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.


Comments

  1. Luella says

    My parents played the “as long as you live under our roof, you WILL go to church…Sunday mornings, evenings, Wed evenings, and Revival weeks” card. As a teen I disagreed w/many of the church’s beliefs and traditions, couldn’t see how they were supported by scripture, and wanted to visit other churches to see what else was possible. My parents forbade this! Wouldn’t let me attend friends’ churches. The result? 20 years later I don’t attend any church, and I don’t feel like I’m missing anything. As a teen I had started to think for myself and eventually realized what a sham the who church experience was. Perhaps if my parents had sat with me and had real conversations about my doubts and allowed me to try out other churches, I might be a committed member of the faith today. Hopefully this will serve as a warning to other authoritarian and legalistic parents. (I still love my parents and see them a few times a year, but sadly it isn’t the relationship it could and should have been.)

  2. Sunghee says

    My dad is a pastor and he forces me to go to church, which i’m fine with. What really gets to me is the family worship he forces us to attend too. He constantly complains (in his sermons) about us. This goes on for about an hour before we attend the real church which is 4 Hours. If I have a test or project he doesn’t care, he positively refuses to let me opt out on the family service. He doesn’t care about us having a real relationship with God, all he wants is the status that other community members give him. That’s why he wants us to appear as a family, on time (He gets SOO angry even if we are just 5 minutes late) and he has a good voice, which he loves getting compliments on when we sing in church. It’s so annoying and inconsiderate of what we children really need to grow spiritually, instead of forcing his ideas on us during the family sermon.(church is okay, even though its time consuming)

  3. Tracity says

    I think back to when I was a child. I loved God, but I didn’t love church. It was boring to sit for 30 -60 minutes and listen to grown-up talk. I didn’t like it at home and church was no different. I had a great mom who let us color, read, etc. but we were never allowed to miss, no matter how we begged.. Fast forward to me as a mom…we are a church going family Sunday School, Worship Service, Sunday & Wednesday nights…the whole shebang. I chose a church with a great kids ministry, they have all kinds of options I didn’t have…guess what, they still beg, just like I did, to not go sometimes. My kids love God, but not always church (sounds familiar).

    Even with all the options our church has, it is full of imperfect people, both attendees and workers. Sometimes conflict with peers or teachers has caused my kids to not want to go to church. Sometimes just our own selfishness in wanting our own way all the time. This has caused some good discussions about why or why not to go. In Hebrews the bible tells us to “not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching.” Not attending church is not an option if I want to follow the God’s Word, the bible. How often we attend, which ministries we are a part of, there we have some room to choose. For our family, Sunday morning is not optional, but evening services are. And our kids don’t have to go to children’s services, they are welcome to sit with us instead. Options. Most importantly, I think this has facilitated some fantastic discussions with our kids about faith, God, and church and a faith that is their own. How great is that.

  4. says

    Using the word force means compulsion which I do not think the gospel teaches but it says we should train up a child in the way he should go that when he is old he would not depart from it. Training does not require force but means been tutored with the right tools for learning. Now would I force my kids to church “No” but like me, there are those mornings when I would just prefer to sleep through the Sunday morning but I explain to myself why I should not let the devil talk me into staying at home when I should be in Church. So same goes for my children and for those mornings I don’t feel very churchee, I scream it out loud to my children and then I also explain out loud why I have to go which I believe is a learning curve for them as well as me.

  5. Royal says

    I would only allow my kids to skip church to the same extent I allow them to skip school or preventative shots (injections). Never, except for sickness or emergencies. To do otherwise would make me a bad parent, and a poor Christian.

  6. Debra Allen says

    Perhaps we should look at why they need to be ‘forced’. In our family on Sunday we go to church, unless there is illness or bad weather. It is not a question of do we ‘feel’ like going. It is what we do as children of God.

  7. Darlene Heistad says

    What reason does your teenager give for not wanting to go to church? I think he/she should have a say in the matter. I have friends whose teenager objected to some principals being presented by the church they were attending. Her parents respected her opinion and the family started visiting other churches until they found one that they ALL liked. I very much respect my friends for listening to their daughter and willingness to try other churches. Not attending any church was not an option.

  8. says

    Why are they not enjoying it? Are you in a church that allows kids to be kids and to grow and learn in a way that fits their age / stage? I struggled with my kids the most when I allowed Saturday evenings to be too full. Once we started preparing for Sunday on Saturday….made sure we were all played up (yes…I mean p-l-a-y ) and ready early on Saturday evening to get to bed and excited about the next day…and the church we were attending….attitudes changed! Friends over after church – great fun as well. There are many ways to make it appealing to kids but it does take some planning and preparation on the parent’s part.

  9. Darlene Heistad says

    It’s not “force” if this is what the family does on Sunday morning. It’s routine and children learn by example. Just as getting enough sleep and eating properly makes a healthy physical body, attending church provides a healthy spiritual body.

  10. Grace Snyder says

    Here is our problem. In our church Sunday schools for kids is prior to our church service. Our little ones are 5 yrs old and after spending an hr n Sunday school ( which I teach) they are very antsy and get whiny during the 1 1/2 hr church service. We have tried colouring books etc to try and keep them occupied quietly. Most times we are so busy with them ( asking them to be quiet) that we do not get the whole message ourselves. Sure would like some advice on a solution. Right now we take turns with my oldest daughter , where we will alternate taking the kids home after Sunday school while the other attends church. Worry if we are in fact doing the right thing.

  11. Tiffany says

    I’ve been forced to go to church since I was 5 year old. My parents were only saved when I was 5 and they’ve all been trying to save the whole family and what not into the lords light. Now, I have been going to church since I was 5 but recently I find that I don’t believe in what I used to before. And it’s not because I’ve found something better to do with my time, I loved going to church. It was just whatever church id go to, the worshipped would always contradict what they were preaching infront of us all. I understand that we are all imperfect but for that to be happening for the past 15 years you begin to lose faith. I’ve been forced to attend church for so long that it’s been a burden to even get up & get ready because I feel that the hypocrisy isn’t worth the had hour drive. I’ve tried to move to a different branch in the same Christianity but it’s always the same story. The worst part is the worse things get at church, the more strict my parents are with me going in the first place. I just feel that forcing a child with no faith left to express to attend church twice a week is a waste of time, distraction to everyone else’s worship, demoralising for the other spiritually strong youth at church, and definitely pushing your child away from the parents. A child’s view on their parents shouldn’t be this harsh and stubborn Christian force feeding their child when they are not hungry. I do believe in doing what’s best for your child and if they’re young then yes take them to church and teach them gods word. But as kids get older, I think the phrase of ‘I wouldn’t let my child skip school’ kind of looses it’s meaning. When a child leaves school, they have a choice of continuing to study or to leave and make his own choices. I believe it’s the same with religion. I’m 20 year old now, I’ve done all the work I was forced to do as I didn’t have a choice and I aced everything. But in old enough now to decide how my life is to be lived so why should I still be rudely awoken at 6am on a Sunday to be pushed into a room of people I can no longer stand? And the rule that some parents have about, ‘you’re in my house you’re going to church’ I believe pushes the kids even further away. The already force feeding in trying to get them to church is pushing them away and in time anything remotely involving church will repel them from god all together. So once given the option to opt out of church all together with the minor alteration that they need to move out, will remove then completely from God. I believe today parents are too strict with their children. What happened to free will & giving your kids a choice? All the parents had a choice to decide if this religion was right for them.

  12. Marj says

    Yes, kids need to go to church WITH their parents. We don’t give kids a choice about school, the dentist or other things we, as parents ,think are important.

  13. Jeanette Nimick says

    I love your answer. My husband and I have been having a debate about my daughter going to Sunday school. My husband is not saved so my family is torn spiritually. The only thing that kept going through my head while my husband was yelling at me about forcing my kids to go to church is “Train up a child in the way he should go” which made me put my foot down on the issue. Many people put their own ideas on a problem “Do what is right in their own eyes” But God clearly tells us that we are the authority in the house hold and we are to raise our kids to “seek Him first and His righteousness” Please pray for me as a mother trying to do just that and pray for my 14 year old who suddenly is giving me a rebellious attitude about going to church in the morning.

  14. Duncan says

    Honestly, parents have control of a lot over/concerning their children. However, it doesn’t mean everything. While it’s important to introduce them into your faith, once they’re old enough to make a choice in what to believe in, which would normally start in their teen years, they should be able to decide if they can go. If you force them to go, they’ll only rebel anyways. Also, odds are, as time continues, your kid will become one more who is atheist, boosting the already increasing numbers. That will cause problems in your relationship with your child if you try to force your religion on them. I’m willing to bet 95% of you here are Christian, but are different branches of Christianity, no? Well, most of your services are a few hours long, varying on your individual churches and branch of Christianity. That’s not very long. That said, if you’ve raised your child(ren) to your best ability (notice I didn’t say “right”), he/she/they will know enough not to do anything dangerous or otherwise inappropriate. You have the right to your own religion, why don’t kids/teens have that same right?

  15. Susie says

    I belive this one Bible verse sums it up quite well –
    Proverbs 22:6
    “Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.”

    Children have to have the knowledge to make their decision later in life. We don’t allow them to opt out of school. I have found the hardest part is normally getting them up, usually when they are there they enjoy it.

  16. Wendy says

    Our teenagers were encouraged to be involved in any way they could, one played the piano, the other helped teach junior church once a month and later taught the pre school sunday school. They helped in the nursery, washed dishes, cleaned the church with us on our week and set up chairs. They both attended teens and later became leaders. Our 25 year old is now the leader of the college and careers group. Both have grown up to be dedicated Christians and very involved. The key to wanting to go to church as teens is to be involved and needed and appreciated.

  17. nancy says

    No parent I know would allow their child to regularly opt out of school, dr appts, sports events. Why would church be any different, esp since it’s more important? I used to tell our kids, “You get up for school, you get up for church.” I believe that even if they aren’t listening, they are absorbing and that’s good.

  18. Renee says

    I agree w/limit if they live in my house they must go to church. They may not appreciate now,but as they grow older, they will learn to love god and thank him for what he has done and continues to do in their lives. You may think that their not listening or obtaining anything, but when they are by themselves and are facing a situation you’d be surprise how the lord will see them through. I thank god for my son, we told him, you live in our house your going to church. Now he was in 6th grade @ that time, he is now 20 and isn’t ashamed to trust god w/his life.

  19. says

    I think age of the child does matter. When they are young (even through elementary age), we have to do a lot more to help them grow in wisdom and morality. But by the time they are teens and adults, if their heart is not bent towards God, forcing them to go to church is not going to be beneficial.

    But no matter what age, the big idea is to allow the conversation to happen, as I did when one of my kids was little. I wrote about my answer here:

    http://differentway4kids.blogspot.com/2011/02/what-if-my-child-doesnt-want-to-go-to.html

  20. LSmit says

    If they are living in my house, they are going to church, even now that the “kids” are adults. They respect that. I think it teaches them the high priority of worshiping God with other believers and being a part of the Christian community. When they were growing up here, there was nothing for the children (on Sunday) for the children. Now we have children’s church during the sermon, so the families are still together. So far, as adults, all of them attend church each week. I pray they will always be connected with the Lord and His people in this way. God uses us to “mold” our children, and this is one way for us to help do that; plus we are bringing them to a place where they can hear God’s Word yet again and be molded directly by it, through the Spirit.

  21. Rahida says

    I agree with Taiwo. I come from a moslim family in 2000 I took Jesus as my saviour. The moslim children are going to the mosque on a very young age and they enjoy it. If they succeed, why can’t we as christians?

    I think as long as the children are living with their parents they should go to church if the parents are going to church. But most of the Christian parents I know, their children are not coming to church and their argument is I am not going to force them.

  22. taiwo akinyemi says

    I agree with Tony that the question “should children be made to go to church” is a parenting issue. Children should go to church even if they think its boring. If you leave them at home or to their own devices you are handing them over to the devil who will occupy them with other “activities”.

    Bring them to church and keep praying that God will touch their hearts. If you will do this, He will touch their hearts – in time.

    Taiwo

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