Guest Post: Can We Train up a Child not to Ditch Church?

Here’s another post from my friend Janelle Alberts (you can read more about her and her work at the end of this post). Janelle is a writer who equips Christian parents to raise their kids with faithful confidence. I hope you’ll enjoy reading her tips on keeping kids engaged with the church.


We’ve all read the headlines telling us Millennials are peeling out of church parking lots and not coming back. Although that might sound alarmist, it stands to reason that we parents of still-at-home kids should consider changing our parent-to-kid script about church.

Um, anybody out there know how to do that?

Until somebody comes up with universal talking points on the matter, I’m taking a stab at setting three goals for myself to change how I talk to my kids about church.

TO-DO #1: I will not prejudice my kids against other churches.

Churches handle the Bible differently, and we choose accordingly. That’s reasonable. However, taking a dig or even using acceptable but low-grade slur language about other churches is not something I want my middle-schoolers to remind me of when they’re college students, pointing out the hypocrisy in those innuendos.

Especially because I have experienced people from other churches walking out the Bible kinder, bolder, gentler, better than me. Like, a lot.

Not to mention, we choose our churches based on traditions as well as the Bible, and none of us can lay claim to Luther’s Sola Scriptura when it comes to how we “do” church. We all–all churches–have add-on traditions that were not part of the first-century church.

We seem to pick and choose these traditions for a thousand personal reasons, and we reject the ones we don’t like for personal reasons too. For instance, my friend doesn’t like her church tradition of excluding non-members from taking communion. Another friend doesn’t like her church tradition of making kids memorize the books of the Bible.

“They have 90 minutes max, including games and pizza,” she said. “I want them digging into who the Israelites were and maybe memorize some of Paul’s great speeches–not the Bible’s index.”

Dear kids: all Christian church assemblies are into the Bible, but each does business with the Bible differently, so we choose as best as we can, then work together in areas where we agree. (P.S. Please don’t break up with church.)

TO-DO #2: I will tell my kids that assembling the body of believers without disassembling the Holy Spirit’s work within individuals is hard, but we have to try.

We’re built for connectedness, to love and be loved as a whole and as individuals. Worshipping a God who is corporately bent but also uncompromisingly committed to the preciousness of the individual is a legacy of our faith, unlike any other worldview.

Yale Law Professor Anthony Kronman said that although he does not ascribe to the Christian faith, his “bone deep belief in the infinite value of the individual” is in fact “a biblical idea, invention, discovery, however you wish to characterize it.”

That can stir things up–but hopefully in a good way. The first-century churches stirred each other up to love and good deeds, and gathered together for encouragement (Heb 10:24-25).

May we take a moment right here to offer the writer of those lines a thank you and you really nailed it because stir us up in love and good deeds and also encouragement? We need it all, as a body of believers and as individual believers. That will take some agility, which can work okay since we serve an agile God, whose aim is not to “gotcha” the human race, but to rescue it.

“I will walk among you and be your God, and you will be my people…I broke the bars of your yoke and enabled you to walk with heads held high” (Lev 26:12-13).

Rescue. Blessed and beautiful. We are just the crew to receive that gift and do great things! And, alas, also contaminate that gift and do terrible things.

Dear kids: highly valuing, caring for, and demonstrating love for others is the legacy of what churchgoers are called to do (John 13:34; 1 Cor 12:15-26), although we haven’t always walked it out well. (P.S. Please don’t break up with church.)

TO-DO #3: I’m going heavy on the reality that church has always been messy. Like, always.

I’m attempting to be age-appropriately upfront with my kids on the good and bad of church (if anyone can outline what that looks like, please do send a white paper on the matter immediately).

Until then, here are a few examples of the bad and the good.

There’s Oliver Cromwell’s ragingly prejudiced and bloody conquest of Ireland (bad!), but also there’s triumph-over-prejudice-via-Christ’s-love Martin Luther King, Jr., and his “I Have a Dream” speech (good!).

There’s the church inflicting house arrest on Galileo for saying that Copernicus was right about the earth rotating around the sun (bad!), but also there’s Desmond Tutu, who took his Jesus-loving ideals of doing “little bits of good put together that overwhelm the world,” to restrain, resolve and ultimately end South African apartheid (good!).

It’s not as if the first church started off perfectly either. Although they were first on the scene, in short order they needed to “wake up” (Rev 3:2) and were prone to “forsake their first love (God)” (Rev 2:4).

Church has never been perfect because, God knows, we’re not perfect and we’re the church. Getting our kids to commit to a concept that has inherent flaws is…well, frankly, the way God set this up.

If we don’t shy away from that, will that be enough to train up our kids not to ditch church when they’re older? I don’t know. But I’m glad we’re not in this alone.

Dear kids: In conclusion, church is meant to be two or more assembled for the sake of knowing God, where you stir each other up to love and good deeds, and gather together for encouragement (Matt 18:20, Heb 10:24-25). Please do not break up with church and instead, find your place in being the church. Ask God to show you how.

He wishes you would.

Janelle Alberts writes pithy Bible synopses and is a regular contributor to Christianity Today’s She is writing her first book,
Please Hold The Jargon: Explaining Tough Questions About God to Your Child. Find out more about Alberts here.

© 2017 Amy Simpson.