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Help! My Teen Doesn’t Want to Attend Church

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It’s Sunday morning and the buzzing alarm signals the beginning of an all-too-familiar battle: Your teenager has let you know in no uncertain terms that she doesn’t want to go to church. Tossing back the covers, you mentally prepare to cajole, bargain, and plead her begrudgingly from bed to car, for what will likely be a very unpleasant ride to Sunday worship.

Happy Lord’s Day.

Hebrews 10:24–25 contains the scriptural imperative that battle-weary parents are striving to uphold: “Let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another . . . ” Christians gather together as the church to encourage one another in holiness and to proclaim and remember the powerful gospel of Christ. Saved or unsaved, your teen needs your church’s witness.

Saved or unsaved, your teen needs your church’s witness.

Parenting is packed with opportunities to persuade your child to do what’s best even when she’d rather not. As an infant, you convinced her to sleep through the night instead of partying away the night in her crib. Instead of a diet consisting exclusively of pizza, you provide healthy alternatives. And every day you drop her off at school, whether or not she’s feeling it. Parents help their children discern the good portion. If your resolve needs a little refreshing, try employing the three E’s.

Empathize

Proverbs 12:18 says, “There is one whose rash words are like sword thrusts, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.” Instead of shutting your teen down, investigate. Why doesn’t your teenager want to go to church? Ask her. Set aside a time to listen to her concerns. When she shares, empathize and help her process her feelings or find workable solutions.

Whether saved or unsaved, your teen needs the church’s witness.

Even if you love your church, there are likely plenty of Sundays you wake up and aren’t in the mood to go. Maybe you’re overly tired and would rather sleep in. Perhaps someone hurt your feelings and you’d rather avoid them. Or maybe you need a day to catch up on chores.

Instead of shaming your teen for her normal temptation, help her understand what to do with it. Teach her to recognize temptation and then deny it in favor of faithful commitment to the body of Christ.

Explain

Not all conflict ends with empathy. Maybe your teen is still a hard “no” when Sunday rolls around. She may live under the impression that church is only valuable when it’s enjoyable or entertaining. When she doesn’t click with the youth group or finds your church personally unappealing, she may conclude it’s unnecessary. Just as you taught her to eat her veggies and get an education, teach her basic ecclesiology. Why is her participation in the church body good and necessary?

Christ’s followers are members of his body (1 Cor. 12:27). Each Christian is one brick in God’s spiritual house (1 Pet. 2:5), built together (Eph. 2:22) on the foundation of his Son (1 Cor. 3:11). When believers devote themselves to biblical teaching, the fellowship of the believers, the breaking of bread, and the prayers of fellow saints (Acts 2:42), God increases their joy and adds new believers to the family. The church is strengthened. Because Christ “loved the church and gave himself up for her that he might sanctify her” (Eph. 5:25–26), your teen needs more than attendance. She needs love for the church body.

Mothers and fathers, it may be a laborious toil to take your teenager to church. But it’s a worthy investment. Empathize, explain, exhort.

As the parent, training begins with you (Prov. 22:6). Teach your teenager God’s commands that she might fear him and keep his statutes all her days (Deut. 6:1–3), bring her up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord while not provoking her to anger (Eph. 6:4), and extend the rod and reproof that offers wisdom (Prov. 29:15), all while showing her compassion (Ps. 103:13). This training happens all week long, before church begins.

As long as your teenager lives under your roof and depends on your funds, she’s your child. Exodus 20:12 calls her to “honor [her] father and mother, that it may go well with [her] and that [she] may live long in the land.” She is to obey her parents in the Lord, for this is right (Eph. 6:1). While she may not like your methods, God’s commands are for her good. The wisdom of Proverbs 23:22, “Listen to your father who gave you life,” isn’t cumbersome, but a blessing. Your gentle insistence on church attendance demonstrates your love (Prov. 13:24).

Exhort

If your teen is still averse to attending church, try exhortation. The apostle Paul describes his ministry to the Thessalonians as labor and toil, night and day. But he persists in proclaiming the gospel “like a father with his children,” exhorting and encouraging each one, charging them to walk “in a manner worthy of God” (1 Thess. 2:9–12). Labor to exhort and encourage.

The church is God’s good provision for your teen. Teach her this truth. Inside the church she will find pastors who joyfully watch over her soul (Heb. 13:17), teachers who keep her from swerving from the faith (1 Tim. 6:21), and faithful witnesses who commend her to run the race of faith (Heb. 11:2). She will learn of God’s love for his people, his willingness to provide, and his covenant-keeping nature. She’ll observe persecution and affliction among God’s people and learn to navigate suffering alongside Christ. The church is the Father’s generous provision to his children.

Mothers and fathers, it may be a laborious toil to take your teenager to church. But it’s a worthy investment. Empathize, explain, exhort. Don’t withhold the discipline of church attendance from your teen; if you make him go to church, he will not die (Prov. 23:13).

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