Should parents force their kids to go to church?

Angry little girl

Now that’s a loaded question for you! Any answer you give will likely blow up in your face. So before we attempt this dangerous feat, let’s work through some background issues.

Who’s asking the question?

In church life, you’ll find many motivations behind this query. Both parents and teens use those same words, but with different intent. It’s also a popular complaint of the anti-religious, for them it’s not a question but an accusation. Like many situations, it’s best to listen well. As Steven Covey famously advised, “Seek first to understand, then to be understood.”

Angry little boyHere are some issues to work out before moving forward.

  • What’s the story behind this question?
  • Is this person seeking honest advice or do they merely want an ally in their family conflict?
  • What heart motivations are influencing the situation?
  • What is the spiritual maturity of the family?
  • Are their other parents (or siblings) in the home who already opt out of church?

Reasons to make them go

There are many reasons to answer YES to this question. I’ll simply present and let you decide if they carry any weight.

God relates to the family as a unit.
In the Bible, you’ll see good & bad examples of this principle. The most obvious is the divine promises made to Abraham and his offspring. While each individual is accountable before God, some aspects of familial covenant are evident.

It’s the parent’s responsibility.
We must provide each child’s needs, and that include spiritual needs. This is the core rationale behind much common advice, “You wouldn’t let your child stay home from school.” It’s something of a practical approach. Church attendance provides an opportunity for spiritual growth and exposure to the Gospel, so parents should ensure their child is present.

Angry girl with arms crossed

Worship together sets a common spiritual direction.
This is the idea behind Joshua’s classic declaration, “But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” It’s a powerful experience when parents and children share the same story. Attending church together can be one outpost in that journey.

Church is really about what God wants.
Kids need to understand worship as an opportunity to encounter the Lord. We gather together because our Father’s love and delight in meeting with us.

There are also some bad reasons for bringing kids to church. These include concern for reputation, discipline for a child’s poor behavior, a work to merit God’s favor or blindly following a tradition. It gets tricky when these wrong reasons are wrapped up with the better ones listed above.

Reasons to let them opt-out
On the other side, I’ve heard parents explain why they allow their children to stay away. You may personally disagree with this entire list, but it’s helpful to understand what people are thinking.

They’ll grow bitter toward God.
This shows a concern that kids have a real relationship with God and from their own choice. Most parents who give this reason expect their child will later reverse their choice.

They’re only zoning out.
” What do kids really learn when they are forced to attend church? You likely know many adults who can tune out the pastor before he even says “Hello.”

They’re distracting my worship.
Few parents would admit to this reason, but it’s a common feeling. It becomes worse when the children get too old for kids church and they remain in the grown-up service.

Is there a magic number?

Some might answer this question differently depending on the age of the child. Very few moms would give a toddler the option to quit church. Parenting is about training, and handing over life choices as the kids mature. All parents will eventually relinquish their authority over a child’s religious practice. I asked our readers about what age made the most sense to them. You can view the results below or take the poll yourself.

What’s your final answer?

I asked this same question on our Facebook page and hundreds responded in the first few hours. Click here to leave your thoughts on this question. At the end of the day it’s a question about parenting and that means God wants you to use your best judgment with your own kids.

My kids are still young and have never imagined life without church on Sunday. Church is not optional in our family, it’s just something we do together. At the same time, I would tell them it’s normal to have honest doubts and feelings of boredom sometimes. A few hours a week is not a large sacrifice.

In the end, the children belong to God and it’s up to Him to change their hearts. As parents, we should do our best and provide the most opportunities for that to happen.