Too Much Church! 5 Dangers Facing Over-Churched Kids

A top concern for most kids pastors is reaching the children in their communities who do not attend church. These unchurched kids simply don’t know much about the Bible. Often they have a mixed up version of Jesus gathered from TV shows. Before they can give their lives to Him, they need a basic introduction to the Good News.

On the other end of the spectrum are kids who are overexposed to church. These are the children who attend every service, and can’t remember anytime when they didn’t come to church. In my ministry, most of these kids also attend a Christian school. They can recite the books of the Bible, they’ve memorized countess Scripture verses, and they know details about Bible stories that I can’t even remember.

By over-churched kids, I mean children with too much religion and not enough actual interaction with Jesus. Attending church is important and should promote spiritual growth, but sometimes there are side effects. In this post, I will describe the spiritual dangers these kids face. You can also read our follow up post that offers 9 strategies for reaching these kids.

If you’re new to our website, be sure to check out our sunday school lessons for children and VBS resources. You might also enjoy our free lessons for children’s church and the our free children’s sermons. Here is the link for What I said about Over Churched Children.

This is not an easy topic and I expect some push back from readers. But this is an issue we need to address now, before we raise the next crop of Pharisees.

1. Familiar Stories Lose Their Power: When kids hear the same Bible stories year-after-year they can become a little boring. Even worse – these stories are often told without imagination or any listener interaction. Most over-churched kids have heard the same 100+ Bible stories since they were in the Toddler Sunday School. They no longer connect with the characters or feel moved by the plot resolution. Once I was told by a seminary professor, “ It is a sin to make the Bible boring.” I’m starting to think he was right.

2. Knowledge Can Promote Pride: Something happens inside of us when we become the expert. Children feel that same sense of superiority when they have more religious knowledge than their peers. Too often over-churched kids build their identity around that achievement, even when it doesn’t involve a growing relationship with Christ.

3. They Have Learned to Pretend Pray: A real struggle for grown-ups is connecting with God through prayer. Too often it becomes routine and dry. Most younger children learn prayer as an act of imitation. Many don’t even realize that something cosmic is happening when we address our words to God. They don’t feel the presence of God or even expect that they should.

4. They Don’t Feel Their Lostness: Many over-churched kids don’t know what life is like without the comforts of faith. Their brain say ‘forgiveness’ before their heart feels ‘I’m sorry.’ Because they know about grace, they have never really struggled much with guilt.

5. The Ugly Side of Church: Kids who hang around Christians know the yucky side of the church. They hear the complaining. They know Jesus didn’t fix daddy’s temper yet. They know that church is not always the safest place in their lives. Beyond all this they notice when adults are being fake or doing religious role play.

What Do You Think?

What has been your experience with over-churched kids? Do you recognize some of these dangers in your ministry. Leave a comment below to share your ideas.


Comments

  1. Mary Lou Gamache says

    I do not think it is dangerous to overexpose children to Church. FAar more dangersous is the parent who goes to church and does not have a personal relationship with Christ and gives children a bad example. Children are always listening and watching their parents. Telling children that you love God and others then acting otherewise innoculates children against religion. Children get just enough phony religion to make them immune to it! So not church but authentic Christian witness is most needed to raise people of faith.

  2. Donald Callia Jr. says

    I believe the same thing happens with adults. You don’t have to go to church too much to be religious. It has to do with the heart of each individual, kid or adult. I think the main thing is that parents need to live out their Christianity at home, instead of only in the church. Which is hypocritical in my opinion.

  3. says

    I have been looking for answers to so many questions in my Ministry to children.
    1) if the parent does not have spiritual role in their children’s life, what can the church do?
    2) what about children from a broken home, out of wedlock, who lacks basic needs of life,and have found a place in church just once in 7 days! Only to satisfy their wants and learn nothing.
    3)Also children that have over-heard their parents discuss a lot about the dysfunction of the church. Like I have a child that will tell me to my face that prayer doesnt do everything,so says my dad and mum…..so she wouldnt pray.
    I pray for the generation of parent that neglect their family alters to circular life and church politics. We the church will continue to do our best…Ta

  4. Baz says

    I think it’s better to get children to learn mathematics and science than too much church. Without a rigorous intellectual background that includes more than just scripture they won’t be prepared for the modern world. More great Christian thinkers will win respect from those who don’t believe!

    Further the more they are exposed to knowledge about the world they more rigorously they’ll be able to defend their faith. It’s easy to challenge the beliefs of someone who doesn’t understand the world, much harder to do so with someone who is well educated beyond scripture.

    Finally it means that through challenging their own beliefs regularly they’ll know WHY they believe what they believe. This is important because too many people just accept what others say without thinking about it for themselves – the third reason the author gives touches on this one – it’s not enough to believe just because you’ve been taught that but rather to struggle through and work out their relationship, if any, to god.

    • Dillon says

      I’m glad for your post, as I can personally relate to alot of what you wrote. It makes me feel not so alone being someone who has to continually strip down what I believe and rebuild often.

      One of the main reasons I left church was the blind acceptance to a status quo and the subtle pressure that comes from the church peer group to adhere to those norms. I’m not bashing the bible, but the whole “the bible says” thing kinda did me in; lots of circular logic. I’ll probably go back at some point, just not at that point yet. My physics education taught me how to think very critically, probably too much so, as you loose a certain innocence in how you view things.

      And I agree, it can be a real struggle to work through what you believe and why you believe in God and Jesus. For me now it’s no one else loves me with so few conditions like Jesus. My physics degree came from a christian university, and I have no regrets going there. I did notice a trend with heavily churched people having a harder time relating to people outside of that type of environment, and I’ve had a hard time relating to people at church. Nothing to hold against them though. Many of these people are really awesome caring individuals, much more than myself; and I’m sure God shines through their failures as I hope he does through mine.

  5. Jon says

    I wouldn’t worry too much about it. In fact, I used to be one of these kids – growing up knowing it all but practicing otherwise. We can only do so much as Christians – only God can provide the repentance and change. I know sometimes it is stressful seeing kids veer off one way instead of going the straight path – but what is important is that we continue to serve faithfully knowing God will not abandon. As Philipians 1:6 says “For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus.”

    God’s ways are mightier than man’s ways – and the way God works in one person will vary from the next.

    “The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.” 2 Peter 3:9

    I love this verse because if God has chosen you, that’s it. It says God is patient to wait for every last chosen one until he/she has become saved. There is nothing that can block the Salvation of a chosen child of God – no terrorist, no drug, no sin, no death, no failure… nothing! No thing can prevent what God wills for a person he chooses.

    I pray all of you continue to stay faithful to the ministry even when things don’t happen the way we want them to. Press on – God will finish the work which has been started!

  6. Evelyn Noweder says

    I don’t know if anyone else has mentioned this, but I think one of the things I see is the over-churched, fake-Christian youth being placed into positions of youth leadership. Often, because they are very involved and very enthusiastic, it is seen as a reflection of their spiritual maturity. Sadly, I think that this is not always the case. The other concern I have, is seeing some of our churched children growing up knowing some of the “stories” or “principles” and yet knowing very little of Scripture. In some cases, the basis of their faith seems to be more Christian lyrics than Scripture. I have to say that I am VERY CONCERNED for the state of our churches. Not only the over-churched kids, but the over-churched adults, who also seem to be very involved and excited about “church” and yet so much less excited about getting into Scripture or spending time in the Word. And, where are the Bible teachers? I learned as I saw women who loved to read the Bible. How many such teachers are out there? And how many churches are using these teachers to pass on this skill and love for the Word? It is so much easier to use pre-packaged studies than to dig in to the Word for ourselves.

    OK, sorry, you have touched on a sore spot for me. My heart aches for how anemic church has become in so many ways. We seem to have made it so much easier to just show up, for both adults and children. So little is expected.

    And, in my own church, I see a push to get involved in outreach, which is GREAT, but our church is still in so many ways immature and there is such a lack of foundation. We need to build up the body, to stop pushing the milk and begin feeding the meat. We need to begin raising expectations and helping believers to reach for those expectations rather than making them comfortable in their pews. We SO NEED to begin training and developing instead of entertaining and giving principles for successful living.

    OK, I’ll stop now. I could go on and on, and maybe I am wrong. Maybe I am old-fashioned or not seeing the big picture. But, oh, my heart aches for the body of Christ and what it has become, a nice, comfortable, friendly get-together on Sunday mornings.

  7. Lela Nickell says

    Oh my goodness! You’ve hit the nail on the head. Our ministry team has talked about some of these problems, and have been working to revamp the way we present the Bible to the kids in our church. Looking forward to more on this subject.

  8. says

    I Praise the lord for giving you this insight, because this subject i have always been concerned about. As a teacher, Minister and pastor, I’ve worked with many types of sunday school programs, and have seen the boredom and lack of understanding in our children. I’ve often wonder how much of Christ and who He really is, is being imparted in their lives. I’ve also had this experience myself growing up in the christian faith.

  9. faridah says

    you are right,some of these kids come to church as a routine they dont have any touch with christ.And because they’ve grown in church they fell that they know every thing.

    Thank you for opening our eyes.

  10. Manon says

    I think you hit the nail on the head with this– ” 3. They Have Learned to Pretend Pray: A real struggle for grown-ups is connecting with God through prayer. Too often it becomes routine and dry. Most younger children learn prayer as an act of imitation. Many don’t even realize that something cosmic is happening when we address our words to God. They don’t feel the presence of God or even expect that they should.”
    I think most of the kids at my church, mine included are doing exactly this and are completely unaware. Thanks for bringing it up, i’ll try some “prayer aware” lessons/pointers to remind us what prayer is really about.

  11. mary davis says

    Good insights, Tony. Indeed, i was effectively reared to become a little Pharisee…in fact, in my church circles, it was applauded. We even used our sense of superiority as a weapon of mockery of those who didn’t agree with us (of course, they weren’t as wise as we were, not as well taught…). We were a bunch of horrible people in Jesus’ name, doing what we thought was Jesus’ work.
    The good news is, even for the most Pharisee’d kid, God’s Word is still truth. It still never returns void. And through whatever long path it takes, we little Pharisees still have the living Word to kick us into real Jesus-following. My recommendation: If kids see their parents focused on Jesus instead of on the church drama (and discussing it over Sunday dinner!), if kids see their parents going sincerely to Jesus, humbly repenting, growing in grace, those overchurched ones are much more likely to see that this is real, life-changing and powerful…even for the pastors and their wives who happen to be their parents!

  12. sarah says

    hey all,

    I am an over-churched kid. Growing up with both of my parents working for the church, it seemed like all I ever heard was the gossip and the soap-opera drama of the staff. It drove me so crazy, and even now that I’m on my own, I’m having trouble finding a church to settle down in because it’s been so long since I enjoyed it.

    I think when I get around to having kids, I will not work for the church in the sense of having a career there while they are growing up. I will sit with them in the services and really talk about God with them and maybe take some kind of job (volunteer or otherwise) when they’re old enough to take care of themselves.

  13. says

    There’s lots that could be said, but:
    the problem is never knowing *too much* Scripture, but as I see it, (and I’m from Scotland, so many of the ‘American phrases’ are new to me!), many, many Christian families seem to assume their kids are Christians. Statistics talk of the numbers of teens ‘we are losing’, but the question is, Did you ever have them? They – as we were – are born in guiltiness and sin, and ‘They must be born again’. I was lost, and was found at the age of 19. My children (ages 7 – 17) were lost, and I pray and weep, waiting for their salvation. Never, ever assume salvation – what a thought, that a child could think themselves ‘safe’ and not know differently until that moment they awaken in a lost eternity. Too awful to contemplate.

  14. says

    As a Pastor’s wife and 18+ years in ministry, I hear you. Which is why we NEVER assume salvation in our church kids. A friend was stunned when he asked us what study we were using in our Youth Group (a mixed bag of lost and “saved”), and our reply was “study? we hope they believe that God exists!” This was novel to him because, after all, most of these kids have been going to church all their life! This is true, but salvation was not evident in many unless we assume salvation due to the fact that they were at every church meeting. I believe that parents should bring their children to every meeting available. But the parents nor the church should believe that this makes them saved. We preach to the saved, after all, it is church. But we must keep before us the truth that not all are saved because they come. So, I don’t believe over churches is the problem, but rather the false security of salvation we instill in them because they’ve attended all their lives, and then we watch them wrestle with trying to live a life they are not empowered to live. They are in a “no win” situation and is it any wonder that they fall away or get bored?

  15. Jewel says

    As a missionary kid and now a homeschool parent of four in vocational camp ministry I couldn’t agree more with this article. I think one of the best ways to counteract this is by cultivating a genuine relationship with your child in which faith can be shared and discussed through everyday teachable moments. As a parent, I must view my relationship with my child as my primary ministry, second only to my ministy to my spouse. I must be quick to admit when I am wrong and seek forgiveness from my child in order to guard against hypocrisy and I must be very careful not to spiritually manipulate my children by exchanging man-made expecations for God’s standards of the heart. I also encourage my children to develop relationships with other Godly role models who will speak truth into their lives that sometimes they may not receive well from me. It’s really all about reaching their hearts through genuine relationship . . . and a whole lot of prayer!!

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