When Your Child Doesn’t Want to Go To Church

when your child doesn't want to go to church

Lynn Donovan

From our guest Lynn Donovan:

Wow my friends, one week passes swiftly. THANK YOU from the bottom of my heart for welcoming me to your home here on the web. Thank you Courtney for allowing me to be part of your amazing family. I love you!


I remember a time when my daughter said “Mom, I don’t want to go.”

I stood staring at my daughter’s small face glaring back at me with pinched determination, her arms crossed in a defiant stance.  In that moment I felt a panic creep up my neck, followed by a twinge of fear; but mostly a great disappointment overwhelmed me.

My daughter was entering into middle school, and for months I’d excitedly expected that she would join the middle school youth group that met on Wednesday nights at church.  My mention to her that youth group would be held that evening had brought about this unexpected reply.

I gathered myself.

Later that afternoon, after I ‘d had time to think, I talked with Caitie.  I listened to her objections, which were valid.  I insisted, however that she give youth group a try.  After all, she had yet to attend a meeting.  I assured her that it would turn out to be fun.  I asked her to commit to attending for the fall season, from the start of the school year through December, and if she still didn’t want to tattend at the end of the year, I would be completely fine with her decision to quit. She agreed.

December arrived. My daughter’s report? “Mom, I’m done.”

I honored my promise and released her from attending youth group.  This scenario repeated itself with church camp, Sunday morning youth church and a number of other church youth events. Ugh!  How I longed for her to be involved with other teenaged believers, but in our house, it just wasn’t to be.

I will state here, however, that attending church on Sunday morning was never negotiable…

Parenting with love, grace and authority means walking a fine line.  Balancing between our desires and our children’s is at times a challenge, and it increases in difficulty as our kids become teens and young adults. For me, continuing to force my daughter to attend youth group would have birthed in her a resentment to all things of faith.  I know my daughter well, and for most of her life she has been painfully shy.  Her comfort in church on Sunday mornings exists because I’m by her side. Imposing my will on her to make her endure something that she disliked could have developed a hatred in her, leaving a lifelong impact on her adult faith.

I’m humbled to share that my daughter made her choice to enroll this fall at BIOLA University – Bible Institute of  Los Angeles  – a Christian University.

My friends, I wasn’t a perfect parent.  No one is!  But I loved my children, I loved my husband, and I loved my Lord God and His Son, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit.  And that was what I was supposed to do.  Love will cover all those questions of doubt and guesses about whether or not I had been enough. The love of Christ fills in the empty spaces, and it’s always enough.

I’m convinced that if we have prayed for our children and have lived out our vibrant faith in front of their eyes day in and day out, our example, our love and the love of Christ will resurface in them later in life.

I acknowledge there is real pain when a child chooses a rebellious and prodigal path. But our first step of action in learning to cope is to acknowledge our pain, disappointment and fear and then to immediately take these thoughts and emotions to God in prayer.  Tell God that you are hurt, fearful and heartbroken. Lay your child at the foot of the throne everyday in prayer.

~Excerpt from: Not Alone, Trusting God To Help You Raise Godly Kids In A Spiritually Mismatched Home.*Affiliate link


Precious mother, you are treasured, favored and esteemed in the eyes of God. Your high and noble calling will bring faith to the generations, and your life greatly honors the Lord Jesus Christ.

For the Lord is good. His unfailing love continues forever, and his faithfulness continues to each generation (Ps. 100:5, NLT).

Thank you for spending time with me. I love you. I really love you.
~Lynn Donovan

Visit me sometime at SpirituallyUnequlMarriage.com & MismatchedAndThriving.com 

 Thank you Lynn for being a guest here all week long. You have been a huge blessing to me and I have enjoyed your Titus 2 words of wisdom and love.   I get many emails asking about the very areas you have addressed this week. I am so grateful for your willingness to tell your story here and give us hope.

Chime In: Have you faced this challenge of a child not wanting to go to church? How did you handle it?


  1. I guess I am confused. This post was about a girl not wanting to attend youth group or youth activities. How does that have anything to do with church? If she was willingly attending Sunday morning worship, I just don’t get the title of the post. Sorry if I am missing something. I can’t imagine you are equating youth group with worship, so I must be missing something somewhere. Maybe you could help me understand?

    1. Hi Dawn,

      I titled the post (not Lynn) so I can clarify.

      Youth groups typically meet at church and all the believers there are – the body of Christ – the church. So the title does define what the post conveys. Some children really don’t want to go to church activities, fellowships, Bible studies, events etc. and miss out on connecting with other believers their own age and this is a struggle for some mothers.

      I hope this will be an encouragement to them. 😉

  2. Three of my children attended Biola and LOVED it!!! My oldest son even married a Biola bride. They absolutely loved the Bible classes and how everything, even the sciences, were taught from a biblical perspective. It was a very special time for all of them. {Being next to Disneyland was nice too!}

    1. Lori,

      Biola was a great choice for my daughter. She is thriving there. I’m so thankful for God’s faithfulness. Hugs. Have a great day.

  3. My husband isnt a believer and I cannot take my children to church or any church activity. I cannot openly talk to them about my believes. I do believe though that the Lord blesses faithful Christian witness. And action speaks louder than words!
    I dont know what His plans are for my unbelieving husband and unbelieving children but I have hope! I pray that the Lord will continue to bless the faithful witness of Christian mothers who are unequally yoked.

      1. Annabel,

        Keep pressing into Jesus. It’s amazing how God in you can change lives over time. Praying for your marriage and your husbands salvation. In Jesus name. Amen.

      2. Annabel,

        I read your comment and wanted to reply. I grew up in a home with 2 siblings and my parents constantly fighting. The only true believer in our home was my mom and everyone else gave her a hard time. She prayfully stuck it out and never left my dad or us and although she had many hard years this is us now: 3 grown children with families of our own and all of us believers and raising our homes that way and my dad also is a faithful believer. It just takes one person believing in Christ to change generations so don’t get discouraged..you may not see results immediately but they will come with your faith.

        1. I found this thread while reading about kids who don’t want to go to church group. My 13 year old girl has been very resistant since she went to a diversity group and now claims to be bi-sexual. I of course am sad, confused and disappointed. She still goes to Sunday service. I will remain prayerful. God can do all things. Your testimony about your family. Its very encouraging.

  4. My oldest daughter also didn’t enjoy youth group or Sunday school. Once I quit making her go, she started attending worship on a more regular basis. So much so, that the couple Sundays I’ve been sick this year, she’s gone without me and taken over the commitments that I’ve had. My other daughter, who is much more social, has always loved going to youth group and Sunday school. Not saying this approach works for everyone but since being forced to go when I was a teenager is what drove me away for a time, I decided to have my girls experience it and then choose for themselves.

    1. Thank you for this post; it really spoke to my heart. My oldest daughter is like Lynne’s in the example. I took the same approach, and encouraged her to attend and serve in the things she enjoyed (Sunday school, missions trips and serving as liturgist), and let go of the things she did not care for (youth group meetings, acolyting). It disappointed me at first because I remembered fondly the friends I made in middle school youth group. But, her situation is different from mine and I did not want to alienate her from the church. My youngest LOVES youth group as a 6th grader so I encourage her to attend. Each child is different, like adults anf is drawn to different aspects of church life.

  5. So after following along this week, I am puzzled by this series you chose to do. I am new in my faith so maybe just need clarification. Doesnt the Bible teach NOT to be in a situation like this in the first place? A believer shouldnt be married to an unbeliever? Also what if someone who is a believer but very new comes across this post and sees this message (which in my mind is saying its ok to marry an unbeliever if you are one but here is how to handle it) and chooses to enter into an unequally yolked marriage because of it? Why are you clearly encouraging women that this is ok when the Bible clearly states its not?
    Im not trying to ruffle feathers but posts and articles like this are very confusing and misguiding to new believers who dont understand the Bible and its messages as clearly as some other people would. I just wish people would be more mindful to that.
    Again.. Courtney.. I love this site and have learned much from it however this was very disapointing and I think could and may send a wrong message to some women out there.

    1. Amanda, I may be wrong on this one, but from the messages this week were more directed towards those of us who were not in church when we married then later found God and our spouse hasn’t; or maybe both were in church and one has lost the zeal and possibly even the faith. Also there are times when both are trying to maintain, but the spiritual head of the household is not holding up his end of the bargain and then we have a lot to deal with because of it. There are different scenarios that the messages this week could apply to, but I don’t think they were encouraging a believer to couple themselves with an unbeliever. At least I never got that impression anyway. My daughter was a young Christian who married an unbeliever, and although we warned her before the marriage, the young man assured her that he would go to church with her occasionally, and would never stand in her way of going even if he didn’t. None of that happened after the vows were exchanged though, and ultimately it caused my daughter to pull away. I don’t blame him for the fact that she fell away, because one can only blame oneself for disassociation with God…we all have to make our own choices. But I do think the strain of living with an unbeliever played a huge role in it.


    2. Hi Amanda – my blog is mostly written to married women. If I was writing to the youth – I would warn them to not be unequally yoked with an unbeliever. Many women come to know the Lord after they are already married and are reading my blog. This series was for those who are in this situation and are praying for their husband’s salvation. While they wait I hope this comforts and encourages them.

      Lots of Love,

    3. Hi Amanda,

      I so appreciate that you brought this up.. Even in our own web ministry and in our book Winning Him Without Words we write: We, Dineen and Lynn, believe that 2 Corinthians 6:14, “Do not be yoked together with unbelievers,” is a firm calling by God to all unmarried believers. However, we also know that many of us arrive in a spiritually mismatched union and desire to honor God with our marriage. This book is for all of us who are traveling the path of the spiritually mismatched.

      I’ve walked this path now for 22 years and it is so very difficult at times. I would be a voice to any unmarried woman to listen to this passage in Corinthians. God is very wise. But for all of us who find themselves in this place, it is our greatest desire to love God and to honor our marriage covenant and love our husband. That is exactly what God wants us to do: 1 Peter 3 Wives, in the same way submit yourselves to your own husbands so that, if any of them do not believe the word, they may be won over without words by the behavior of their wives, 2 when they see the purity and reverence of your lives.

      1. Lynn,
        How beautifully you have responded to the reader who has stated she is a new believer and confused. Like many of us, she has a lot to learn about being a Christian and the compassion that it takes to put yourself in someone else’s shoes. I hope that she returns to read your response, and that God will touch her heart with it, the way that mine has been touched. I am not in a spiritually mismatched marriage, however I was not a believer when I met my husband and he was. What a beautiful life God has given me, I can’t imagine if my husband had shunned me when we met!

  6. Having two teenage boys at home is a challenge when it comes to church! My boys are typical…concerned with xbox games, the computer, GIRLS, and GIRLS! lol. I have tried the “you have to attend church on Sundays” approach, and it only caused debates and ended with my youngest expressing to me that if I kept making them go, they would never want to go when the choice was theirs to make. Now THAT kinda spooked me. 🙁 So I tried the “you must go every other Sunday” approach. Worked for a few rounds, but then they once more bucked the rules and we started yet again with the same arguments. Right now I am in the middle of the “I’ll let you choose when to go, but if you don’t choose to go at least on occasion, you will have no choice” approach with them.

    Our church is very small and does not have a youth group…bear in mind, we are VERY rural, so that is kind of a damper on my hopes for them to associate themselves with God minded teens. They do have a Bible club at school, and one has joined and participates occasionally, but one still refuses. It’s very frustrating to me as a Mother when all I want is to see them firmly planted in GOD during their youth, that they may serve Him lovingly all of their days. I keep thinking that I won’t be here forever and who will lead them and pray for them when I am gone if they are not Christians by that time? I worry about my kids. All of them. And I try to reach out to them in any way I can…even encouraging them to attend a youth group in a neighboring church that has more to offer…but they are not interested, and I believe it’s because they don’t consider that to be their “home” church. Hearing them say that really gave me hope, because when kids refer to a church as their “home” church, I have to think that at some point they have somewhat bonded with it in some way…and hopefully my prayers combined with that thought will be enough to pull them back at some point.

    This week has been great and I thank you Lynn, and Courtney, for your time, efforts, and prayers. Many of us find ourselves in the very situations you have posted about, and it helps to know we are not alone in this and that there is HOPE! Encouragement is something we all need as we struggle to live a Godly life in a very ungodly world. Thank you and God bless!

  7. Good morning! I always really enjoy your posts Courtney, but I did feel the need to interject on this one. I am not questioning your parenting skills AT ALL, Lynn! I just want to point out that each child is different and that a parent dealing with a situation like this needs to really seek God and not just do this cookie cutter response. I was in church from -9 months, and I was a rebel. I fought going to youth group, activities, camp, and had a bad attitude even when I chose to do something, like choir. My parents did the opposite. i was never allowed ONE TIME to miss a service (church, worship, youth group-all the same in my parents’ eyes.) I HATED it. I was even REQUIRED to attend a christian college, a STRICT christian college I might add! I hated almost every moment of it….even after graduating and moving out on my own, I was still at church 3 times a week 1. because I knew my parents expected it 2. It was habit. I fought being involved with a church family and wasn’t even sure about how real my own relationship with Christ was…..but I would like to testify to God’s grace and goodness. I am 25 years old, married to a godly man who is studying to be a pastor, I am involved and thankful to be a part of a wonderful church family, and I am daily seeking Christ through a personal walk with Him. I am so blessed and happy! All this to say, that for some rebel children who want to “fight church,” the answer is simply making them go, and God uses sitting in the back 1/2 listening to grab that child’s heart and change them with his powerful grace! My Daddy would always say, “If you live in my house, you live by my rules.” Simple. This whole letting kids do what THEY want is an idea that is totally foreign to me. A child doesn’t know what they need, and that’s why God has given parents…to direct when they want to stray. (I’m talking about as a minor, not as a grown up, married adult.) Thanks for your time! I’m so thankful that your daughter came to the same wonderful conclusion that I did~God is good and I am blessed and thankful to be his child!

    1. HI Vickibeth, You are absolutely right. It is not a one kid fits all. In this part of the book I was describing what worked in our house. Later in the book I talk about how to prayerfully and with consideration of your home dynamics and child to help them find some way to connect with the Body of Christ. Because I believe so much in community and power and training that comes from a church connection, I wrote about helping your kids find a way to meet other believers. It’s very difficult to do this when Dad is at home and even sometimes encourages the kids to stay home. Thanks for sharing your story it’s very powerful and a worthy story of how we can hurt our children by too much force. Love you my friend. Hugging you tight. Lynn

  8. It’s mainly my son who doesn’t want to go to church because daddy isn’t. They love going to Awanas on Wednesday but because Sunday morning isn’t as fun it can be a struggle. I’m afraid if I force them to go they will resent it. I don’t know what to do! No of my friends are in the same boat. I’m the only one who’s husband isn’t a believer. So I have no one to turn to that understands.

    1. Alicia,

      I know how you feel. I have 3 kids, but my two oldest fight me on Sundays now and want to stay home with their dad. They say if dad isn’t going, we don’t have to. I’ve tried to force them, but it’s impossible when its two against one. I usually end up so frustrated before church that I’ve stopped asking for the time being and just pray. My youngest happily comes, but I feel like such a failure at church. I feel like if I can’t even lead my own children to Christ, how can I lead anyone else. They are 9 and 12 and used to come with me every week since they were babies. Dad has really never come, but we faithfully went. It’s only been in the last 8 months or so that they have been resisting. Hang in there:-)). God hears our prays and sees our hearts.. I’d love any wisdom shared….

      1. Thanks! There are a lot of Sundays I don’t go because we started going to a new church and don’t want to deal with all the questions :-/

  9. Our children are a little younger and my husband is also a believer, but we were having trouble with one of them not wanting to go to church or Sunday School. I am glad Lynn listened to the objections her daughter had. If we had not intervened then we will still have resistance to church attendance. Our youngest son is 7 now, but for two years we had nothing but meltdowns and screams every Sunday morning. He could not sit through a service. It got to the point our whole family hated going to church. We really did not know what to do and we knew that we were going lose our son for the Lord at a young age if we did not do something. So we decided to visit some other churches and pray for a while. The very first week we went to a small rural church. Our son was sitting on my lap and he said to me, “Mommy, it is so quiet.” then he let out a sigh of relief and I felt every muscle in his body relax. That particular church was not the right one for our family, but we did land in a rural church with a lot of children. It is vibrant and active. He now cheers and gets excited to go to church. Sunday morning is a looked forward to day again.

    The problem ended up being that our son (who has Sensory Processing Disorder) was reacting to the praise band at our former church. There is nothing wrong with a praise band, but in our case it was not good. The acoustics in our former church caused an echo the rest of our family did not notice because it did not bother us. It bothered our son and caused him physical pain. So he hated to go. I know of so many families that have children who don’t want to go to church and they force them to go without taking the time to find out if there is a problem. So I share this simply to say listen to your child when they can tell you, but in our case ours could not tell us so in that situation look at the nonverbal things. We decided a praise band was not worth losing our son over. Every family will have to decide how to handle these situations.

  10. Thanks Lynn,
    It was a blessing hearing from you this week! May God of Heaven Bless you richly in Jesus name.

  11. Thanks Lynn,
    It was a blessing hearing from you this week! May God of Heaven Bless you richly in Jesus name.
    🙂 You very much encourage this young wife/mother of four little ones.

  12. So thankful for your message. It really spoke to me and my heart needed it right now. Thanks for helping me not feel so alone and like I have failed!

  13. I’ve been reading this week as this subject is so close to my heart. My husband is not a believer and yet he attends church regularly with us, serves, and is committed to raising our girls to know Jesus. God has blessed me, and yet it was only in the last two months after 10 years of marriage that I’ve finally accepted that his lack of faith has no bearing on my children’s faith or mine. God has more than taken care of us including giving me a more than supportive spouse. Someday he will meet Jesus, but that will come from Jesus approaching him not me convincing him. Thank you!

  14. To the family of Women Living Well and to my friend, Courtney, thank you so very much for allowing me to be part of your community this past week. I was overwhelmed by your thoughts, comments and love.

    Courtney, you are a woman who exemplifies the love of Christ. Thank you my friend for your grace and generosity. I love you.

    Lord, bless this family. I ask Your great favor and prosperity upon this Home here and up Courtney and her family. Astonish them with your Presence and let us all reflect your glory. May all we do bring honor to the name of your Son, Jesus. Amen.

    Love you, Lynn

  15. Thank you. This is a great help for me raising a pre-teen. I have been pushing my son to attend church camp and he always told me about not having friends within the group going on camp. this has helped calm me down. i know that not all children want to participate in youth activities even though they do go to church.

  16. I am finishing my teen years and going off to college. I went through the same situation where in the course of middle school I did not want to join my youth group. In high school I joined other classes on Sunday morning and it turned out I was a little more mature than my age and I liked being around people of all ages. I became close friends with an old family friend and the teacher of the class that is old enough to be my grandfather. I am currently in charge of refreshments for my class but I still talk with some of the high school leaders.

  17. This blessed me. I’ve been there, and God is faithful. We need not panic. Thank you for sharing your experience; it brings peace to others to have the reassurance of God’s faithfulness.

  18. Thank you so much for sharing this–definitely something I’d wondered about (nearly the same experience here). I know youth group is like a home away from home for some teens…but I also know if you’re providing a strong Christian home environment, the shy child can still grow and serve the Lord in his/her own way. I agree w/your conclusions and I’m glad it worked for your daughter.

  19. I just want to throw in my story that I hope can help someone. I am not at all comfortable in many groups, and I can only imagine how horrible it must feel too be forced to go to a youth group activity. It isn’t worship in many cases. As a mother, I was pressured into”letting” my child go to the teen youth group. Although she enjoyed it, it was not good. The Lord can turn the bad into good, but overall, it was bad. She did come to feel more comfortable with serving at worship (as a greeter, in choir, and that sort), but the group was gossipy, rebellious, and poorly supervised some of the time. She learned at the group that it was okay to talk back to me. Some talking back happens with every child, but this was new. More like a personal attack. Lying also became a regular habit, as did becoming overly secretive. Just my story. I’m not saying all youth groups are bad. But if you think something is wrong with a group, just stick to what you hear God telling you when you pray about it. Don’t let yourself be pressured by what others think or say. (In either direction)

  20. Umm… where’s the part where you honor the title of the article and help patents get their kids to go to church?

    1. The title is:
      “When Your Child Doesn’t Want to Go To Church”

      This was written from the writer’s perspective and experience. Nobody can tell you how you can get your chld to church – only what worked for them. From your tone it sounds like your kids are not being set a good example of graciousness!

  21. My oldest now states he’s an atheist & my middle child wants nothing to do with “boring” church. She heard the stories over & over. Please consider yourself lucky that your daughter only balked on youth group & now attends Christian college.

  22. As a parent of three grown children I went through this as well. Being a youth leader helped because I was involved with the youth program, each child is different and requires a different approach with each one. Thank you for sharing this first it shows that we are not alone with this situation and other parents are also dealing with how to share our faith with our children with full knowledge that at one point in their life they will have to make that decision on their own. As a Sunday School teacher of 7th and 8th grade girls it reminds me to do my part in these girls lives. Middle school ages are about relationships and if they know that their leader cares about them and is interested in their lives, they are more likely to want to come to class. I try to send my girls a Facebook or text throughout the week letting them know I’m praying for them and asking how school is going.

  23. I am married to a man who is a nominal believer but won’t attend church. I have always taken my two children to church where they have attended the kids’ programs. How they cope depends on the child’s personality. Outgoing children will cope and reach out to others for friendship but shy kids often feel uncomfortable in an environment with children they don’t know well. If the children at church all come from different areas and haven’t spent a lot of time together then you can’t expect them to love being together at church.

    As adults, mostly we have the life skills to connect and.form relationships and fellowship with people we don’t know well. Kids don’t always have these skills. It’s only natural that they won’t like being forced to spend time with kids they don’t really know, particularly in adolescence when they become more aware of other people and are trying to find their own place in life.

    I think the answer is to have a healthy relationship with your children and set a good example at home. Talk to them about Jesus and his unconditional love and faithfulness. Pray and have regular devotions together. There is such power in testimony so read them true life stories about God’s faithfulness and how he has delivered and protected His people. If possible take them to visit some different worship services so they can experience the body of Christ and many ways and styles of worshipping. Allow your children the freedom to know God in an intimate way for themselves, to learn that God longs for friendship with them and He has open arms waiting for them. When they have a strong relationship with God they will probably be happy to attend church. Forcing them to attend when they are young will more the likely just alienate them and foster rebellion.

  24. It’s great that you mentioned that even if your kids don’t like going to church it’s still important to stay on the path of God and remain headstrong. Hopefully, I can still fix things and find a trendy church that my kids will want to go to. As I want my kids to enjoy and love the church as much as I do.

    1. Children are molded by their surroundings. So, if we as their God-given parents do not mold them, someone else will come in our place and take that influence in their lives: School, media, and peers who have been molded by whatever influence they are surrounded with – and this is a situation ripe for predatory people and narratives to slip in — waiting for a child who is not being molded by those in his life who love him most. No – parents should by all means possible mold their children, giving them the most healthy, stable, and strong influence and structure possible. This is how a strong society is built. Western society began to crumble when parents stepped back and began abdicating their role as molders in their children’s lives. Children became less secure and stable, predatory systems and people moved in to take that role in molding children according to whatever current narrative was being pushed as politically correct and acceptable, and what we have now is a generation of young people lost and flailing in whatever direction the wind happens to be blowing: with addiction and suicide rates off of the charts. It’s time for parents to step back in and assume their God-given role, right, and responsibility as mold-makers in their children’s lives – giving them the stability, love, and protection their children so desperately need.

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