This is a continuation of a previous blog, for the first part click this link: http://familydiscipleshippath.com/2014/02/19/faq-if-my-kid-doesnt-want-to-go-to-church-do-i-make-them-part-1-infants-elementary/
Ideally, by the time a student hits 6th grade, they are connected into a church family and have developed habits and disciplines that make church attendance less of a fight or not a fight at all!! Many Jr. High and High School students love going to church, they feel the presence of God, they feel supported by others and they love to be with their friends. It is possible! I pray that that may be the case for you and your family. However, there are some who struggle with it and fight against it. For those who are struggling, do you make them go?
This is a less cut-and-dried issue for older children than the younger ones. There are many things to take into account. I have some ideas to try. If you have tried all of these and the struggle has continued for an extended period of time (like a year) then the answer is probably, “No, you don’t make them.” But, you don’t start there! At the first hint of resistance is not the point when you give up. Seek counsel from your friends and pastors. You can’t “make” your kids do anything and often the more you try to control, the more kids struggle to fight for control. However, you can encourage and influence and guide. Try some of these or all of these ideas before resigning yourself to your older children dropping out of church (in no particular order)
1.) As many rules as necessary, as few as possible! This is a phrase that I rely on in my home and in my church. If it’s not necessary to make a rule about church, then DON’T!
2.) Friends are the key! Kids will go where their friends are. Either work to help your child make a friend within the church or invite a friend to go to church with you.
3.) Share control! Often kids who feel that they have no control over their lives will try to gain control over areas that are not the issue. Sometimes children will fight for control in any area they can. Give choices whenever possible. When giving choices, give two choices that you are happy with either. Would you like to go to the morning or the evening service? Would you like to drive or would you like me to? Would you like to stop for a doughnut or a bagel on our way?
4.) Include your children in as many decisions as you can without causing a negative effect on others. If you have a home church, where you go to church is not up for debate- but the kids can be involved in other decisions like which service you go to, where you sit, the traditions before or after church.
If you don’t have a home church, involve the kids in the process. As a family, pick 3 churches you are going to try out, go to each church 3 times, and have a discussion talking through what they liked or didn’t like about each church. With a decision this big, parents should have the final say…however, receiving and recognizing input from the whole family is important.
5.) Attend with your child. This one really depends on the kid. Offer to attend with them a few times if it helps them become more comfortable. Some will take you up on it, others would rather crawl under a rock than have mom or dad follow them.
6.) Serve in the kids or youth program and encourage your child find a place to serve. I have seen some students who get involved with a group through a different avenue than the normal services. I had a mom come to me with a Jr. High boy who was nervous about going to Sunday school. She asked if they could serve together as teachers with a younger grade for a season so that he could get to know people and feel more comfortable. As he was serving, he met other families and began to feel that he belonged. He had no problem getting involved with people his own age after serving first. There was another family whose student was hesitant until the parent volunteered to help with the youth team for a season. This gave the student exposure to the program with the security of family near.
7.) Try it out! When my kids were younger they would often see a new food and refuse it just because it was new. They always needed to take a “No, Thank you” bite. They have to try it to know if they like it or not. Many of the issues that students have with church is that it is unknown or they don’t know anyone. Well, how are they going to get to know anyone if they don’t participate? It’s a vicious cycle! Make a deal with your kids to attend 3 times and then you would be happy to discuss it.
8.) Prioritize attendance! If kids are only attending every few weeks, they will ALWAYS feel like the new kid. I know that life gets in the way and makes it difficult to commit consistently. However, consistency is the number one factor that will contribute to a successful church experience for you and your student. I also encourage you to make an effort to participate in special events like camps or mission trips or fun nights. These are times when deep friendships are made. I have seen kids make friends at a bowling night that extend into Sunday morning and negate the ongoing fight.
9.) Evaluate. Often kids will give reports to parents about what is going on with the youth. They will use phrases like, “It’s so boring.” “All they do is play games, there’s no teaching or anything.” “The leaders are mean.” “The kids are mean.” “There are exclusive groups and I don’t belong.” Take what your student says seriously. However, do your own research! Go visit some youth events, meet with the youth leaders, and hang out with some of the students. I warn against making assumptions about a program or group solely on the opinion of your student. Gather some more information before making a decision. You may discover that they are correct and that will inform your tactics. You may discover that their impression is not a complete or fair evaluation.
10.) Model. Your example to your children is the most powerful tool you have. Your children will learn so much more by watching you than listening to you. Demonstrate and discuss your relationship with God with your children on an ongoing basis. Your own participation in church and attitude toward your church community will make the biggest impact on your child’s participation.
I’ve said this before, but I believe it may need to be said again. Church participation is not equal to your relationship with God. Church participation is a valuable tool to strengthen your relationship with God through teaching, worship, serving, and connecting with friends.
Many of these thoughts shared in these ideas have originated from the teachings from The Love and Logic Institute. I have found great value in their tools and apply them to every area of my interactions with children including but not limited to church participation. http://www.loveandlogic.com/
What are some strategies that have worked for you?