Parents Alone in the Pew

How do we get our teens to attend church with us?

It’s a beautiful Sunday morning and you’re in church. The choir sounds inspired, the sun is streaming through the stained glass windows, and the message the pastor is sharing is soul-stirring. Yet you find yourself annoyed.

You are alone in the pew, again.

The teenagers are home, still sleeping most likely, or lounging around the house doing whatever they feel like doing on a Sunday, while you “represent” the family at church.

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Church attendance overall is down in every denomination of Christianity. According to Will Mancini, a church vision consultant, even the most committed people attend worship services less frequently than ever.

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“People who once attended four times a month may only attend three times a month,” he writes on his website. “Members who once attended twice a month will only come once a month.”

Churches are now using bible and prayer apps, a glut of programs and even “stunts”— a pastor living in a tiny box in one parish, or a pastor staying on a rooftop until donations were raised in another. All to grab the attention of an increasingly secular, or just way too busy, population.

Get involved, pay attention, block out distractions, their efforts scream to a society now so personalized by technology and so consistently over-scheduled that it is amazing anything gets through at all.

“Faith formation by committed parents has the greatest impact.”

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Organized services suffer as a result, and nowhere is this more prevalent than with today’s youth. “How about if I read a verse on my smartphone on my own time?” say kids to their frustrated parents.

How do we get our kids to wake up, get dressed, and get in the car to attend services without driving ourselves crazy? With all the distractions in a kid’s world, can they still be open to listening for the voice of God? And how do we convince them that church is important to that goal?

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According to a report called The National Study on Youth and Religion, we, the parents, are the key. “Some faith formation, whether it be in Catholic schools, parish religious education, or youth ministry programs, is better than no faith formation. Faith formation by committed parents has the greatest impact,” the study finds.

So now that we know we’re important, do we make them go to church?

“Our family has decided Sunday morning church is not a choice.”

Kim Harms, a mother of three boys and a blogger for InspiretheFire, says that for her kids, it’s not their decision.

“Our family has decided Sunday morning church is not a choice. Our three boys go every week with us (unless there is some very important extenuating circumstance.) Honestly, they are often bored and sometimes grumpy. But the meat of Sunday morning services is generally focused on adults, so I can’t blame them. I remember being bored in church as a kid too. That said, we want our kids to see our faith and our commitment to corporate worship as part of the fabric of our lives. Not something we just do when we feel like it.”

Some feel that patience and a “wait and see” strategy is best, particularly for older teens. Forcing a teen to attend services can sometimes backfire, leaving even more resentment towards worship services.

“How do I talk to them about my doubts about God?” a teen may wonder.

The McKay School at Brigham Young University advises parents and guardians not to give up, but instead, keep the faith and save a place beside you on the pew. Lots of times kids avoid church because of a temporary conflict, or to grab a parents’ attention and make an individual statement, BYU relates on their website.

On a humanist website called “Teens without God” that gives advice to kids and teens on how to steadfastly deny God’s existence, one reader writes in: “My parents are very religious. They sincerely believe that anyone who doesn’t believe in Jesus Christ will go to Hell. I still live with them and don’t have the money to go live on my own. How do I talk to them about my doubts about God?”

“As a parent, think of yourself as a missionary.”

If you find yourself in a similar situation, don’t panic. (Okay, maybe panic a little.) The McKay School suggests that you as a parent think of yourself as a missionary, and your task is to convert your own teenager. “Think of tactics a missionary would use,” their website suggests, “building a relationship of trust, inviting consistently, praying together, and so on.”

And don’t force, they advise, stating “Think also of tactics a missionary wouldn’t use: forcing, bribing, or coercing.”

The following tactics, shared by The McKay School, may return your teen to the pew and peace to your Sunday.

• Invite: Ask your child to go to church with you. She might just surprise you and accept.
• Personal Testimony: Express your faith, and the joy it brings you. Share not just the emotional, but also practical, benefits church attendance brings you.
• Scripture: Follow the scriptures; they contain many examples of young people who drifted away from worship. Take hope in these stories.
• Perspective: Allow for choice. Think of another way your teen can contribute, like cleaning the house while you are in church. He may quickly decide that church is easier!
• Model: Exhibit the behavior you hope to see. Let your kids see you pray; let them observe the joy faith brings to you.

If you model faithful practices and keep your child in prayer, most likely you will someday soon be together in the pew on Sunday morning.

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