What If My Child Doesn't Want to Go to Church?

image courtesy of MarilynJane via flickr
Has your child ever said, “I don’t want to go to church”?  We have been fortunate to be a part of a great church, with a fun and meaningful Children’s Ministry.   Even in the process of our family moving to Allendale, Hannah wondered about what it looks like to drive 3 hours each way to still be at Grace Church worship services.  Our kids are almost always excited to be in their programing.  Almost always. 

How to Respond
But each of our children, on more than one occasion, has expressed resistance to going to their programming, and one of them has expressed it plenty of times.  Below are some talking points that we’ve used to engage our children’s hearts on this matter.  It’s important to note that this is how we framed the discussion with our children at the preschool and young elementary age.  For preteens and teenagers, most of the principles are the same, but the conversation would probably need to go differently.
  • “Well, you are going with us.  That’s not an option.  But I want to hear why you don’t want to go.  I want to dialogue with you about why we go, and why you need to go as well.”
  • “You need to go because Mommy and Daddy are going, and you have to come with us, since you cannot stay home alone.  Church is important to us, to be able to worship God with others, and to be able to serve others.”
  • “Since Mommy and Daddy are going to serve others, this is your opportunity to serve others, to put them ahead of what you want.  The Bible says in Philippians 2:3 that we should consider others better than ourselves.  This is your way to serve, by going even when you do not want to.”
  • “Going to church [or, as our family sometimes calls it, “church meeting” – since we, not buildings, are the church] is a way that you can learn more about God’s love and His plan for you.  By not going, we would miss out on an opportunity for God to speak to and teach us.”

Principles for You to Remember
Besides these talking points, here are some basic principles for you to know and remember about the value of the local church.
  • Church is God’s primary agent of redemption for this fallen world.  People may make a case that family is the primary agent, but God’s word (especially the New Testament) really seems to indicate that the church can have a much broader impact, as each person uses his or her gifts. 
  • Your child is not the leader.  Do not give him or her the power to decide.  Leading them does not mean making them happy.  Church is good for you and for your marriage (if applicable).  (See more in the post about Oneness.)
  • Make sure you are going for the right reasons.  Consider why you are a part of a church.  Maybe your child is reflecting an attitude or behavior that he perceives in you.  Are you going because of “tradition” or because “it’s a good thing,” just going through the motions?  Your child needs to see you engaging in multiple areas of spiritual growth, not just church.  See this post on 7 Ways to Grow in Faith.

Has any of your children ever made this comment, about not wanting to go to church?  Any other pointers or principles you can add?

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  1. Great post. This is something I hear from parents quite a bit, especially when school and sports events start up and the child is booked all week long. They want to stay home and rest, watch TV, or catch up on homework. I'll be putting this link in our weekly newsletter!

    Lindsey @ GrowingKidsMinistry.com

  2. My teenage daughter didn't want to attend church when it became "too large" for her to "feel connected". Though we required her to attend weekly, we could see she wasn't bearing fruit from the time. We began praying that God would provide a smaller church with a strong teen program for her. A year and a half ago, God answered, guiding us to a small church with a strong teen program and she's loved every minute of her time there AND we see fruit! We still attend our church and thank God for giving her a church where she is happy and spiritually thriving!

  3. Thanks, Cindy. Yes, for teens, the conversation and key emphases are different. I appreciate you sharing your experience.

  4. nice article, i get your point. but... "I want to dialogue with you"? lol. who ever says that....to anyone...?? [facepalm] "i want to dialogue with you...." nice. also, i doubt hurling scripture references at your kid in a situation like this is going to be effective at all. i like your 4th point, it's a little more real.

  5. Ha. Yeah, I probably didn't say "dialogue." I should have written better than that.

    But, I don't think that I "was hurling scripture references." I guess I can see how that could have happened, but those verses are principles that we have taught our kids over and over. This conversation is actually part of a much larger conversation, that is still going on.

    Thanks for your input!

  6. This was really thoughtful. I know I am commenting 2 years later, but had to laugh when I was pointed to this blog. I went to Clemson with Joanna (and she will definitely remember me and my husband - Stuart and Shannon Hayes (maiden name Busha). I was struggling this morning because our middle one frequently expresses a lack of desire to go to church. It was this way in Clemson (when we were at DCF for years) and this way here in Germany as well (where we have only one viable option.)But I really liked your advice. Please tell Joanna hello for me, and peace of Christ to you and yours as you serve the Allendale community.

    1. Thanks for leaving this comment, Shannon. Yes, Joanna absolutely remembers y'all. And she has mentioned you both to me before.

      Back to the issue -- funny, it was mostly our middle child whom we've had these conversations with (although all 3 have had their moments).

      And we totally understand about having very limited options.

      God bless you guys as well.

  7. I find when my dad doesn't force me to go to church I find I actually want to go, however when he forces me to go I hate it and really don't pay attention to any of what's being said, nice article and I see why you'd say the parents need to make the decision and all but truth is... Teens need to be able to make their own religious decisions, I mean really, our parents for one shouldn't force us to believe in something, that's one of the few choices we have since they can't take our beliefs away, the more you push the more they pull away from you (parents) and religion.

    1. Thanks for sharing your experience. I'm with you; I HATED going to church when I had to as a pre-teen and teenager. And I looked for ways to get out. Thankfully, my parents did not force the issue. You're right in that we have to let teenagers make more and more decisions.

      On the other hand, as parents we are to see a model and to teach our children. I know that my child (as they get older) will make their own decisions about Jesus, and that's good. But when they are young, they do have to fall under our authority in this area.

      Of course, I agree that forcing your child to go to church isn't the best way to pass on your faith. It is best passed on by setting an example of a dynamic faith, 7 days a week. I write about that here: