Should You Force Your Kids To Go To Church?

ChurchA reader of this blog posed this question on the Facebook page, because her boys – ages 10, 12 and 15 – are uninterested in church. It’s a very important question that I wanted to address with this post.

At the risk of trivializing the question itself, I’m going to offer a brief rationale for my own answer and then provide an alternative question which I think is more at the heart of the issue.

A home is like a microcosm of society. There are laws (requirements for living there) and freedoms (options you have while living there). Each society/family sets its own laws based on what it feels is most important for its members. The laws a society/family chooses reflect its core values. As Christian parents, a core value to impart to kids should be that God comes first in our lives. Part of acknowledging that is going to church each week. By classifying church attendance as a law and not a freedom, we are making a statement that God’s priority is a core value in our home. Parents generally don’t care whether a child wants an education or not in determining that going to school is a household “law”; likewise, parents shouldn’t care whether a child is interested in faith or not in determining that going to church is a “law”. Christian parents should not feel church is any different than any other parental choice when declaring, “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord” (Joshua 24:15).

That said, required church attendance has to be a rule made for the reason stated here (a statement about family priorities) and not because the parents assume it means children will become believers from it, that they will come to salvation from it or that they will even be spiritually changed by it. Church is not a spiritual “cure all”. If your children don’t want to go to church, there is a much more important question to ask:

WHY don’t your children want to go to church?

The answer to this question is your gateway to impacting the spiritual life of your kids much more than how you go about physically getting them to church.

Perhaps an immediate answer comes to mind. “They just want to do other things,” or “They think it’s boring.” These answers, however, are really symptomatic of a child’s underlying beliefs about God and his/her relationship to God. Those beliefs must be identified.

I would break underlying beliefs into two categories: 1) They don’t believe in God or 2) They believe in God but don’t think church is important.

1. They don’t believe in God.

Perhaps your child is saying “I want to stay home and play video games”  but what he/she really means is “I don’t really believe all this God stuff,” and doesn’t want to tell you (maybe he/she hasn’t even identified that consciously yet).  What they need most is to have conversations with you about God. They need to know it’s OK to doubt, and that you are willing to talk to them about those doubts.  It might be intimidating to be the one who has to present the case for God’s existence, but if you aren’t going to be that person in your child’s life, who will?

(Need help teaching your kids why there is good reason to believe God exists and Christianity is true? Check out my new book, Keeping Your Kids on God’s Side: 40 Conversations to Help Them Build a Lasting Faith.)

 

2. They believe in God but don’t think church is important.

It’s not enough to say that church is unimportant – again, we have to understand the underlying premise to address the spiritual issue. Consider these three possibilities:


a. I believe in God but I don’t believe He’s really involved in my life (therefore church doesn’t matter). 

Theologically, this is referred to as “Deism” – the belief that there is a God, and He probably set this world in motion, but isn’t really involved with the world or our personal lives today. From a spiritual standpoint, this isn’t much different than not believing in God in the first place. Even if your child is saying, “Yes, I believe in God, I just don’t want to go to church . . . “ don’t take it at face value. What does your child believe about God? You might be surprised what you find out; it might not be much different than not believing in God at all (see the first category above).
b. I believe in God and believe he cares about my life, but I don’t believe he cares if we go to church.

The reasons Christians should go to church would be the topic for a whole book, but if I could point to a single reason, it would be that Jesus set the example for us. Luke 4:16 says (about Jesus), “…on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom” (emphasis added). If Jesus thought weekly church was important, so should we. Are we in a position to decide that church is not necessary for us when it was necessary for Jesus?

Without going into significant detail on this giant sub-topic, it must be addressed here that church is first and foremost for God (yes, the Bible is clear God wants us to worship). Most people who have the attitude that “God doesn’t care about church” are seeing the value of church in terms of what it gives to them. While church is absolutely necessary for us as well in terms of spiritual growth and fellowship with other believers (Hebrews 10:25, 1 Corinthians 12, 1 Thessalonians 5:11, James 5:16, Acts 2:42, Romans 12:5), church must be seen as being for God’s glory. Timothy Keller, in his book, “The Reason for God,” eloquently addresses this:

“But wait,” you say. “On nearly every page of the Bible God calls us to glorify, praise, and serve him. How can you say he doesn’t seek his own glory?” Yes he does ask us to obey him unconditionally, to glorify, praise, and center our lives around him. But now, I hope, you finally see why he does that. He wants our joy! He has infinite happiness not through self-centeredness, but through self-giving, other-centered love. And the only way we, who have been created in his image, can have this same joy, is if we center our entire lives around him instead of ourselves.

 

c. I believe in God, believe he cares about my life, and believe he wants me to go to church, but I don’t want to go to this church because (any number of reasons).

There may be a very real reason why your children want to avoid your specific church. Maybe they don’t fit in with the other kids; maybe there is a disconnect between them and the pastor or youth leader; maybe there are too few other kids their age and they feel isolated; the reasons are infinite. If it’s a legitimate, overarching issue, it would be reasonable to seek another church out of respect for the faith development of your kids.
The bottom line is this: The underlying reason for kids not wanting to go to church shouldn’t change your “law” that they have to go, but that reason should be searched for in order to best determine how to guide them spiritually at home.

What do you think? Should you force kids to go to church? Is there an age at which they should have a “say” in the matter?

32 Comments

  1. Susan on January 13, 2012 at 3:14 AM

    I think it is important that we teach and encourage our children to “want” to go to worship instead of “having” to go to worship. Attendance is not punishment but a joy!It is important that they learn that attending services is not a social gathering for fun time but a time to fellowship with other members of the body and be unified in the spirit. You will never find “fun” mentioned in the Bible but you find “work” numerous times. Our faith should be active! We need to know about the needs of others in our congregation so we can be there to help when they need it. We need to have the opportunity to renew our minds with God’s Word so we can grow spiritually and be able to teach others. Our preacher recently said that he rarely if ever misses a meal for his physical body so he never misses an opportunity to feed his spiritual body with the “bread of life” (the Word). Children need to learn that every member is important and they are not there just to fill a pew. Our own attitudes affect their perceptions of our priorities and why we attend services. If you think of it…you only spend about 4 hours per week attending public worship services (at most), how much time do we spend at sports practice or other activities each week?



  2. Brad R on January 15, 2012 at 9:14 PM

    When I was a child I was forced to go to church and forced to go to a christian school until I was 16 at which time I moved out of my parents house.
    When i moved out I did everything I was not suppose to do got in trouble and had no interest in God or his Word and I avoided church.
    It took me a long time to go back and I still have some issues with going but I never forgot what I learned from church and knew what to do and who to turn to when I had a problem.
    Now I thank my Mom for making me go to church, I try to be a little more understanding with my kids but they will still go to church



  3. Devon Cook on January 30, 2012 at 5:32 PM

    I have 3 boys as well, 12,10, and 9. We do go to church, mostly regularly, and our boys know that they are to go in with open hearts, minds, and ears. That being said, I grew up in church and never wanted to make church a place that we go, check off our to-do list, and go about our week. 2 years ago, my husband and I started doing a nightly Bible study with our kids, not only does it incorporate God’s word in our everyday lives, teaches our kids to rely on God, and such, it also gives our boys an opportunity to open up about their day and what is going on in their lives. My husband and I try our best to set a good example, and teach our boys to treat others like they would want to be treated. Going to church once, twice, or more a week and doing nothing at home doesn’t do anything. Some of the meanest kids were in church every Sunday that i grew up with and are still mean to this day……..



  4. melissa winston on January 30, 2012 at 8:47 PM

    i have 10 children n we all went to church together without my husband…i believe u should make your childeren go to church just like u make them go to school n they don’t like that but they have to go order to move up a grade if they don’t go to church they can’t grow spiritually n church is just important then school.



  5. Shawn Bashelor on February 12, 2012 at 6:48 AM

    yes they should go to church, but remember, it takes more than just the pastor to give your children an understanding about God and what the bible says, God wants a relationship with everyone, and we as parents must have a relationship with Christ to teach them and not destroy them. Train up a child so that when they get old they won’t depart from it(proverbs22:6)They stay more interested if you have a youth/children’s ministry. I grew up having to sit in service with my parents and it was boring to me, because I didn’t want to hear old people talking, and children are like that. Youth service is a great thing-service at their level of understanding to take part in. God bless!



    • Stephanie on November 15, 2015 at 11:37 AM

      I have a 13 yr old son who believes in God but doesn’t like coming to my Church. He likes a different church where there is more for the kids to do on their level. Is it ok for him to go to one church and me at a different one?



      • Nelly on September 23, 2017 at 9:03 PM

        I feel exactly that way. I am 19 years old and I struggle with my faith because of the approach my church has. They say it in my mother-tongue language and I do not feel the urge to attend the church as why should I, when every Sunday, all i am doing is struggling to translate it to english.

        My parents are strong believers of the church and we have conflicts on this issue. They want me to attend that church but I feel like my faith is getting weaker there as I do not understand, the language barrier. WHAT SHOULD I DO?



  6. Carey on July 26, 2012 at 12:51 AM

    I agree with the author… the “why” is the big question. Surely there could be many, many answers. But investigating that issue and making amends where needed is what must be done.



  7. Rosa on October 29, 2012 at 8:04 AM

    I also grew up having to go to church and finding it boring. Every sunday was like torture for me. As I grew up and had my own family I rely on GOD to help me with the upbringing of my children. I go to church weeky with my kids and I don’t take no for an answer. With that being said iam greatful to my mother for making me go to church every sunday because I don’t knw where I would be if I didn’t knw GOD…….Thank you MOM…..



  8. Sabrina on April 14, 2013 at 9:25 AM

    If I try to force my 12 year old daughter to go to church nobody ends up getting to go at all. All I will do the entire time is beg, plead, and finally scream at her to get ready. By the time I’m dragging her out the door we’re all crying, and “cursing” which is not even how I want to begin a day where I plan on worshipping the Lord. Needless to say, we’re all such a mess we end up not going at all. I think my daughter has turned her back on God by her actions, she says she has not, but she shows me differently. I don’t know what to do. She’s ruining the time I could spend building a relationship with God.



    • Wayne Shearer on June 1, 2013 at 6:04 AM

      If that is what was going with my response to getting mine ready,then if I where them I wouldn’t want to go either.What ever others see our actions when it is time to go to WORSHIP that is what they precieve it to be all about .Not saying you are not doing this but make the whole action something to look forward too and tell them of it’s great importance and previlage it is we have to be to do for our Lord.Make sure everyday is a day to worship and serve God not just Sunday.



    • Lisa on February 8, 2015 at 1:19 PM

      I’m in pretty much same boat as you except I have a 19, 16, and 14 year old. It’s a hassle every Sunday to get them up. I start early and they jump out of bed last minute while I’m going to car. I don’t like going to church this way every week same thing. Pit in my stomach and my joy is gone. I so want to just wake up and go myself but I don’t know if that’s right or wrong which brought me to this website. I feel if I don’t take them they won’t hear right from wrong and never grow and only grow further away. It’s such a hard issue. I grew up in church my mom took me 3 times a week sometimes and never once did I say I’m not going today or I don’t feel like going it’s not for me etc… Just hurts



    • Melissa on August 13, 2018 at 9:12 AM

      Don’t worry about getting her ready. Get everyone else ready. She knows that everyone is going to church. It is her choice to get dresses. If she decides not to be ready, take her just that way she is. Bed head and all. She will fight, but she fights anyway. Just don’t give in. The next Sunday she will want to be ready.



  9. Wayne Shearer on June 1, 2013 at 6:10 AM

    Worship is a privilege not an obligation.When we get ready to go and all we can say is ,Get up we have to go to church,what kind of message are we sending.Also if our lives through the rest of the week is not centered with Jesus and with worship, why would Sunday be so important?



  10. […] don’t they want to go?”  As a parent, it is your job to find out.  Please read her article HERE.  It is well worth the read.  Another thing as a parent to consider is that if your child is […]



  11. Art on September 1, 2013 at 9:43 AM

    I just had another blow out so to speak with my wife. She blows and im out. We hsve been married 19 yrs and our kids are 14 and 17. My son goes to bible study every week with a youth group, only because he girlfriend goes there too. None the less he goes every week. My wife and I are consistently un consistent. We get on a role and then we stop for a few weeks or longer and then back again. I feel the whole don’t do as I do but do as I say bit, is not good parenting. My kids are believers and choose good friends to hang with. Lets face it, there are many knuckleheads out there.
    Both of them alike choose a good group of kids to be friends with. Now my son also goes to church with his girlfriend on Sunday but this Sunday he dont want to. My wife stated to me and him prior to this a pre condition of living at home is, if I the husband and him the son dont go to church, we are both to move out together. Well this was my morning blow out. I am the calm one not yelling and simply stating my opinion which I believe since I am her husbsnd, do pay all the bills and am the sole provider, in titlesme to. I love Jesus and I believe my kids do to. I think , like us, they just sometimes would rather at home. Going to church every week is good but it wont save you any more than practicing like the pharisee’s religiously did. I believe the greatest commandment to be is love. How do you model live by yelling and screaming and forcing your opinions or parenting on anyone. I believe at a certain age its time to cut the cord. Yes have rules and standards for sure. However I am wondering if forcing church is actually helping a 17 year old. Maybe I am wrong , I am not sure. I know this much, my wife should not ultimatum me and my son with it.



  12. […] or not you should force your kids to go to church, check out Natasha Crain’s blog post at http://christianmomthoughts.com//should-you-force-your-kids-to-go-to-church/. Her opinion is well […]



  13. Viviana on February 26, 2014 at 6:55 PM

    Hi! I have a question… My son who is 9 years old attends a Catholic School and they the Pastor makes all students attend mass everyday. When it comes Sunday he doesn’t want to go? What can I do? Any advise is appreciate it.

    Thank you!



    • James on April 20, 2014 at 3:39 AM

      Bring him to Mass anyway and tell him Bible stories sometimes. Tell him more about God. Maybe leave him off very occasionally but nearly every week bring him to Mass.



  14. Eleni on June 28, 2014 at 7:57 PM

    I think it all depends on the way you force them to go to church. If you force them in the beginning with prayer and love i believe they will respond to that well in the end. Although nothing is 100%. Up to a certain age of course you force. There is a point were you just have to let go and just pray. Although I have to say I struggle with this myself. I hate the fealing of forcing someone to do anything, and I am not a parent. Just a Godparent.



  15. jan2 on March 26, 2015 at 9:35 AM

    well I grew up in a spiritually abusive church. went through lots of trauma.
    I don’t really beleive in the god of the bible.
    I’m not sure if god exists or not but I don’t need threatening with hell fire to do good!



    • Natasha Crain on May 7, 2015 at 10:58 AM

      Jan, I’m so sorry that you grew up in an abusive church. Please don’t think they represent what true Christianity is. Just because people use religion for power and other negative purposes doesn’t mean a religion itself is necessarily wrong. It may or may not be. To know, you’ll have to search for the truth based on the claims of the religion, not the people who inappropriately apply it. I recommend the book Cold Case Christianity by J. Warner Wallace to help you sort through whether or not Christianity is true. It’s excellent and powerful, looking at the evidence.

      And you don’t need to believe in God to do good. God gave everyone a moral compass whether people choose to believe in the source of that compass or not. Whether or not you can be good without God has no bearing on whether or not Christianity is true.

      Again, I’m so sorry for your experiences, and I hope you will not give those abusers the continued power of leading you away from the most important truth you can find.



      • jan on May 9, 2015 at 12:41 PM

        Thanks for that.
        I actually read the whole bible once. What do I think? Well I’m sure some of the stories are true, to be honest I think some of the stories are partly fabricated, much like you can’t trust the newspaper, is the newspaper true? Maybe the newspaper is true, maybe not, do you see where I’m coming from?

        I could go through the bible story by story and say if I think it’s true or not, for instance the story of the flood, I think there was some kind of flood because other cultures/countries have a similar story, but I can see no evidence for a global flood.

        I wasn’t/I’m not looking for truth, I do/ have found Jesus’ teaching inspiring. The existence of god or the devil cannot be proven, neither can the existence of heaven or hell. Actually it took me until this year to find out that the word Hell was not in the originals and my “pastor” frightened the living daylights of us all. I do know that other cultures and religions have stories about the after life, one very similar to the story of Jesus is the Egyptian story of Ra. The stories that supported the inca civilization must have been interesting, the roman and greek stories about their gods were almost identical.

        What interests me about Christianity though, is the fact that in the old testament god (yaweh) tells (the Jews) to celebrate celebrate certain festivals, the trumpets, passover and so on, jesus and the apostles kept them, but for some strange reason, Christians do not do what jesus and the apsostles did in keeping the same feasts and fasts that Jesus did. Why don’t christians celebrate the communion at passover? The word Easter is taken from the Anglo saxon name of spring god eostre and Hell comes from the anglo saxon god of death hel (one l). The word Easter is not in the bible as far as I know. Celebrating harvest is biblical though, my local church doesn’t celebrate harvest.

        So basically I think the modern church is making it up and now you can see why!j



  16. moe on March 28, 2015 at 8:22 PM

    My parents forced me to go to church when i was a kid, i also went to a catholic school. It was very overwhelming having to go to church and be surrounded by the catholic faith at school. It got to the point where i would speak to my father about it (my mom is not roman catholic) my father would then tell me that because i was a kid, my ideas, opinions and values did not matter to him or the world. In his eyes, i was just a moody teenager going through a “phase”. i do believe in god, but the real problem with most kids is how OFTEN they go to church. Going to church once a week with the liturgies at school and being surrounded by the catholic faith all the time is too much. i would suggest going to church on the important days or weeks like easter, christmas or during lent.



  17. Ellen on April 5, 2015 at 4:16 AM

    If parents want to know some reasons why their children do not want to attend church. Why not take a deeper look at the church itself? Sometimes where you and your family go to church is just as, if not more important than the fact that you just need to go to church. I think that a lot of people do avoid this question, and are afraid to be honest about what is really on their minds when questioned about why they don’t want to go to church. From my experience in going to different churches, unfortunately, socio-economic values play a strong (and harsh) role in whether you will even fit in or connect in a church. When I used to go to a church with a friend, it was outside of our school district. The kids in this church were all snobs and had their own cliques. It was very difficult to connect, even with all the youth group and social activities in the church.



  18. Mary on July 12, 2015 at 5:31 PM

    Ok, but answer me this: I’m 19 and I haven’t been a Christian for at least 5 years, I doubt I ever really was in the first place. I’m currently living at home simply because I am unable to move out. I intend to the instant I am realistically able. The problem is, my parents still force me to go despite repeated objections because it’s a house rule. I hate it there, but I still have to go and “be respectful”. Why should I be expected to be respectful of their wishes and their beliefs, when they aren’t respectful of mine? When is the point at which they realize that continuing to force it down my throat, isn’t going to make me want to embrace anything. Treating my beliefs as less valid is seriously only making me more adamant that it’s a bunch of bs.



    • UAreGod'sChild on August 7, 2015 at 5:33 PM

      Mary, you are a wonderful human with God given potential. You will one day have the opportunity to use your talents and obtain a job title. However, one day, you will retire from that job, and then ask, “who will I be now”? You will always be God’s child, and you can sleep peacefully knowing that God will be there to ‘hang the sun in the sky and wake up the birds to sing’ even before we knew it or gave the Father credit for His good works.



  19. William Jenkins on December 24, 2015 at 12:41 PM

    I don’t think that you should force kids to go to church. I’m only 19 years old and live with my parents while attending college but I do think parents (mainly Southerners) draw the line whenever they FORCE kids to go to church. There are many reasons kids don’t want to go to church. Maybe they do not fit in with the other children, or they just do not like the style of the church. Some kids stop going to church during teenage years because they do not want to have to give out money to the church. But the reason I believe most kids do not want to go to church EVERY Sunday is because it is simply boring. To this day at 19 years old I find church boring. It’s basically one hour of singing he same exact songs each week and the pastor blabbering about a Bible verse that may or may not have an impact on our lives. When I was in my mid-teens I identified myself as an Atheist/Agnostic. But I later converted back to Christianity. Just because I believe that Jesus died on the cross for our sins doesn’t mean I have to go the church every week or else I’ll go to Hell. Back to what you said about laws in precincts, IT IS the law that all children must receive some kind of education unless they have a severe disability. But it is not the law, even in the most religious cities (Houston, Texas and Jackson, Mississippi) to go to church.



    • Brynn on August 5, 2018 at 8:29 AM

      I totally agree with you. I am 16 and it still bores me when I have to go to church. My parents don’t believe me when I say it’s boring because of my siblings. My younger siblings have so much fun but that is just because they (5 and 2) get to go in a classroom full of kids and play games until church lets out. Most kids once they start middle school are stuck in a room with a ton of adults. I for one can’t relate to everyone else in the room so I find myself zoning out during church. It’s not that I don’t want to pay attention it’s just that I simply can’t. I think adults should understand that for right now at least, we’re not being filled with “joy” like they might be. There’s no easier way to say it than just to say it’s boring.



  20. Joe Bigliogo on October 5, 2016 at 12:50 PM

    You can make kids go to church but you can’t make them accept what the church teaches or agree with the claims of Christianity. The reasons for disinterest are many and each needs to be addressed on it’s own. A lot of kids nominally believe without feeling connected or passionate about their belief. Some kids may be suspicious or skeptical as what the church teaches may not jive with their experiences in the world. Others may actively disbelieve in the existence of God and the core principles of Christianity. These kids can fairly be termed atheists. How to deal with each of these types of kids should be different depending on what factors are causing disinterest in church. For instance an atheist child or especially teen cannot switch on a genuine enthusiasm for church or christian activities if they have great objections to whats being taught. If I dragged you a christian to a mosque and made you pray to Allah, who you be inclined to become a devout Muslim? No, you’d feel outraged and deeply put upon that your religious freedom had been violated. It is no different with atheist kids especially older teens for they too resent when religious doctrines they do not believe (or are diametrically opposed to) are being imposed on them.



  21. Angie pina on August 22, 2017 at 7:16 AM

    I have a 10 year old daughter that doesn’t want to go to church because its boring. She sits there and you can see it in her face that she is mad. Don’t know what to do. Once I told her how come your not bored at Sea World, Fiesta Texas, The Museum or other entertaining places, and she does’t say a word. Her 7 year old brother hear that she is bored and he says the same thing. FRUSTRATED!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!



    • Nicole paul on September 16, 2017 at 9:16 PM

      I have an 8 year old son who hates going to Sunday school and worship. My husband has been a Christian since he was a kid. I never went to church as a kid. I feel it’s wrong to force our son to church but my husbands feels he has to go and that’s it. I’m at a loss here