

 

5.       They don’t like their youth leader/teacher.

 

My husband, after misbehaving during middle school youth group, was told by one of his teachers that he was “going to go to hell.” You can imagine how he felt about her after that.  I went to a youth group conference in high school and, when I didn’t get emotional about the message like other kids, was told by my youth group leader that there was “something wrong” with me. I never wanted to go near that youth group leader again.

The other possibility is that the leader has no credibility with your kids – too young, a hypocritical lifestyle, inexperienced, etc.  If kids don’t respect their youth leader, they won’t value their church experience enough to go. This is especially true for middle and high schoolers.

If there is a legitimate and significant reason why your kids don’t like their leader or teacher, I believe it is absolutely appropriate to find another church.

 

6.       It’s not relevant.

 

While it would be great if every church had a fabulous curriculum to really make the Word relevant to kids, in reality, this is the job of parents. Church does not replace the application of faith at home in daily life. If you don’t pray with your kids, study the Bible with your kids, or talk about faith with your kids at home, relevance is mostly left at the door of the chapel.

One major relevance issue stands out here, from my experience: if your child’s notion of Jesus and faith has been boiled down to heaven/hell or saved/not saved, church quickly becomes irrelevant.  This was hugely true for me. All the churches I went to focused so much on salvation that there was no emphasis on a living faith. As far as I was concerned, I believed in Jesus and was saved, and then couldn’t see why I really needed to go talk about it more each week. If you’re not applying faith at home, your kids may come to see church as a redundant message about a decision that they feel they have already made (to be saved or baptized).

 

7.       They don’t believe in God or are doubting Christianity.

 

I read a fascinating study recently showing that most adults who have turned away from the church started doubting God in middle school (I’m going to write a separate blog soon on these findings). The more doubt your kids start to have, the less interested they will be in going to church and hearing about topics that aren’t directly related to their specific questions at the time. Having an ongoing faith conversation at home is critical so you can relevantly address these questions.

 

8.       They don’t have a strong relationship with Jesus.

 

Practically speaking, this reason trumps all the other reasons. If a child is old enough to have a strong relationship with Jesus, that will likely outweigh all of these other things. If the relationship is weak or not there, then all the other reasons come into play. This is where we, as parents, have to really shepherd the hearts of our kids, by understanding where they are, why they are there, and what is needed to help lead them to where we want them to be with the Lord.

OK, your turn! Parents with older kids, what other reasons have you dealt with/are you dealing with? What approaches do you recommend or do you NOT recommend taking?

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Comments

  1. When you don’t have the option of attending a church with a vibrant kids ministry, what do you do? For example if you are a small church pastor or live in a rural area. You could do a couple of things – 1-volunteer to participate in it & do your best to help (if you have the time/energy to put into it), 2 – Have your kids involved in what you are doing: if you are a small church pastor – involved the kids to say a verse or if they are shy, have them take up offering. If they love to sing – have them help you with worship. If you are someone who lives in a rural area and only has 1 or 2 churches to choose from – get involved & include your kids in the process. Get them involved in the Christian community. Find the strengths of your children and involve them in some way, even if it seems minor. It has been hard for us because we desperately want to have our kids involved in a dynamic kids ministry, but that has not been the path God has let us be on yet. I really love this post because as parents we often just assume our kids will understand the importance of church if we drag them there. (if we do this – we are only repeating what we learned as kids). God wants to have a dynamic relationship with our children too. At 18 months, my daughter was worshipping with the rest of us in a loud voice. I used that to have her help me lead worship when she was a little bit older :) . Now she loves to go to church – no matter if we are at a church with a big kids ministry or with nothing at all. I still struggle inside with how to cultivate that in her life, but I appreciate reminders that if we are intentional in our parenting, they will respond.

    • Hi Debbie, This is such a great comment, thank you. I have always lived in urban or medium sized areas so I haven’t experienced the issue of what to do when there are NO (or few) alternative churches. I love your suggestions. These are all great ideas. And whether you go to a church with a good kids program or not, it is always worthwhile to get involved yourself – that’s an excellent point. I hope to do that soon. :)

  2. David Crain says:

    “One major relevance issue stands out here, from my experience: if your child’s notion of Jesus and faith has been boiled down to heaven/hell or saved/not saved, church quickly becomes irrelevant.”

    Having attended Catholic high school as a Protestant, I find this statement captures the difference between Catholicism and Protestantism–the first is focused on the afterlife, the latter is focused on this life. Once again, a well-done letter, one that provides reason to look forward each day to your next post.

    • That’s a very interesting point – it definitely resonates with my perception, though I haven’t ever attended Catholic church or school. I think that’s the difference in approach when there is a salvation by grace vs salvation by works theology!

      And thank you for the kind words about the post!

  3. Thank you so much for this post. My kids doesn’t really not want to go to church, but we all have a bit of a strugle, and most of these reasons come into play. Another – loud music. While we love good P&W music, often it is overbearingly loud, and for that reason left a church :-(
    The search continues.

    • Good point – church style is definitely something that comes into play. If the style overbears the message in either a good or bad way, the whole aspect of worship and learning gets tossed out. I don’t mind the loud music personally (I go to a loud megachurch!) but I completely understand how it would turn other people off.

  4. This is a great post. I think number 6 is so true. If we go to church as part of a weekly check list, we can be guaranteed that our kids won’t see it as relevant. I often think about it in terms of watering a garden – we need to saturate the soil of their souls every day, not just Sunday. This isn’t done with the garden hose set on “jet,” but rather a steady, daily shower of God’s word, love and relevance to every aspect of their lives. We need to do everything we can to make sure that we are cultivating their personal relationship with God by asking questions, avoiding legalism and having open and probing discussions about hard issues. Faith is not a love triangle; kids aren’t saved through parents but through Jesus. Jesus alone. Thank you so much for this post.

  5. Ginger Moore says:

    reason number 9…..Their parents don’t go on a regular basis…..at least this is what the Moore household is going through….Since, the bad experience we had with our last church it has been hard to get involved with a church family. I am really getting convicted of this. The kids still see that Nathan and I love the Lord but they also see that we have not been involved in church and it is causing them to not have the fire that they used to have. It used to be they begged to go when ever the church doors where open and if we missed a Wednesday night or Sunday they would let us know how much they missed it and how we should have been there. Now, they just mention it in passing. As a parent of teen and preteen youth it is our job to take to heart Proverbs 22:6….Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it.

  6. George Albinus says:

    I think the biggest reason children do not go to church is they learn from example, if mom ,dad or both think church is optional they will too and to a child’s mind it really would be fun to stay home on a Sunday morning, watch cartoons and just be lazy.For an adult to encourage this lax spirtualily is really a crime against God, especially in light of the fact the poor kids hardly hear about God except as a curse word in public schools. It’s not that you have to go to church to be a Christian, you GET to go, it’s a priveledge . You may notice on a casual surf of the web on this topic thet there are actually militant atheists movements trying to prevent kids from going to church or any kind of strong environment that might encourage them to revere God and show Jesus to people, I can see the day coming clearly when going to church will not only be a very unpopular option but a crime against a totalitarian regime. The church is mentioned 127 times in the new testament and always in conjunction with other people and the sharing of the word of God with power and authority.If we love Jesus we will love each other and we can not love each other if we deliberately stay away from each other.Jesus said,”Sufer the little children to come unto me and forbid them not.” We need to all we can to inspire, by word and deed a love for Gods people -the body of Christ(Acts, Ephesians, Collosians , etc).

  7. Today I am faced with this issue. Thanks for your insight. My mother decided to stay home to rest and my daughter wants to follow. My daughter is 6. Now my mother instead of encouraging my daughter to go has said that she is happy my daughter does not want to go because is nonsense I’m doing going to church every Sunday. I have decided to use this opportunity to teach my daughter the importance of church worship but I’m guilty of not making faith a daily practice with my daughter. I’m looking forward to reading the rest of your articles. Thanks for creating this blog to assist parents train their children in the Christian faith.

  8. Kristin Miller says:

    Please excuse all the typos…im typing on my phone!)
    I feel God calling me to a small church in our town. We have attended the largest church in town and my daughters were bith saved and baptised there. However we eventually quit going. Now through several circumstances I felt the Lord calling me to a small church. We have visited a couple times and I am sure that is where the Lord wantz me to be. The people were so friendly and the pastor preached old fashioned style that I love. My daughters however were looking for the church band with guitars and drums…none of that here. There weren’t even many kids especially there age in attendance. Am I wrong about wanting to make this our church home? I feel my girls are a little spoiled and perhaps are more interested in a social scene and entertainment from church. And I thought maybe Gid is leading us there as part of growing this little church…and maybe he wants us to be a part of tbat. I dont know! I’m scared to drag them there if tbsy don’t want to go when tbere friends go to big churches with huge youth programs and activities. Anyone have any advice?

  9. There are a lot of relevant reasons why kids do not want to go to church. For me, the reasons that stood out are #2, #3, #4, #5, and #6. I think that a point mentioned in #3 is very true that kids are not able to clearly explain why in their situation why they don’t have friends or that no one likes them. I wasn’t able to fully explain why when I was a child and teen, but if I had an opportunity and go back to the church I left and explain why, I would be able to, and maybe make them listen. When I used to go to a Lutheran church, they were all about activities and filling in their needs on their schedule. As far as the religious aspect, they would pretty much only talk about being saved, and that all that will matter is if they believe in Jesus Christ they will go to heaven–if not, they will go to Hell. Those two ponts seemed to matter more than how they treated other people and even more important than the 10 Commandments. They didn’t care if they would break any of the commandments as long as it was not the first and maybe even the second commandment.

    I did not like I where I was when I was in the Lutheran church because I did not have any REAL friends in that church. I only went there because a friend from school so wanted me to go there. The other kids were just mean, and constantly talked down to me. They din’t like where I went to school. Almost all the kids at the church went to the same high school or other suburban schools, and I went to a city school, which wasn’t good enough. The Youth Leader that we had was nice, but not much older than we were. Looking back, he lacked the experience and training to be a true Youth Leader. From what I could tell, he would favor the other kids because he also lived in the same general area/district that they lived in. I did not feel that I could turn to him or anyone for anything or any guidance that I needed.

    I do feel that when families or even if it is only the kids going to the church, the parents should take the responsibility to know what is going on in church and church activities. Unfortunately, when I went to this church, my mom did not always go that often, except when she was told it was her turn to drive. So, my mom did not see what would go on when I would go to church there. I tried telling her that I was not happy there, and that the other kids constantly teased me and treated me like garbage. My mom would talk to my friend’s mom, and get her side of the story, and that was pretty much it, my voice did not matter. I feel that when I went to that church, that my mom was trying to use that church to replace her role in spending quality time with me. I feel that this church did not fulfill any of my needs, socially or spiritually, and anything that my mom did try to engrain in me was torn apart whenever I was at that church.

    I feel that parents need to be involved in knowing what their kids and other kids are doing at church, and to make sure that the environment is re-enforcing what the parents are teaching their kids at home, that their child(ren) are happy at that church, and that the church is giving them positive guidance on how to live the faith. A church is not worth attending if all it teaches is to only focus on salvation without living life.

  10. My question to anyone who’ll want to answer it is this:
    “How much does the LOOK of the children’s area factor into your child’s eagerness of going to church?”

    I work for a company that builds small branded interiors in sections of the churches and other buildings (Information desks, Kiosks, Missions Centers, etc) Increasingly we are doing more work for larger churches making the kid’s areas more inviting. Do you feel the look of the area is a factor?
    Note: I’m not selling anything :) Just asking whether it’s a contributing factor. As a mom of 4 it actually is for me.

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