“A church your kids will love!” I saw this statement in bold large letters on the top of a website of a large attractional church in a Bible belt city. This was a blatant marketing strategy to attract church shoppers and frankly it was pretty smart and probably effective. The web developer obviously didn’t think children would be analyzing their church sight, no this line was put up on the website to perk the interests of parents. They wanted to communicate to parents if they come to this church their kids would find church to be exciting and loads of fun unlike the previous church the kids hated. If a family dealing with kids who hate church transferred to this church their kids would probably have a blast at this church for a few months, maybe even a few years, but chances are when things got settled those kids will hate this church too. The reason this is the case is these theoretical parents misunderstood why kids come to hate church long term. Few kids really hate church because it isn’t fun enough or is too boring, or not age appropriate, the real reasons tend to be more big picture focused and often begin in the household. Mom and dad can largely influence how kids see church and what they get out of it especially at a young age.
Before we go forward to how we help children love the church we need to step back and ask why this even matters. Is church even really still that important or should we just aspire for our kids to have a detached vague relationship with God? If we hold a high view of scripture we must see weekly worship service attendance as vital for the next generations. Hebrews 10:25 commands Christians not to neglect faithfully attending a worship service. The local church was vitally important in the New Testament. The writers of the New Testament rarely made a sharp distinction between the local church and God’s global church (all Christians) in fact they used the exact same word to describe both. This is not because being part of a church was only a facet of being part of God’s church but because the local church is the clearest expression of God’s global church. The New Testament has no concept of a Christian who didn’t regularly attend intergenerational worship services, the very basis for calling someone a Christian was their active church membership. Going to church obviously doesn’t save anyone but it is such a basic fruit of salvation that we have no right to label anyone a Christian who lacks desire to faithfully attend worship services. This is very very important and thus we must pass on a love for the local church if we want the next generation to stand on solid ground.
If church is clearly important and exciting programs aren’t the key to helping kids like church long term, what do we do to help out kids? First and most importantly we have to convey that church is a positive, glorious, even divine experience. How we talk with our kids about church is often indicative of their outlook on church. Several years ago I read D.A. Carson’s biography of his father a long time small church pastor. The churches Dr. Carson’s father pastured were often extremely unhealthy and they frequently brought Pastor Tom Carson and his wife a great deal of pain but D.A. Carson and his siblings knew none of this as children. Dr. Carson’s parents only spoke positively of their churches and their members while their children were in the home and as a result the kids loved their church community even through its lack of health. We need to be careful not to criticize church members, church ministries, and especially church leaders around our children. If we convey dissatisfaction with the church we shouldn’t be surprised when they are dissatisfied with the church. On the flip side when our kids come to us complaining about this or that in the church we do well to redirect our children to redirect them to the beauties of the church more than we provide a sympathetic ear. This is especially relevant to how we speak of “big church.” I’m thankful for good children’s programs that prepare kids for the big church but we need to always project a positive image of big church even more so than these children’s programs. If we portray big church as the amazing work of the Holy Spirit it well certainly have a more positive impact on our kids’ outlook than calling it adult church or informing them it’s not relevant to their lives. If we struggle deeply to present the amazing eternal work of God in the local church in a positive light to your kids perhaps we need to correct our own hearts and inner consumerism first. If the negativity you harbor comes from overtly unbiblical practices in the church structure maybe for the sake of your child’s outlook on church you need to find a healthy church. No matter what we need to find ways to show our kids the amazing work of God in the local church at every opportunity, especially on the drive to church.
Another way we give our kids a positive image of the local church is to bring church home. Is it any surprise one of the best ways to keep our kids from seeing church as a strange experience is to have a similar experience during the week? Family worship models corporate worship at home for the whole family and makes the vital elements of a worship service part of our regular routine. In many ways humble family worship builds up anticipation for the big deal of corporate worship together with our bigger church family. Family worship likewise provides opportunities to reinforce the importance and message of church. We can use family worship time to talk about how the sermon impacts our lives or review the children’s lessons in an affirming manner. We can sing the worship set list the Saturday evening before church and teach the doctrinal truths the whole church will say together. Family worship can be a means by which we make the worship service the focal point of our week.
None of these things will guarantee the next Sunday our child won’t tell us church was “stupid” or that in twenty years our child won’t detest organized religion. You can’t guarantee a heart change; we don’t need to be in the business of playing God. Nevertheless if we commit to give our kids an amazing vision of the church by God’s grace I think often can see any church become “a church your kids will love.”