“I Don’t Wanna Go”
Tips for Parents Whose Kids Want to Skip Church
“Harrison, just doesn’t want to attend church with us,” said a friend about his teenage son. With a grimace on his face he asked, “What should we do?”
That’s a great question…but first let’s talk about what we shouldn’t do.
Making a Difference or Making Matters Worse
Why wouldn’t “Harrison” want to go to church? I wondered. The pastor at his church happens to be a dynamic, godly, theologically profound, talented, and handsome guy. OK, OK. I’m the pastor at this particular church…but rather than taking offense, I assured my good friend that his family wasn’t the only one in America facing this issue. I even told him how much I despised church when I was a teenager…before becoming a disciple of Jesus and then a pastor, myself.
It’s true; for several intriguing and/or difficult reasons, thousands upon thousands of families have a similar conversation amongst themselves each weekend. Unfortunately, many of the parents caught in this back-and-forth choose to adopt one of two possible strategies that are at opposite ends of the spectrum. Some turn to bulldozing (“As long as you’re under my roof…”) while others turn to bribery (“If you’ll go to church with us then you can…”).
These parents want to help their kids make the right choice, but their approach may be unintentionally undermining their efforts. As parents, we all want our kids to develop a life-changing relationship with Jesus, model a God-honoring faith, and lead lives that positively impact those around them.
So, how do we go about that…especially when that same desire seems like a low priority for our kids? Here are a few simple ideas.
Take biblical disobedience off the table.
Over and over again, the Bible calls for our faithful participation in the Body of Christ – for our benefit and the benefit of others! Therefore, we need to do our very best to remove the option of anything less than the standard prescribed by God. No, this isn’t “spiritual semantics” for bullying our kids into church attendance. If our kids said they didn’t want to take showers anymore, you wouldn’t let that be an option. If your spouse said they didn’t want to pay taxes anymore, you wouldn’t let that be an option, either. As the leader of your home, it’s up to you to set the spiritual pace for your family. If we remember that God is going to hold us accountable, then we quickly realize not going to church as a family is not an option for our family. Now that we know what we’re not going to do (bulldoze or bribe), we can start working on constructive plans to help our kids see the tremendous benefits of an active and obedient faith.
Talk about the importance of belonging to a spiritual family.
So much has been written about the positive effects church attendance has on teenagers. When young people faithfully attend church and heed the spiritual instruction it provides, they have so many deep needs met by the fellowship it offers. Lovingly remind them of the importance of belonging to your biological family, and then point out the (many) benefits of belonging to a spiritual family. Ask them where they hope to have their spiritual needs met if not at church. Ask them how they can be a blessing to others if they’re not at church. As you discuss your family’s spiritual discipline of church attendance, be prepared to share a story or two of your own growth and development that sprung from being faithful. If church doesn’t mean much to you, you shouldn’t expect it to mean much to your kids.
Do everything in your power to make church better.
It may well be that your kid is regularly having a terrible experience at church for some reason. Maybe there’s really poor leadership in the youth ministry department. Maybe there is a church bully waiting for him. Maybe she suffered an embarrassment a few weeks back and the awkwardness is still too raw. Do your best to uncover the obstacles keeping your kid from wanting to attend church. When you discover the hurdle(s), you’re better prepared to help your kids overcome them. Maybe you can help make the youth ministry stronger by volunteering in some capacity. Maybe you can help repair a relationship that suffered a setback. At the very least, you can always pray for your kid to supernaturally experience God at the church in which He’s placed your family. Be proactive…and be willing to step up your own level of obedience to help your teenager get where God wants him/her.
As parents, we’re called to raise our kids in Christ…not just in church. But we can’t fully forge our kids’ identity in Christ apart from His Body, either. Model true Christlikeness before your children and that will help them want Jesus and His people even more.
David R. Smith
David R. Smith is the author of several books including Christianity... It's Like This and speaks to parents and leaders across the U.S. David is a 15-year youth ministry veteran, now a senior pastor, who specializes in sharing the gospel, and equipping others do the same. David provides free resources to anyone who works with teenagers on his website, DavidRSmith.org David resides with his wife and son in Tampa, Florida.