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Getting children to church
October 17, 2011
by Pastor Richard Flynn, St. Paul’s United Church of Christ, Delano

I am often asked by parents, “How can I get my children to attend church? They say it is boring.”

My answer is to remove the word “boring” from your children’s vocabulary. I might say, “So what? I don’t care that you are bored. Nobody ever died from being bored. Get over it.”

Or, I might say, “You have no excuse for ever being bored. You have a good mind and a wonderful imagination. If you find the service not to your liking, use the time in worship to plan out your day, your summer, or your whole life. Write out a novel or short story in your mind. Doodle. Use your mind. “Parents should never “buy in” to the boring argument for anything.

I also ask parents if there will be a discussion Monday morning about attending school. The answer is always no. So, if you can make your children go to school, but you can’t make them go to church – why is there a difference?

My children had no choice about church. “Church is something our family does,” I would tell them. “Church is a value our family has. When you turn 18, you can make your own choices about church, but, until then, be ready to go by 10 a.m.”

If it is a terrible fight, I might make a small concession. I might tell a child that they must go to church every week, but they can choose one Sunday a month to skip. That way, they are there three out of four weeks.

Worshipping together as a family is the most important aspect of church. Children from age 3 or so can “understand” some aspects of worship. They can learn the music. They can learn some of the liturgy, such as, the Lord’s Prayer.

They can understand the kindness shown to them by others in the service. They will remember the symbols of the faith in stained glass windows, statues, paintings, and on worship bulletin covers. These symbols are an opening for parents to begin a discussion about what they mean.

Children can understand some of the stories from sermons, and certainly from a “children’s moment” during the service. They can see how mom and dad react to worship, and why they value it. We know that children who worshipped with their families are much more likely to be attending church by age 30 than those who didn’t.

Getting your kids to church is infinitely easier if their school friends also attend the same church. Contact your child’s friend’s parents and invite them to attend church with you (provided they do not already have their own church home). Offer to give them a ride. Pay for them to attend retreats and events as your child’s guest.

Donuts are a parent’s best friend when it comes to church. Go to church – get a donut! Let them have two. I know it is not the most nutritious treat you can offer, but offer those healthy treats the other six days of the week – and make sure there is plenty of fruit juice to wash it down.

Pressure those in leadership at your church to spend more money on youth programming, to hire better trained staff and pay them fairly, and to dedicate space in your church building just for youth. Every church should strive to make their youth programming a “signature” ministry of the church. I cannot stress enough the importance of retreats, choir tours, mission trips and especially church camp in the summer.

All parents should be hoping that their adolescent child finds good adult mentors and friends, at least one. Athletic coaches, school teachers, employers, uncles, aunts, godparents are all potential sources for positive adult influences. So are Sunday school teachers and youth workers.

All adolescents need adults they trust (and whom parents trust) to bounce ideas off, to check out ideas about how life works, and to find affirmation and support. Too many of our young people only have each other to talk to. They end up sharing each other’s ignorance about vitally important issues of life. Attending church can play a valuable part in providing adult mentors and friends for your child.

Attending church is important for all of us. At church, we can come to understand that a great and wonderful God loves us.