Should You Make Your Kids Go to Church?

Short answer? Yes. Absolutely.

But let me pose the scenario for you:

Joshua, our 6 year old, has started going to “big church” this year. He gets approximately 30 minutes of worship and then a 40 minute sermon. More Sundays than not, it’s a struggle. If you asked him, “Joshua, do you want to go to big church?” he would probably answer no. It’s boring. But we make him go.

Should we do that? Here is one reason you could argue why we shouldn’t: we are teaching him a form of legalism. He isn’t going because he has a genuine affection for God but because he’s supposed to. If we keep doing that, he’ll grow up to only do the right thing because he’s supposed to, not because he genuinely wants to. Or he’ll begin to resent church and spirituality altogether and become embittered and rebellious.

Let’s expand the issue from this point. Let’s say that I wake up tomorrow morning and don’t want to read my Bible. Do I do it out of obligation, because I’m supposed to, or do I not?

Do you see how the issue gets a little tricky?

Ideally, I will want to read the Bible. And ideally, our children will be pushing us out the door to church. But it doesn’t always work like that.

I would argue that you make your children go to church even for the same 2 reasons you make yourself read the Bible even when you don’t feel like it.

1) You are acting in faith when you act even though you don’t feel like it. You trust that when you saturate your child in the things of God and the preaching of the gospel that something is going to get through. Eventually God is going to use those moments to bring about an awakening to the truth of faith in his or her life. You believe this, and therefore you act.

Similarly, you believe that the Bible is the Word of God. That it’s living and active and sharp. So you read it in faith, believing that the power of the Holy Spirit to illuminate His word is more powerful than your feelings.

2) Feeding a particular area of life makes it grow. We’ve all experienced this in a negative sense. Think about the escalation of drug addicts. I’ve heard that often addiction begins with experimentation and goes on from there – from something minor to something major. The appetite is fed, and as it is, it grows.

Or this one: It’s easy to sleep in one morning and not exercise. The next day it’s easier than the first day. And so it goes. We feed our laziness, and laziness feasts and grows fat.

Doesn’t it stand to reason the opposite would be true? When we discipline our children to go to church, we are, slowly but surely, feeding their appetite for godliness. It’s one spoonful at a time, to be sure, but in feeding it we are helping it grow.

In the case of ourselves, we feed our appetite for spiritual discipline. For prayer. For study. For meditation. And then the water of the Spirit makes it grow inside of us. So big does that appetite grow that it actually begins to push out other appetites.

And low and behold, we wake up one morning and actually want to read the Bible. Unfortunately, it’s hard to do then because our children are up early asking when it’s time to go to church.

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  • Jessica says:

    I think the reverse is also true – not making our children go to “big church” when they don’t want to feeds the “they shouldn’t have to do what they don’t want to do” mentality. Is that what we want to encourage in our children? Or should we expect obedience and compliance, even when they “don’t want to”? Our children have to do their school work when they don’t want to, eat their vegetables when they don’t want to, and they should go to church when they don’t want to.
    Thanks for this great post!

  • Amen and amen.

    I’d add to it this reason that perhaps some of my Baptist brethren might not affirm: Church is where the covenantal community gathers together for worship, and our children are part of that community. If they are to be excluded from our corporate worship, the message is loud and clear: we do not truly consider them to be a member of the community. But maybe that’s just me getting all Presbyterian and stuff.

  • Doug Wolter says:

    Pete, I’m Baptist but in this case affirm your Presbyterian convictions! The church is a family and children need to grow up seeing us gather and worship as such. It’s interesting that a post even needs to be written on this issue (and I appreciate you doing so, Michael!) It shows the absence of parental authority and how we parents have become constant negotiators instead of leaders in the home.

  • MK says:

    Good thoughts, all. I especially love it when Baptist and Presbyterians come together.

  • David Fenton says:

    Let’s be honest, for many adults it is difficult to sit through a 40 minute sermon if they are not used to it. Why should a child moving up to “big church” be any different?

    We’ve done this transition to “big church” twice with one more to go. My wife and I view it as a training opportunity. We make our child listen for a certain amount of time (starting with a simple 5 minutes, and increasing over the years). After that time, they can draw (we bring paper and pencil for this), but ONLY SOMETHING RELATED TO SOMETHING THEY HEARD WHILE LISTENING (very important). They want to draw, so it do it, they must listen. The required listening time grows as they do.

    Our goal is that by the time they are teens, they have the ability not just to sit through a sermon, but to listen and be fed.

    If we don’t take them and teach them when they are young, they won’t be fed as teens.

  • MK says:

    This is a great suggestion, David. Thanks for chiming in.

  • Sam says:

    I think this is a great article – but much more do with Church itself rather than parenting. Why not provide something that children will actually enjoy and learn from and then these problems won’t occur? Church is not school. It is a place of community and fellowship as well as a place of learning and we have the opportunity to engage these children and bring them closer to God each Sunday morning. Why can’t we take hold of that with both hands instead of trying to shoehorn them into what we do as adults. Please give our children the respect they deserve.

  • MK says:

    Thanks for the comment Sam. You have a good point, and what we are getting into now is the issue of once we take the kids to church, what should they be doing there? This includes issues of children’s church, Sunday school, etc, and which is the best way to go. For my part, I see advantages with each, though I don’t think NOT having a separate children’s church program is an issue of respect for the kids. I actually think the opposite is true. When we put them in big church with us, we are respecting their ability to pay attention and learn at a high level. But the issue for me isn’t a hill to die on; I see validity in other churches as well.

  • Sam says:

    Thanks MK. I see where you are coming from, but if the adults in a church started to say it was boring and they no longer wanted to go, it would be changed. It would have to be. If the children of a church say it is boring they are told that is the way it is. That’s not respect.
    If the kingdom of God really does belong to little children, as Jesus says, why are we so intent on skewing it towards the adults in our congregations? That’s not a rhetorical or question that is meant to be provocative in any way – it’s really something I cannot understand.

  • Jo says:

    I totally agree with Sam. Kids aren’t able to listen for as long as grown-ups; and any good sermon that adults can grow from needs to be aimed at them, not the children, and will inevitably include words/imagery etc that children cannot understand. It is so much better for them to be allowed to learn in an environment they can engage with, seeping the benefits of having good role models for their teachers and, sometimes a craft or similar to take home to help them remember the lesson.
    Having said that, of course children should be engaged with the church as a whole, a problem some churches over come by splitting the service and having the children leave for Sunday school before the sermon, other churches have a family service once a month- this is the place to make your sermon interactive and engaging, the time to use props, and to get the children joining in. Then they will enjoy the service, and learn so much more than if they are forced to listen week on week out, without proper understanding.

  • Roger Mc. says:

    Proverbs 22:6 – Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it. I think this is the biblical instruction for parents concerning taking our children to church.

  • bill says:

    KEEP YOUR RELIGION OFF MY KIDS!!!! no you shouldn’t brainwash your kids but of course you’re brainwashed so you’re going to. Bad people will do bad things and good people will do good things but for good people to do bad things, that takes religion.- B.R.

  • Al says:

    The harder you push, the harder they can push back as well. Here’s the problem. They will end up doing thing s behind your back and not tell you anything either. If I shoved you, you have a reason to shove back. It’s just that simple. People nowadays just don’t get it.

    Also, what happened to the third amendment of the united states? Freedom of religion. If we “make our kids” go to church, we are pushing them to do something they may not want to do and is optional and also breaking constitution. I’ve known children who have disrespected their parents when they got older because their parents kept pushing them to do something they no longer wished to do. Especially when they get to be teenagers. It’s going to happen, one way or the other and whether you like it or not.

  • Personally, I grew up in a really small church (blessed if there were 30 people in Sunday School). Our parents never really had to *make* us go to Church, as it was small enough that everyone there was like family (many literally were family, lol.).

    When we first moved to “big Church,” my sister and I crawled around under the pews giggling and laughing during the sermon, just playing. Well, when we got home, our dad put an END to that! From there, we began listening, and I would copy my parents actions and take notes during the sermon. My sister would take notes by drawing pictures (she’s a visual learner).

    To make a long story short, one day after watching an episode of Reading Rainbow about newspapers, we began writing a newspaper for the Church. We both wrote articles and it still continues to this day, and has helped us both in our study of the Word of God. We were immensely blessed. In my opinion, Sunday School is VITAL, but only if there is only about 5 or 6 in a class MAXIMUM (ideally about 3 or 4). Kids (or at least we did) receive more enjoyment from Church the more they can participate!

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