Thursday, June 14, 2012

    Question of the Day: Should We Force Youth to Go to Church?

    Should we force youth to go to church?

    The professional pastor in me says "Yes, of course! How else will we ever have a chance to teach them about the gospel and Jesus and Church?"  But the former teen in me says "Wait a minute.  That's not how it happened with you.  Nobody made you go to church as a teen."

    It's true.  My parents dutifully took us to church as children. My brothers and I went through confirmation and then decided we hadn't heard enough yet -- we weren't ready to join.  Then a falling out with our youth ministers in middle school ended with my brothers and I dropping youth group and church altogether. For the next four years, my parents never made us go to church...and we didn't, even though my dad was a retired pastor who continued to go every Sunday.  

    Then, a funny thing happened. In my senior year of high school, somewhere around early spring, some friends invited us to visit their Sunday night youth group meeting.  My twin brother and I went, we liked it, and we kept attending.  The group was preparing to go on a mission trip. We had not been around for the fundraising and planning but the youth pastor said "It doesn't matter. You are welcome to join us."  So we went on the trip -- which turned out to be the experience that influenced me to go into teaching and eventually the ministry.  I haven't been out of the church since. While all my friends were dropping out of church during college (some never to reengage), I was returning to the Church ready to get my hands dirty for Jesus.  But my devotion was not a result of my parents pushing or forcing me to attend Sunday services or youth group meetings.  Rather, I attribute my longevity in the Church to a personal decision I made on my own and without coercion at the age of eighteen to choose a life of faith.  

    Does this mean I'd like to see all the youth in my church drop out and wait a few years before deciding whether or not to come back? Well, no, but it does make me wonder: We expect teens to wait until they are older to make lots of important decisions. Why not do the same with the decision to commit to a life of faith?  

    What do you think? 


    Benjer McVeigh said...

    Great question. It's a question I've wondered aloud many times, and have even been asked a few times by parents. A few thoughts:

    1) The "we" should be parents, not youth pastors. Of course, it's a good thing to encourage, but I cringe when we start to put a strong emphasis on behavior over simply walking with Jesus.

    2) It depends on the reason a teenager doesn't want to go. Is it because of relationships with other people at the church? Then try to help the teenager work through those issues in a Christ-centered way.

    3) Perhaps the teen doesn't believe in God and thinks church is a bunch of crock. It's not uncommon, even for someone raised in church. If this is the case, I would hope that our evangelism methods would expand beyond, "Go to church!" Perhaps that student needs to be shown what a relationship with Jesus is supposed to look like (as you did) rather than made to be somewhere they hate.

    I'll stop there...looking forward to this conversation!

    Carol said...

    An excellent piece. I have often asked the same question. When I taught youth in Sunday School, it was clear that some of them were there only because their parents made them be there. If their parents had let them stop coming, would it be more or less likely that at some later time they would re-establish a relationship with the church? Our youth group had the rule that to participate you either had to be going to Sunday School or going to Sunday worship. I think now that perhaps that was not such a good idea.

    JAK said...

    I don't think it's a black and white issue to be honest. Everyone is going to be different in their walk with God. My parents absolutely made me go to church as a teen - my dad being a pastor only reinforced that- but I can remember if I had a friend spend the night on Saturday - it was an expectation they'd come to church too. That's how God worked in MY life- that won't work for everyone. You can't force faith, we can only encourage it. The picture attached to the blog is worth a lot - sometimes kids/teens want to avoid church is because they are bored to tears - let them have some input and say on worship. Give them a reason to enjoy and engage in church worship! I think it is important to, on a individual and one to one basis, have the conversation as to why they aren't engaged, and see if there is space for growth. Gentle nudging is fine, forcing anything is not. Follow the example of Jesus - he met people personally and individually right where they were and loved them and met the needs - sometimes the ones they didn't even realize they had!

    Brian Kirk said...

    Benjer, thanks for your thoughts. As you and JAK point out, each person's situation is different (which I why I don't necessarily think my situation as a teen can be generalized to all youth). Regarding parents, I have some coming to me saying "My teen is opening hostile to faith, church, and has decided he is an atheist. He hates anything to do with church." In the case of that young person, I wonder what long term harm we might do by continuing to make him show up Sunday after Sunday.

    Carol, thanks for sharing. I too have tried the approach of "Hey, if you want to go on the mission trip, you need to be in church and Sunday school on a regular basis." Looking back, I don't think that was such a good idea.

    Anonymous said...

    I'm starting to think that if we're going to expect young people to be in worship then we need to have meaningful ways for them to participate and to lead. Their parents don't have a problem sitting and listening, but they do; we have a chance to facilitate something interactive for them. I'm working on good ways to do that, but I feel like they're few and far between.

    Mary's musings said...

    Agreed. I don't even like church most of the time. It can be really hard to keep focused especially if your pastor is not the best teacher. But I go because I know that after belonging to what I consider the most meaningful and effective church on the west coast, no other church is going to measure up and I need to contribute whatever I can to whatever body I belong to since moved out of state.

    I don't want my kids to hate big church so I don't make them go. They are 14 and 16. I catch some flak for that as a youth leader in the high school group myself, but I don't care. I've been in youth ministry long enough (17 years) to know that nothing good comes from forcing a teenager to do anything.

    Thanks for the article. Appreciate your insight.

    Brian Kirk said...

    Thanks Mary. You remind me that my twin brother now attends my church. Does he love everything about it? No. The worship service is too traditional to speak to him meaningfully. And yet, he goes to worship because he understands that this is part of who we are as Christians -- we gather together in community. He goes not out of obligation or guilt, but because he has a deeper understanding of the faith then he had as a teen.

    Christopher Wesley said...

    Great post and great conversation. I'm against us forcing teens to attend church; however, we should be consistent and persistent with the invitation. There's a huge value to them attending with their family. The other thought that has come to mind is how when I've gone through uncertainty in my faith (desert periods), going to church even when I didn't feel like it allowed me to receive God's grace.
    This is a great topic in which I think we have to sit in the tension and play each situation uniquely. Again great post.

    The MacCrucians said...

    To me, "force" is the wrong question. We should be asking "WHY" a child doesn't want to go to church.

    The stress of getting up early and getting ready always made my parents 'bears' on Sunday morning.

    Then they sat me in a boring Sunday School. Who wants to come back to that?

    Anonymous said...

    I struggled with that for the longest time, then it hit me, let the teens have their own church. That's right, their own teen, crazy, unrefined, church. It works. We meet at Youth Faction every Sunday night and the kids run it. They have a band, bring videos, eat pizza, cheeseburgers, tacos, whatever. They have a time of worship, I give a 30-40 minute message that the teens deem important to them, add in the Gospel truth and an invitation, 5 to 10 minutes of quite time with the Father, we call it Obtanium, then more videos, band and presto, the teens have a church that still has all the elements of "old" church and it's a place that they can invite friends to.

    It's an option. And now we are seeing a number of them going to both services.

    christianbooksbibles14 said...

    It`s a great question i also want to know the answer of this question. parents don't have a problem sitting and listening, but young do,perhaps they doesn`t believe in GOD and don`t want to sit in the church, i request to all of you that if you want to go on the mission trips go to church.
    Mission Trip Fundraiser Ideas

    Joe Bigliogo said...

    I think it depends on the reason. If your teen doesn't believe in god, is an atheist or has a strongly skeptical view of the doctrines being preached, forcing church will only strengthen their resolve and their atheism achieving the exact opposite of your intention. Pushing church and your faith when they are diametrically opposed to it may also drive a wedge between you and your teen.
    Just as you enjoy freedom to choose and follow your faith human dignity must allow young people this freedom even if their beliefs depart from yours. They exist as free and autonomous beings, not religious clones of their parents.