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Should You Make Your Teen Go to Church?

Liz Kanoy

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Your teenage son or daughter just told you they do not want to or will not go to church with your family anymore. What is your response? Should you make them go, or should you let them make their own decision? “Force” by way of abuse has no place in Christian parenting, but a parent does have the authority to set rules and boundaries and discipline out of love.

I once was a teenager who did not want to go to church with my parents…or at all for that matter. I went to a Catholic high school and felt that my once a week chapel and once a month mass was all the church going I needed. Everyone was nice at my parents' church, but I didn’t want to be there. I wanted to sleep in instead.

I had accepted Christ into my life as a child and loved learning about God and reading the Bible when I was younger. But as a teen whose parents had divorced and one parent had already remarried, I was a little annoyed with God about how my life was turning out. I didn’t want to go sit in a sanctuary and praise God when I didn't feel very thankful. I couldn’t focus on the message of God’s grace because I was too focused on myself—as most teens are.

My mother; however, made it very clear to me that going to church would not be up to me. She didn’t yell, but she was firm in a way that I did not question her authority. I obeyed even though I didn’t want to, and I obeyed even though I was annoyed with her.  She tried to address the whys of why I did not want to go, but I didn’t want to talk about it at the time. So we settled…as in I would go to church on Sundays, but I didn’t have to participate in every church activity.

The rule was as long as I was under her roof and still in school, I would go to church with my parents because they believed it was important. If I spent the night at a friend’s house I could go to mass/church with them instead. She also gave me the choice of going to Sunday school or going to youth group on Sunday nights. She was a disciplinarian not a dictator, and she let me make some of my own decisions within the boundaries she set.

I didn’t dislike anyone in the church, and in fact I really liked my youth pastor and his family. And later on when I was struggling with my faith in college I was able to turn to him and talk through some things. I look at this church now, as a believer with a regenerated heart of 12 years, and I see a wonderful church that presents the gospel and loves people with God’s grace.

Many times with teenagers you have to wait for the growth you want to see; you have to give them space within the boundaries you set, but you have to be their authority figure even when they oppose you. Children and teens don’t always know what’s best; they will look to their parent figure to tell them what they can and can’t do. As a parent you have the choice to say yes or no. When you say yes or no, you’re setting the importance level of the topic at hand. If you say no you don’t have to go, what your teen hears is it’s really not that important.

R.C. Sproul, well-known pastor and writer, has written an article for Ligonier Ministries titled “Should I Force My Teen to Go to Church?” on Ligonier.org. He writes,

The Bible tells us that we ought never to neglect the assembling together of the saints, which is corporate worship on Sunday morning. I take that to mean that it is my obligation as a Christian, as a member of the covenant community, to be in worship on Sunday morning with my household. So it is my responsibility to see to it that my children are in church. It is also my responsibility to be sensitive and gentle and not tyrannical, so I have to somehow find that fine line of being firm but loving, gentle, and kind in that firmness.” 

I am amazed that my mom did this; I’m not sure I would have her patience. She was frustrated at times I’m sure, and I pushed her buttons on this topic and tried every argument to get out of it…but though I disagreed with her, I did respect her authority. I knew she was making me do this because it’s what she thought was best and because she loved me. I knew other students at school who had tyrannical parents, and when I heard their stories of parental control I could see the difference in my mom’s style of parenting. My mom disciplined with love not with militaristic force.

I obeyed the “church rule,” but I was biding my time until I was out of the house and could make all my own decisions. It wasn’t until my sophomore year of college that I stopped “running” from God and finally listened to God’s pull on my heart and the words of truth from Scripture. And the knowledge of what I had learned in church those years stayed with me.

If you have a teen that says I don’t believe in God so it’s not right that you should make me go to church; you can lovingly say, as long as you’re in our house you will go to church with us because that’s what our family believes—when you’re older and on your own you can decide for yourself. Encourage your son or daughter to listen and take notes at church; if they really don’t believe in God tell them this is their research time. Encourage them to read the Bible, to figure out why they disagree with it. As the parent, ask questions, listen, and present challenges to them so that they’ll explore things more deeply.

Sproul affirms,

I would say as long as the children are under your roof and under your authority as part of your family unit. I would encourage you to make it a special point of concern to do everything in your power to get your kids to church and to make it an attractive time for them rather than a bad experience.”

To read R.C. Sproul’s article in full please visit Ligonier.org.

Crosswalk Contributor Jeff Anderson shares,

We must help our kids think more deeply, so they can believe more deeply.
Acquiring knowledge, and challenging kids to articulate both affirmations and questions, is not about raising the standard for salvation. It’s about raising the standard of understanding. We must challenge them to learn basic doctrine, to read books that teach entry-level theology, to think more critically about some of the deep mysteries of the faith.

Do they know the basic timeline of the Bible? (Approximately 4,000 years of Biblical history)
Do they understand the basic plot-line of the Bible? (Working out God’s promise from Genesis 3:15).
Do they have a vision for what heaven will be like?
Can they tell you what they believe and why they believe?

Next weekend, if your kid(s) say they don’t want to go to church make it clear that for your family, church is not optional. They need to go with you, and if they disagree with what they hear you can discuss it as a family over lunch and many times after. It’s important to keep an open-dialogue within the boundaries you set. Your kids should feel like they can talk to you anytime about anything; rules may frustrate them but rules also show your love for them.

But setting rules isn’t everything, you also need to pray for your children and pray through the frustration. My mom prayed for me every day (and still does), and she made sure I knew that she was doing that. Even though I was like whatever mom, I never once doubted or questioned my mom’s love for me. She was patiently training me up, and her love was pointing me to Christ.

“Start children off on the way they should go, and even when they are old they will not turn from it.” –Proverbs 22:6 

Related articles:
Does You Child Have Nursery Rhyme Faith?
4 Ways to Come Alongside Your Kids to Strengthen Their Faith
How to Spot Strategic Moments in Your Kids’ Lives

Image courtesy: ©Thinkstock/doble-d

Publication date: September 25, 2017

Liz Kanoy is an editor for Crosswalk.com.