But as they enter into their teenage years and become more independent, we might be surprised to hear them say that they no longer want to go to church. At the very time that we most want them to take our faith and make it their own, it can be heartbreaking to see them seemingly moving in the opposite direction. And this creates a dilemma for us: should we make them go anyway? Or will forcing them to attend when they don’t want to only further push them away?
This is a sensitive scenario that must be handled with care, and there are a few things to keep in mind if you find yourself navigating a situation like this.
4 things to do if your teen no longer wants to attend church
1. Ask questions and listen
First, ask questions and listen. Our initial impulse in this scenario might be to panic and say something like, “Well, you’re going anyway!” Instead, ask them why they don’t want to go. Maybe they’re bored. Maybe there’s someone they don’t like there. Maybe they’re just not sure about what they believe. It is important to give them space to voice what they’re feeling and to know that you are a safe person to express those feelings to.
2. Empathize with them
Second, empathize with them. As your teen voices their reasons for not wanting to be at church, be honest about the ways you might struggle in these areas as well. For starters, there have probably been many Sunday mornings where you would have rather stayed in bed! You have probably found your mind wandering during the sermon. And there are probably people at church that you don’t particularly enjoy being around. Do not shame them. Instead, invite them into the ways you struggle in this area as well.
3. Educate them (and yourself)
Third, educate them (and yourself). This is a wonderful opportunity to teach your teen — and perhaps remind yourself — of the importance of the local church. It is as we gather with other believers that we encourage one another to do good works, to encourage one another, to meet each other’s needs, to praise God with one another, and to do all the other “one anothers” we find in the New Testament.
4. Remember your responsibility as their parent
Lastly, remember your responsibility as their parent. As parents, we are to look out for our children, and this often involves having them do things they would rather not do but that are for their good, like eat veggies, do homework, take a bath, etc. And we must look out for their ultimate good by teaching them who God is and how to enjoy a relationship with Him and His people. We are ultimately not responsible for how they respond to the gospel, but we are responsible for giving them the gospel to respond to. And yes, that will include demonstrating the value of the local church to them by regular attendance.
So, should we make our teens go to church if they don’t want to? Yes and no. If by “making” them go to church, we mean, “Too bad! As long as you’re under our roof you’re going to go and you’re going to enjoy it!” then no, do not “make” them go to church! We likely will push them further away if we make them go without any explanation of why it is important or without listening to their concerns.
But yes, we should continue to bring them with us and surround them with God’s people. Just as we establish boundaries in other areas of life, so should church attendance be a regular experience in the life of your child. But again, let this be an ongoing conversation with your child. Continually give them space to voice their opinions and listen. Patiently explain and demonstrate the importance of church to them. Ask them questions about what they heard at church, and talk through it with them.
At the end of the day, be faithful to the responsibilities God has given you and pray for Him to make the gospel beautiful to your teen. We simply don’t know how God might use our consistent faithfulness in this area later on, even if we don't see the fruit of it now.
Additional resources for disciplining your teens: