My parents brought me to church every week when I was little. The church was very formal and didn’t have any type of instruction or activities for kids. I found it very boring, but didn’t complain because it was what I was used to.
But there was another church we would pass that was always bustling with cars. My parents decided to visit. Wow, that church was very different! I loved the exuberant singing. I understood the stories shared in the sermon. I told my parents, “I love that church! I feel God here and I want to come back again!”
Guess what happened? My parents did take me back again because they wanted me to be enthusiastic about church and God. It wasn’t long before they became members, volunteering to be greeters on Sunday mornings. We quickly became that family who was always in church whenever the doors were open.
I continued to love going to church as a teenager. Now that I’m a parent, I want my children to have that same enthusiasm about church. How can we help our children sew church so deeply into the fabric of their lives that when they leave our homes, they will continue going to church as an adult? And not just as pew potatoes, but as active members?
Here are 10 ways to engage your children in church:
1. Choose a church where your kids can grow.
My parents made a decision to switch churches when I was young because they saw the impact going to a different church made on my spiritual life. Look for a church where your child can flourish in faith. Consider what groups are available for kids and teens. Have a conversation with the kids’ pastor and the youth pastor.
At smaller churches, formal programs may not be offered, but there are wonderful opportunities for mentorship and involvement. (Please don’t misunderstand looking for a kid friendly church as an excuse to switch churches whenever you see a better kids’ program offered somewhere else).
2. Approach church as a servant, not a consumer.
In the age of Amazon and instant whatever-we-want, it can be easy to translate our need for good customer service to the church. If the music is too loud or too soft, if the parking lot is too far away, if you don’t feel welcomed, you can become critical.
We can approach church as consumers. How did the service meet your needs? Was it really worth the time invested? This is not the right attitude to pass along to your kids.
Instead, you want to come to church as a servant--a servant of God and a servant of His people. Come with the attitude, “Speak to me Lord, your servant is listening.”
3. Be committed to church attendance.
Make the decision to go to church every Sunday, making exceptions for reasons like sickness, not sleepiness. If your family wakes up on Sunday morning and you’re still deciding if you will go to church or not, your chances of showing up at church are about 50/50.
You must make the decision to attend church every week. Skipping church because you don’t feel like going isn’t an option. Some Sundays may seem uninspiring, but then other Sundays may be life changing. You’ve got to keep showing up.
You must also consider your commitment to sports in light of church. Will being on a sports team keep your son or daughter from attending church?
4. Give your kids ownership through involvement.
Church isn’t very sticky when you are only a spectator. But when your kids are involved, they become personally invested in your church. Search out ways for your kids to be involved. When we joined a large church, the first thing we did was have the kids audition for a church play. That experience instantly introduced them to church leaders and new friends.
My 14-year-old son Ethan has served on the tech team, in Royal Rangers boys club, and during Vacation Bible School (VBS). He currently directs parking and has even cited that activity as a highlight of the day. Church is more fun and meaningful when you are involved--and that can begin for your kids in elementary school.
5. Have your child’s church leader over for a meal.
Invite your pastor, children’s pastor, youth pastor, or Sunday school teacher over for dinner (or just dessert to make it simpler). We have loved doing this. It makes a special connection in this age when hospitality is rare.
Don’t worry, you don’t have to be an amazing cook. My go-to meal is hamburgers on the grill. It’s great for your kids to be able to know their pastors personally. Right now, as I write, I have a lunch date set with my two daughters and our youth pastor’s wife.
Even though my youngest is just in 5th grade, I want her to know the youth pastor’s wife and feel comfortable with her (plus she is a blast to be with!)
6. Talk about church during the car ride home.
Use the time together to ask questions like:
“Who did you talk with today?”
“What stuck out to you in the sermon (or what you heard in kids’ church)?”
“What was the main point of the message?”
“Was there anything you didn’t understand or that you have questions about?”
“What can you apply this week from what you learned in church?”
Now I must say advise you not to use all these questions at once while you’re chugging down the road together. That may be counterproductive! But I do like to use one or two questions every time on the ride home to continue the conversation and maybe get an application point that would have been missed otherwise.
7. Get your kids talking to adults.
Yes, your kids should certainly have friends their own age to talk with at church. But church is a great place for your kids to practice have conversations with adults--whether it’s the greeter at the door or the parent of one of their friends.
My mom loved to chat for a long time after church and I have many memories standing next to her while she talked in the hallway. I inevitably would be brought into the conversation. It’s good for kids to observe adults talking so they see that is normal behavior (versus simply texting one another).
The more adults your child knows personally; the more positive role models your child will have as he or she grows up into a young adult. Maybe your child in the future will not want to talk with you about certain things, but they will talk to a trusted, godly adult in your church that you have been friends with for years.
8. Introduce your kids to tithing at a young age.
There is a place in the Bible where God says “test me” and that’s in the area of giving.
Malachi 3:10 says, “Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this,’” says the Lord Almighty, “and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that there will not be room enough to store it.”
Teach your kids to sort their money into three containers: one for giving, one for saving, and one for spending. Tithe yourself and teach your kids to tithe and you will all reap many promised blessings. If your kids learn how to give as kids, it will be a healthy habit as adults.
If they don’t learn how to tithe with you, it will be very hard to tithe as young adults when they are faced with rent payments and credit card bills.
9. Encourage your kids to invite their friends to church.
Maybe your church hosts a summer VBS that your kids can invite their friends to. Whether it’s at Christmas or just for an everyday Sunday, your kids can be wonderful ambassadors of God’s love to their friends. You can offer your child’s friend a ride to church. Talk to your children about introducing their friend to others at church, making them feel as comfortable and welcome as possible.
Along those lines, you can encourage your kids to always be on the lookout for visitors at church, making those kids feel welcome with a smile and by sitting next to them whenever appropriate.
10. Support world missions together.
For God so loved the world, not just your neighborhood or town. You can foster a love for the people of the world by supporting a specific missionary or missions fund at your church. Prayerfully consider what missions effort you can support with your dollars and maybe your kids can contribute a few dollars a month. Maybe there is a short term missions trip you can attend as a family, or your kids can attend when they are old enough. My family of five lives just 20 minutes from Mexico, so we can cross the border and enter a whole new world and language. We have been going several times a year to a boy’s orphanage in Tijuana to teach conversational English and that’s been a great experience.
As you can see, there are so many ways to engage your kids in church. You can write thank you notes to volunteers and pastors, or hang out for coffee after service (your kids can skip the coffee but enjoy the hanging out).
Do keep in mind there is church burnout on the other end of the spectrum. If you are serving all day, every Sunday, you may need to schedule some time off volunteering to keep church enjoyable for your kids. You want church to be a place of worship, joy, service and connection, neither boring nor burdensome to your kids. As that happens during their growing up years, it’s very likely they will love engaging in church for the rest of their lives. That’s what happened to me…and I know it can happen for your kids too.
Arlene Pellicane is a speaker and author of Growing Up Social: Raising Relational Kids in a Screen-Driven World and 31 Days to Becoming a Happy Wife. She has been a guest on the Today Show, Family Life Today, The 700 Club and Turning Point with David Jeremiah. Arlene and her husband James live in San Diego with their three children. Visit Arlene’s website at www.ArlenePellicane.com.
Photo Credit: ©Unsplash/Ben White