On New Year’s Eve morning, my home congregation didn’t have a worship service, so my family tried something new. Instead of doing a devotion at home or going to church with friends, my husband and I decided we would visit a place where we knew nobody. We let our kids pick which church to try, and off we went.
Have you ever taken your children church shopping?
Friends of ours gave us the idea. They realized their children will move away for college in a few years and will need to choose a place to worship. They wanted to teach their children how to make that decision.
The same is true for my family. In the blink of an eye, my kiddos will be old enough to decide for themselves not only where but also choose if they attend worship weekly. Plus, as society becomes more mobile and the economy more global, the odds of our children choosing to settle down near us are slim, which means it’s unlikely they will continue to attend the church we do now. So if the goal of parenting is to prepare children for adulthood, helping them use wisdom and discernment to choose a spiritual family is an important part of that.
Normally on our drive home from worship, we discuss the message. This time, we analyzed the whole service. Obviously, we cannot judge an entire congregation based on one visit, but we can get a pretty decent idea. As the adage goes, “You never get a second chance to make a first impression.” So here are five things we talked about, things that might help your family have a conversation about how you choose a church.
- Atmosphere. Was it easy to find our way around? Did we feel welcomed? Did people look happy to be there or were they simply checking the box because they should go to church?
- Music. Was the music easy to follow? Were the words clear and worshipful? Did they tell us more about Jesus? Did they help us praise God and give him the glory?
- Message. Was the message clear? Was it based on Scripture? Did the pastor try to make us feel guilty about our behavior so we would “live better” or did he tell us that Jesus lived for us and we have no more guilt?
- Living the message. You can have the right doctrine, believe all the words of the Bible, and have the “right” music, but if you do not have love (for God and others, especially those not like you), you and your church are nothing, no good for the kingdom of God. (Those harsh words aren’t mine, by the way, they come from the apostle Paul who had plenty of experience in being judgmental and legalistic.)
- Service opportunities. We do not want our children to grow up and be church consumers; we want them to find a spiritual family—a place where they can serve and be served.
While it may seem like it, this post isn’t just for parents of teens. It is a heads-up to churches too. While many churchgoers bemoan “kids today” and that people aren’t attending worship, it’s a reminder that adults have an incredibly important role in making “kids today” feel welcome. Is there plenty of parking? Are the seats or pews too full? Will they feel genuinely welcomed—or will they feel judged when they walk in the door in leggings, purple hair, or tattoos? Finally, would you make room for them in service opportunities or leadership roles? They not only want to be welcomed, but they want to make a difference. Be sure your congregation has space for them to be an integral part of ministry. If you don’t, they won’t come back. And that could be an eternal tragedy.
Linda Buxa is a writer and editor who wouldn’t blame her kids if they chose to live where the temperature doesn’t get to -11 on New Year’s Day.