At What Age Can a Child Choose to Go — or Not to Go — to Church?

I have heard a number of parents say to their children, “As long as you live under my roof you are going to church.” I don’t know how popular this sentiment is. The implication in this statement is, if one won’t go to church, one would have to move out. One could choose to accept this rule, but is the choice to go to church being made freely, or is it being done so that one doesn’t get kicked out of the house? Is there a certain point in life at which parents should let their children choose to go to church without external consequences imposed on them?

With children under 12 years old, this is not an issue. Most children at this age and under go to church because this is what the family does and/or they are too young to be able to decide. Children under the age of 12 go to church because mom and dad say they have to; they have no choice. This is how it is and I have no problem with this approach.

But as children get older and seek more independence in their relationship with their parents, can the “you kids have to go, you have no choice” approach work? Does it need to stop at some point?

If we embrace the Gospel and build the good news of what our Lord has done for us on a solid foundation, we would never need to think in terms of “having to go to church.” But we all know the how Prodigal Son wanted to test the waters and left his father. The time came for him to leave. When do parents let go and allow their children to decide on their own?

In the next few weeks I want to take a look at the themes of skill mastery, control, freedom, independence, dependence, interdependence, and decision-making in family life. We tend to be too chronological and legalistic in our thinking. Eighteen is not the age of adulthood or independence.

The blessing of the Lord be upon you.

The unworthy +Paul

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