This week I was able to guest coach a Christian soccer team in the DC Metro area, and I did a quick impromptu survey of the high school-aged players. Only a handful of the 40 or so kids were from families that had returned to in-person corporate worship.
This astonished me. Often our own experiences shape how we view other people’s experiences, and such is the case for me with church in a COVID world. The church I pastor has been open for nearly a year, and so I took it for granted that many—if not most—other churches were too. However, this highly unscientific survey disabused me of that notion.
Later, my emotions changed. I went from surprised to sort of sad. I was looking at a group of students, all of whom are in school, and some of whom obviously wished they were in church. I recognize that COVID has created difficult choices for many people, but this hit home to me.
So today I want to appeal to parents to get their kids back to church. Many of them are in school, many of them are playing sports, but they are not in church.
I know that every family is different. Some families are not in church because their church is not open. Some families are members of a church that is open, but for varying reasons the parents don’t feel comfortable taking their kids back yet. Pediatricians have warned against it. Grandparents have sounded the alarm. The media acts like church attendance is perhaps the most lethal activity imaginable. In some states, it may even be illegal.
Nevertheless, I’m asking you to ignore all that and believe that it is a good idea to take your kids to church. Here are five reasons why:
1). The Bible commands it. God calls us to worship in congregations (1 Corinthians 14:26, Colossians 3:16, Hebrews 10:24-25). While most of the world shut down for COVID, and perhaps it made sense to cease worshiping in large indoor groups for a while, eventually kids are actually going to suffer from their lack of meeting together as a church. They will miss the means of grace. They will miss Christian friendships. Maturity in their faith will come through relationships with their peers (Proverbs 27:17), and right now many kids are cultivating those relationships with those outside of their church.
Without church, kids (and especially teens) will miss seeing the Lord work in each other’s lives, and they will miss the congregational singing and preaching. The word actually does affect people’s lives, and really does produce spiritual growth. If you believe those things are important for believers, they are certainly important for your children. I appeal to you to not deprive your kids of those spiritual blessings.
2). “Safe? Who said anything about safe?” I’ve heard from several parents that they will start returning to church when it is “safe to do so” (of course, I think of Mr. Beaver every time I hear that). My own experience has shown church appears to be a relatively safe place. The church I pastor has been meeting for nearly a year, and despite being in a relatively high-risk area, to our knowledge COVID has not spread at church.
But that really isn’t my main point. Our kids may very well grow into a world where it will not be safe to worship Jesus publically at church. It may not be in their career interests to do so. It may, eventually, not even be legal for them to do so. The best way to prepare them for that world is by modeling the conduct you would want from them right now. The data shows that COVID is largely harmless for teens, whereas spiritual isolation is extremely harmful for them. Is it worth teaching kids that they should avoid church for a year because of the unknowns about the virus? If the government declares an emergency over the mental health of LGBTQ, and forbids churches from meeting that are not affirming of that world view, how would you want your kids to respond?
I encourage you to model that now.
3). The greatest lesson children/teens need to learn from their parents is that worshiping Jesus should dominate their lives. Parents should teach their children the preeminence of Christ. Kids are going to see how valuable worship is based upon the value choices parents make. They will see it and emulate it. Parents should ask themselves if they are teaching their children the value of worshiping Christ, even during a pandemic.
It is one thing to miss church for vacation. It is still another to miss for a soccer game or a school trip. But when children miss church for a year because of government restrictions or marginal health concerns, it is a loud proclamation of the perceived importance of congregational worship.
4). Separation from the church leads to influence by the world. I read a story this week in the Washington Post about people who—just this week—have hugged people for the first time in a year. Now that they are vaccinated, they have reunited with friends and family. While I’m not sure how typical that experience is, the story certainly presented it as the standard of American prudence during the pandemic. I submit that it is not healthy, but my bigger concern isn’t on the tactile nature of human relationships as much as on the contagious nature of culture.
When kids (and especially teens) are separated from church for a year, they are not separated from influence. Zoom classes, video games, and entertainment take over as centers of influence. Kids begin to imbibe the hopeless of the world rather than the hopefulness of the resurrection, which is instilled through regular corporate worship.
5). The family of God misses them. Your pastor misses them. I know many families at Immanuel that haven’t come back yet, and I miss them. I miss seeing them in the halls, and I miss seeing their kids growing up (Philippians 1:3-7). The families that are not yet back are in important part of the church. They encourage other people just by being at church. They know people, and people miss them.
This is even more poignant with kids, who are on a trajectory. They only have limited time in every ministry before they age out. Their pastors and leaders miss them. If students absent themselves from discipleship, it is not only the student that misses out, but also those whom are blessed by knowing your kids.
So parents: there is obviously much unknown still about the efficacy of vaccines and when, if ever, the government will finally declare that it is “safe” to go back to church. I’m asking you to not wait any longer. While this is a decision that every family needs to make, as you calibrate your own risk level, I’m asking you to reevaluate the decision to miss church. I know these are not easy decisions to make, and every family is different with their own extenuating circumstances, but as this pandemic enters its second year, I appeal to you to see the value of church worship for your kids.