Before you start reading this article, take 10 seconds and count with me. Ask yourself, “How many times has my family been to church this week?”
So what do you think of your answer?
Are you thinking thoughts like, “Wow, I can’t believe we were there that much. How did we find time to do anything else?”
Or are you thinking, “Wow, I didn’t realize we’d missed quite so much.”?
Trust me when I say that I didn’t ask this question to make you feel guilt for one way or another. My goal was nothing short of a personal reality check to help you open up your mind to this article about the age-old dilemma facing Christian parents everywhere: How much church is too much church or too little church? Because next to the challenges that occur when church people don’t act like Christians, this is the next biggest issue that causes church kids to become ambivalent and jaded toward church life. Finding balance is the key, but as with all things, it seems like finding balance is a bigger challenger than you’d think.
Looking back on my life as a church kid I can see that the pendulum tends to swing towards from one extreme end to the other. When I was a kid, it was considered a sin to miss church for a child’s sporting event or school function, and a badge of honor if you forced your child to come to church every time the doors were open whether they like it or not.
Guess what? Most of the time, they didn’t like it. Still, that didn’t matter. They were in church and not participating in carnal activities like Little League. (Honestly, it seemed to me that people took this a little too seriously. I’m proud to say that my family was among that few that weren’t afraid to miss a Wednesday night service for special occasions.) To be honest, I’m pretty relieved that those days are past.
However, lately, I’ve noticed a trend in the opposite direction that I find just as alarming. Recently, I’ve noticed that instead of parents forcing their children to be in church every time the doors are open, church has been moved to the bottom of the priority list. Now it’s common for families to miss not just a week here and there, but months and entire seasons of church attendance so their child can participate in extracurricular activities. When it becomes a special occasion to see the whole family in church together, it seems like church has gone from being too important to essentially unimportant. The truth is that neither end of the spectrum is healthy. So how can a Christian parent strike a healthy balance and keep church attendance in a healthy perspective?
I think that the first step is to decide as parents what church services you are committed to attending as a family and then block those times off as “Do Not Schedule” times on your calendar. For instance, one Mom blogged that part of her family’s routine is that they ALWAYS attend Sunday morning and Wednesday night services. All of the members of her family understand that they are not to schedule activities during these times. Just like there are certain times of the day that are set aside for school or work, these are the times that her family has set aside for church attendance.
On the other hand, she does not require her family to be church every time the doors are open. If the church holds a Tuesday night activity that interferes with a child or parent’s schedule, they skip the church activity. As a parental unit, she and her husband have decided how much church is enough church and they are committed to both protecting those reserved times in church without allowing church to consume their lives.
Why is it so important that you follow this woman’s example and establish boundaries of your own?
Basically, because following her example and establishing your own boundaries will help your children avoid the dangerous traps that are lurking at both ends of the church attendance spectrum. For instance, when you block off times on your family’s calendar and say, “These times are set aside for church attendance,” you’re helping your child avoid the trap of seeing church as optional.
Church isn’t optional. It’s valuable. Just like school isn’t optional, only to be attended when there is nothing else better to do because you know how important it is to your child’s future, church needs to be seen as so valuable that it is a priority in your family’s life. Of course, just like school there will be times when you’ll miss, but those times need to be sporadic and for a good reason only---not because it’s a sin to miss church, but because you don’t want your family to miss the value that spending time learning about God, fellowshipping with His people, and serving others as a community adds to your life. That’s why it’s important that Christian parents establish a church attendance schedule and stick to it.
On the other hand, sticking to the church attendance schedule and not allowing yourself to exceed the boundaries by adding on lots of additional church activities will help avoid the trap of “church overkill” that plagues many church kids. Because while church is a necessary part of life that is very good for children, when it starts to consume their lives it can foster resentment, anger, bitterness and a jaded attitude toward the very thing that was meant to benefit them. That’s why it’s important that as parents, you remember that although church is a very important part of your life, it is only part of your life. Parents have work and household responsibilities, kids have school and homework. You all need to maintain your personal relationship with God and spend time with each other. You’ve got extended family and friends and a mound of other responsibilities that are an essential part of a well-rounded, happy life.
It’s also important to remember that children need time to play and relax and just be kids. Even though church plays a key role in their spiritual and social development, we need to recognize that just like adults kids need down time when they aren’t faced with the demands of learning or peer pressure. Kids need time when they don’t have to be socially “on”. Whether we want to admit it or not, church can often be a pressure cooker of social competition where children are competing to see who’s the prettiest, smartest, funniest, most athletic or most popular. Combine this with the rules to “sit still, be quiet, and act politely” and too much church can be just too much pressure for some kids.
The truth is that children need to spend time in their homes, with their families, simply being allowed to be children without the demands of being in a classroom or social setting. They need to be allowed to laugh, be loud, talk with Mom and Dad, or even just do nothing. This won’t happen if they are required to be in church every night. Instead, being in church too often could easily result in a bad case of “church burnout.”
What do humans do when we’re burned out? We check out! You don’t want your kids to check out of church or worse yet, their relationship with Jesus because of church overkill or burnout.
That’s why it’s important to choose the services and activities that are the most important to you and beneficial to your family, and then avoid the guilt and peer pressure that might make you want to be at every church activity every time the doors are open. You’ve got to set boundaries and learn to limit the amount of time you and your family spend at church.
What’s a reasonable about of time to be in church?
Personally, I think that the average family should not be committed to more than 3 nights a week at church. Think about it: That’s almost 50% of your evenings.
If you’re at church any more than that, when are you having family time?
When are you spending time with your spouse or even Jesus for that matter?
Straight talk: Church activities should not come before your personal time of devotions or Bible reading, family devotions, or spending time talking with your spouse or children. Honestly, I don’t believe that it’s pleasing to God when you neglect the important relationships in your life to be in church.
Think about it: What good is it if you spend all your time in church or supporting the church, only to have your kids leave the church because they resented losing their relationship with you to organized religion? It’s important to remember that as a parent, your first mission field is your child’s soul and don’t try to do too much.
That’s why I’m a big fan of the idea of establishing boundaries. It helps you avoid both extremes, and the pitfalls that come with both.
Now that we’ve established why we need to establish boundaries, here’s a few tips to help you get started:
1. Go To Church When You’ll Get the Most Bang for Your Buck.
Okay, there may have been a better way to phrase this, but what I mean is, choose to be in church for the services and activities that will provide the most benefit the entire family.
Let’s be honest, church can become a burden to family life if they schedule men’s group on Monday nights, Women’s group on Tuesday nights, Kid’s programs on Wednesday, Choir Practice on Thursday, and Youth Group on Friday night. Even though each member of the family would benefit from hearing teaching geared toward their demographic and fellowshipping with their peer group---that’s a lot of church!
Instead, a busy family might want to commit to attending the weekly Sunday School hour which provides the same teaching and fellowship for each individual member of the family, it just all happens at the same time! Other churches allow their Men’s and Women’s Bible Studies to meet on Wednesday nights while the kids and teens are in their programs. This combination of activities helps you make the most of your time and receive the benefits of church without having church activities consume your calendar.
2. Don’t Make Church a Waiting Game
One of the biggest complaints you’ll hear from church kids is that they never see their Mom or Dad because their parents spend all their time at the church.
“Dad is always at a meeting.”
“Mom’s always volunteering for a project.”
“I spend all of my time waiting for them to get home, waiting for their activity to end, waiting for them to finish what they are doing.”
Yet, I was talking to a friend a few months ago who told me that the best thing her parents did to keep she and her sister interested in church activities was that her parents involved them in everything they were doing. They didn’t spend their time waiting---they spent their time participating in whatever their parents were doing. (Her parents were pastors, so she and her siblings were in church A LOT)
She said that her family didn’t spend time waiting around for Dad to do visitations---they went with him, prayed for sick people and helped cheer them up. They didn’t wait for Mom and Dad to finish their job of ministry. Instead, their parents gave them responsibilities that helped them have a sense of purpose and participation. Their parents raised them from an early age to avoid the mentality of “attending church” but instead they were encouraged from an early age to “be the church” and play an active role in advancing the kingdom of God. My friend credits the fact that she and her siblings are still passionately serving God and actively ministering to her parent’s allowing them to be involved at a young age.
Again, I think that these parents have set an example that every parent can follow. Don’t just take your kids to church, but encourage them to find ways to get involved. Instead of choosing activities that separate the family, participate in activities where your kids can help out. For instance, if you sing in the choir, encourage your kids to get involved, too. If you’re helping serve a dinner, have your kids set up the napkins. Whatever you are doing, get them involved, too. Give them a sense of ownership in the kingdom of God, and see if it doesn’t fuel their passion for the things of God rather than build the resentment that comes with “waiting.”
3. Choose to Go to a Church Your Kids Like
Want to end the “Do I Have to Go To Church” Battle? Choose a toddler-friendly/child-friendly/teen-friendly church that loves your kids and allows them to participate. Go to a church that designs programs that kids will enjoy, run by teachers that love and enjoy children. Guaranteed, these ingredients will go a long way in changing the conversation from “You’re going to church whether you want to or not!” to “C’mon, Mom, we’ve got to get to church.”
How do I know? I’ve seen it with my own eyes.
You see, over the years I’ve been to plenty of churches that didn’t like children. The services were boring, the kids programs were laughably lame, and the children’s workers acted like they didn’t like kids. Time and time again I’ve seen kids do everything they could to avoid these church services disguised as torture chambers.
On the other hand, I’ve literally seen kids beg their parents to stay at churches that are kid-friendly and meet their spiritual needs. I have a friend who was telling me about a ministry opportunity that would necessitate their family changing churches. At that moment, my friend’s child walked in on the conversation and said, “No, I love our church. We can’t leave. It’s the best.”
Seriously? How often do you see that? Knowing that her kid’s spiritual growth was the most important thing, my friend turned down the opportunity. Her kids are still growing and thriving spiritually in a church that they love.
Another friend was telling me the other day about how much her daughter and her friends loved a particular kid’s ministry program that her church was offering. She said how surprised she was when her daughter was given the chance to take a night off from church and her daughter begged, “No, I can’t miss my class!”
Amazing. Yet, not really if you think about it.
The truth is that inside the hearts of children there is a deep capacity for spiritual life and growth. Kids are hungry for spiritual things. They crave a personal relationship with God and godly people. They want to learn and grow, expand their talents and abilities, and participate in things that contribute to the world around them.
A healthy church gives them these opportunities. When the proper balance is struck between allowing your child to be a viable, functioning member of a healthy church without demanding that the church consume all of their time and energy, children will love the church and more importantly, the God Who initiated the church.
Isn’t that the ultimate goal---raising a child who WANTS to love God, serve God, and stay in church?
Isn’t that end result worth sacrificing your time to attend church on a regular basis?
Even more important, isn’t reaching this goal worth cutting back on activities that you might want to do so that you could instead participate in church activities that benefit your child without having church eat up your entire schedule? Think about it, then create a plan that decides how much church is "just right" for you family.