What do you do when your kid refuses church?

I got that question from a reader recently, and instead of answering it myself, I thought I’d let my daughter Rebecca answer. Because–BIG NEWS!!! Her book Why I Didn’t Rebel is now being published by Thomas Nelson. (It’s based on the viral blog post that she wrote for me on why she didn’t rebel!). And now that she’s finished writing it, she’s come on board to work for me for a bit. She’ll be writing blog posts every now and then about millennial marriage (since she’s a millennial!) and about parenting teens. And she’ll be running a lot of the behind the scenes things for me to free me up to create some more products.

So she’ll be my right hand person for the blog.

(But we won’t normally be dressing this well!)


So I thought–let’s get Becca to answer this one, since she’s closer to that age and has just written a book about what to do when kids DO rebel.

So here’s the question. And then I’ll let Rebecca tackle it!

Reader Question

My son in the last few months has stated that he no longer believes, doesn’t consider himself a Christian anymore. He goes to church very reluctantly, and doesn’t participate at all, no singing, eyes open during prayers, makes cutting remarks during the sermon. He says we’re brainwashing him to believe what we believe and he would rather not go to church at all.

My question is, do I force him to go to church? ( our agreement now is 3/4 Sunday’s that we attend, he must attend), or do I let him stop going, he is 18 and starting university in a few weeks but will be living at home. Will he become more resentful if we keep making him go or should I just trust he will find his way back as the Holy Spirit guides him?

Wow. That’s pretty heavy–but unfortunately a reality that so many families are facing. I’m going to have a very different perspective here than most parents, since I’m coming at it from the child’s point of view. I’ve had a lot of friends in the last few years who grew up in Christian homes turn away, and I’ve seen what it does to their parents. But there are also some things that their parents did well or not-so-well that impacted how they view God and their family today. If you’re dealing with a teen who has decided he or she doesn’t believe in God, hopefully I can provide some encouragement!

What Do You Do when Your Teen Refuses to Go to Church?

First of all, remember that when your kid refuses church it isn’t about you.

Often when kids reject God, they take it out on their parents. They accuse their parents of being narrow minded; they ridicule them for believing something that they think is illogical; and they can often turn something good, like church, into a stressful and discouraging experience. It’s really hard for parents to watch their kids turn away from God–I can’t even imagine how painful that must be.

When this happens, the temptation when their kid refuses church is for many parents is to think, “what did I do wrong? Why is my child hurting me like this?”

But what does that get you? Just a lot of pointless guilt.

Now, yes, if there is something that you did that could have negatively impacted your child’s faith, apologize! Let’s get that healing started! But the truth is that when it comes to their faith, kids have to make their own choices. And it’s not always the choice their parents’ like.

He’s almost an adult–let him act like one.

When teenagers fall away from the faith it becomes even more complicated because they’re only sticking around for another year, or another few months, and then they’re officially adults. So a lot of parents find themselves in very murky waters!

Often the response when a kid refuses church is to lay down the law. Parents say things like, “as long as you’re under my roof you’re going to church!” But is that really helpful?

I don’t think so. All this does is make the kid even more angry at religion, the church, and you. And when the teenager is almost an adult, laying down the law really doesn’t seem logical or fair–why should they have to listen to you now, when in two months they could be off in some dorm at college, living completely independently?

Instead of trying to control your child’s church attendance, make the issue about how his or her actions are affecting you.

Approaching the issue from YOUR point of view helps your teen feel less attacked.

Rather than micromanaging, give your child a chance to act like a mature adult. Explain your point of view by saying something like:

I understand that you don’t believe. That’s your choice, completely. But my faith means a lot to me, and when you ridicule the church or my faith it hurts. So I will respect your choice not to believe, but you also need to respect my choice to believe.

See how much more respectful that is of your child’s autonomy than just saying “because you’re under my roof you have to go to church”? This gives your child a chance to act like a mature adult. It shows them a lot more respect than laying down the law does. Framing it as a justice issue can help show your child you’re not trying to brainwash, not trying to manipulate–it’s just a matter of what is fair.

Remember that the church isn’t the only place to learn about God.

Let me be frank here: why is it so important that your teen go to church with you if your teen doesn’t believe? Do you think one more sermon will get through to him when thousands haven’t? Do you think God is more able to get a hold of his heart if he’s sitting in a church pew, resentful, then if he’s out walking in nature thinking by himself?

The church is very important for spiritual development, yes, but it isn’t the only place to learn about God. Your family is probably the biggest testimony for Christ that your child will ever experience. So make it a really positive experience for him or her.

I have a friend who fell away from the faith in high school, came back in second year of university, but has decided again that it’s not for him. And his parents were excellent parents–he just made a choice.

This friend said something very interesting, though. He said that even though he himself does not believe, his parents set such a great example of what being a Christian means that he’s actually quite positive towards Christianity. He just hasn’t chosen it for himself. That is huge! Yes, it is really sad that he hasn’t accepted Christ for himself. But even if your kid refuses church, you can still provide him or her with a really positive view of who Jesus Christ is by showing them a glimpse of God’s unconditional love for them.

How do you do that? By having lots of fun together, so that your interactions aren’t all just screaming matches about how he or she won’t come to church with you. Get to know your child as a person, and show them that you truly care unconditionally by wanting to spend time with them even if they don’t accept God. That is the best example of God’s love that you can give.

What if I told you that not all teenagers rebel?

And what if I told you that a lot of typical parenting advice makes rebellion more likely?

I interviewed 25 young adults, trying to figure out what made them rebel or not.

Go to God and pray.

At the end of the day, God is the only one who can change your child’s heart. And He has given you a powerful tool–prayer. Often we undervalue prayer in these situations and go into crisis management. We try to get the kid more involved in youth group, or send him off to a youth rally. But maybe that’s not the right approach when a kid refuses church. That just forces them to be where they don’t want to be. And that can make Christianity seem pretty negative.

If your kid has refused to go to church with you, they have made a decision. So pray for them, and pray a lot. Because then you are relying on God’s strength, not on your own.

We aren’t called to save people, not even our own kids. That’s God’s job, and it’s a choice that they have to make for themselves. But we can help them get closer to Him by giving them a glimpse of the amazing love that God has for them and by constantly going to God on their behalf.

But now I want to hear from you: Have any of you raised teens who refused to go to church anymore? How did you handle it? Let’s chat about it in the comments!

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