Parenting experts report, “Many teens start slacking off on youth group and church attendance” (Cline & Fay 193). For some parents, nothing can be quite as painful as watching a child lose interest in church, even though most children go through this as a normal part of adolescence.
Sometimes—because we truly want what’s best for our kids—we begin to demand that a child or teen go to church or participate in church activities. Often these demands seem to alienate children even further from religious activity.
The focus on families in the church can increase the struggle for parents who find themselves attending church without their children. But you’re not alone. Keep saving a place on your bench: Many children avoid church because of a temporary conflict or the desire to catch your attention and make their statement.
As long as the absence from religious observance is not accompanied by self-destructive behavior, parenting experts encourage us to handle the refusal with a relaxed but encouraging attitude.
Many religions that require great sacrifice and effort (the Amish and the Orthodox Jews, for example) acknowledge that conversion must be a choice made by children independent from their families and other outside influences.
Think of yourself as a missionary called to convert your child. Think of tactics a missionary would use: building a relationship of trust, inviting consistently, praying together, and so on. Think also of tactics a missionary wouldn’t use: forcing, bribing, or coercing.
Love, Love, and Love
Children will be more likely to return to full religious activity if they feel loved and supported--regardless of their choice to attend church or not.
Generally it is more effective to simply let your child know that you’d like her to go to church, rather than emphasize how much she needs to go (Cline & Fay 194). Continue to invite her: “I’d love for you to come with me tomorrow.” She might surprise you and accept the invitation.
Express your faith, like a missionary would. Let your children know how much you love the Gospel and enjoy attending church. Share with them not only your feelings, but also the practical benefits you get from being active in the church.
Allow choice. Arm twisting for short-term compliance will almost always be met with resistance. Try to think of creative long-term solutions instead. One couple told their son they would be happy for him to stay home on Sunday to prepare Sunday dinner for the family. “He felt great about contributing to the quality of family life, but soon tired of the task and decided it was easier just to go to church with the rest of the family” (Cline & Fay 194).
Model the behavior you hope to see. There are not many children who will take more interest in church than their parents do. Let your kids hear you pray and see you study the scriptures. You don’t need to show your children all of your “alms,” but let them see that these things are part of your life. Let them see that your religious observance brings you joy.
You can take hope in the scriptures. The scriptures include many examples of parents who have struggled with their children’s religious activity. One of the most striking is Alma the Younger’s advice to his initially less than valiant son Corianton (see Alma 39-42).
Concern for our children often turns us quickly to the Lord. Through meeting these challenges, we can grow closer to our Savior and build our own testimonies.
Parenting experts have these comforting words for struggling parents: “But have faith. Disliking church is most likely a stage” (Cline & Fay 194). Even when a child wanders, we can continue as an “example of the believers” (1 Timothy 4:12), inviting our child to join us in our church activity, thinking of ourselves as missionaries called to teach them, and trusting in the Lord.
Like Alma the Elder and King Mosiah (Mosiah 27), we can ask for and anticipate the Lord’s hand in guiding our children to a greater good, even if it takes time.
Cline, Foster, & Jim Fay. Parenting Teens with Love and Logic. Colorado Springs, CO: Pinion Press, 2006.