“Do I have to go to church?”
I am the parent of teenagers. This has been uttered. More than once.
I realize that there are some parents who never experience hearing this but for many the parent of teens, this comment is a likely reality.
So how to respond?
Do you force attendance and run the risk of making your teenager even angrier with you, the church and maybe even God?
Do you allow them to skip every now and then and run the risk of encouraging them to begin a habit of not attending church?
After a lifetime of telling them that church isn’t a building but the people in it, do you double down on getting them in the building?
If they are tuned out, is it even doing any good for them to be there?
If you are like me, this wrestling match of “What is best?” ensues and you begin to question everything you’ve attempted to do as a parent, minister, and discipler. And you’re also keenly aware that in just a few short years, they will know longer be under your roof and they will be making their own decisions about what to do on Sunday morning and Wednesday night (or whenever your church meets) and you will have no say and little influence.
Since I am knee-deep in the beautiful chaos that is parenting teenagers, I thought that at the very least I could share my thoughts and hopefully, glean from yours, so that together, we can encourage one another with the best choice we can make given our individual situations.
The Church IS People
I’m a big believer in the power of intergenerational relationships and cultivating friendship that exist outside the constructs of a building or a designated church time. The body of Christ is made up of all generations and we are called to share our faith with one another, one generation to another, and that can’t happen exclusively in the construct of a Sunday morning church service. It is up to us as parents to find ways to help our children build those relationships with other adults long before they reach the “I don’t want to go to church” age.
1. Because sometimes they may not want to go to church but they might just want to go see a friend, even if that friend is an adult.
2. Because sometimes church might be them going out with said friend to the mall and having conversations with that adult who is pouring into them that they would never have with you.
3. Because we need each other; the church is supposed to support parents as they raise their kids and these relationships are necessary for holistic faith
4. Because the Church IS People not a building.
There’s More than One Way
Recently our oldest has requested to not go to youth group anymore since most of the teens there are younger than her. Really a hard call for us since we are the pastor’s family. But we gave her a choice: Either go to youth group OR meet with the youth pastor twice a month to do a book study. She chose the latter.
So now my child is spending one-on-one time with someone I respect and want to have speaking into her life, talking about Scripture and God, and “getting her way”. We decided that rather than say “No,” we’d work with her to find a way to ensure that while she is our home, she has some intentional time of discipleship that is developmentally appropriate for her.
What’s the Motive?
As parents, we thought long and hard about this. We all know that “going to church doesn’t make you a Christian any more than going to McDonald’s makes you a cheeseburger.” But there is value in being around a community of believers who care about you and worships the same God you do. So we really have to consider why we feel like it is important for our kids to be in church, especially when they are teenagers.
For us it came down to this: Church is something we do as a family and while you live with us, it will be something you participate in. We know that you have to choose for yourself if you want to be a Christian or attend church once you leave our home, but while here, this is something that we value and we commit to doing as a family.
Now, does that mean our kids can never miss a church service? For our family, no, that is not what it means. We understand that there are things that come up that might cause them to miss a service and there may be times where we say, “Why don’t you all stay home today?” But ultimately, we have said that church will be a non-negotiable in our home.
Watch for Substitutes
Being in church actually fulfills a deep need and longing that we have to be in community. God created us for that very thing in His image of perfect community in the Trinity. So, if church isn’t a place where that need for community is being met, teens will likely substitute with something else.
A recent article in the Washington Post about Millenials leaving church (not Gen Z, mind you, but still addressing the church attendance issue) states “Some of us are turning to convenient, low-commitment substitutes for faith and fellowship: astrology, the easy “spiritualism” of yoga and self-care, posting away on Twitter and playing more games..Here’s what really worries me: Few of these activities are as geared toward building deep relationships and communal support as the religious traditions the millennials are leaving behind. Actively participating in a congregation means embedding oneself in a community. This involves you in the lives of others and the other way around — their joys and sadnesses, connections and expectations. By leaving religion, we’re shrugging off the ties that bind, not just loosening them temporarily.”
This should be a wake up call for us as parents and for many of us who are in fact Millenials. If we see that our sense of community or our teen’s sense of community is coming from shallow substitutes, there’s a bigger thing going on that just missing a church service.
Community is key to connection; that is what the body of Christ is called to be for one another and for the world.
This is where we have landed in our home. And I realize, that other parents end up in another place. Perhaps you have been blessed with a child who never questions the need to go to church or expresses a desire to not attend regularly. Perhaps every single Sunday is a struggle and you have grown weary and your heart is heavy. It is not an “easy answer” issue with a cookie cutter solution.
But I do know this: God cares immeasurably more for your child (and my child) than you (or I) do and He is not the kind to let sheep run wild without a caring Shepherd to guide them to the fold. Whether their head, heart and body are in the pew or not, He is with them and we can entrust our budding adult to His hands.
I’d love to hear from you; what has your experience with teenagers and church been and how have you parented them in grace and love when it comes to church attendance?
For more information about
- Kids in Worship
- Determining which Type of Family Ministry model works best for your church
- Discipleship in Intergenerational community
- Encouraging the continued conversation through Practical Discipleship at Home
- Seminars, Workshops, Coaching
About this Blog
Refocus Ministry was started by Christina Embree, wife to Pastor Luke, mom to three wonderful kids, and church planter at Plowshares BIC. With years of experience in family ministry and children’s ministry, she is passionate about seeing churches partnering with families to encourage faith formation at home and equipping parents to disciple their kids in the faith. She recently graduated with a Masters of Arts in Ministry focusing on Family, Youth and Children’s Ministry at Wesley Seminary, she also blogs at www.refocusministry.org and is a contributing blogger at D6 Family, ChurchLeaders.com, and Seedbed
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