As this goes to press (an archaic term) the summer is officially drawing to a close. Oh, we’ll still have plenty of hot weather and there will be more than a month before the calendar says it’s autumn, but, when school starts, summer is toast.

And as school resumes, parents are once again filled with the gnawing anxiety that they might not have provided enough worthwhile activities to either a) turn their child into a happy and well-adjusted adult or b) give her a competitive advantage in the cutthroat world in which we live. (No judgments about your objective; just stating the options.)

The anxiety starts before the children enter preschool and doesn’t end until they have at least finished college — or gotten a job — or gotten married — if it ever ends at all.

Did I get them in the right preschool? Are we living in the best school district? Should I insist they take music lessons? What’s the best instrument for them to play? Do they need tutoring? Are they ready for advanced placement courses? Is (fill in the blank) a good sport for my child? The list goes on ad infinitum.

In the middle of all those questions, and in the face of that anxiety, let me throw something else into the mix: Should I insist that my child go to church?

For some of you that falls under the category of no-brainer. Of course, they will go to church. Either you consider church attendance as vital to their spiritual growth or you just believe it’s a good habit for your family, but, either way, they are going.

For others, the choice is not that simple. Your weekly calendar is getting full already and, while Sundays were once off-limits for school or sports activities, that is no longer the case. If you bring your children to church, it may preclude something else. I could try to make you feel guilty about making those other choices, but, either I’m not very good at it, or guilt or no guilt, the pressure to cave in to other options is too great.

So, instead, I would just like to remind you of a few reasons why you should consider making the choice to see that your children are in church on a regular — rather than abysmally sporadic — basis. I’ll skip over the obvious ones about it being pleasing to God and the Bible advocating it. You know those already and only you can decide how much weight you will allow them to have in your decision-making. I’m willing to let those go, as important as they are, and just put the value of church attendance up against other optional activities, in terms of benefit to the overall development of your child.

Let’s start with the fact that there is no other activity that concentrates so intentionally on the moral development of the child. Schools educate, the arts enrich, athletics develop the body and teach self-control and teamwork, but nothing else focuses so precisely on teaching children how to make the right choices in behavior, personal expression, and relationships with others. We do this from a specifically Christian perspective, but, even if you were to take that away, it would still be important for parents to supplement their own ethical teachings with lessons taught by other, deeply committed leaders such as the ones that fill our ministry.
No other activity teaches children as well to have a religious sensibility, the understanding that we relate to a creative force that is beyond us, greater than we are, and to whom we are responsible. All of the other groups with which they engage gladly stay out of this arena. We enter it boldly and with purpose.

The church provides a larger family with whom children can have a sense of belonging. Outside of the biological family, almost every other activity separates by age or interest. The church lumps everyone together in a big messy family where everyone is welcome and everyone can relate to everyone else. (I admit that is easier to achieve in a smaller church like ours, where almost everyone knows everyone else.) In our increasingly mobile society, having other children and adults of all ages with whom to interact makes us a family in the truest sense of the word.

There are few groups to which your child may belong where the personal growth of the child is the highest goal. While educators may want their children to grow, the school system wants to be sure that they test well. Coaches may want the kids to have a good time, but often the greatest emphasis is on the score. We just want your child to be a better person.

This one is a little nebulous, but we will also help teach your child how to behave. We’re not alone in that, but reverence comes with practice, and being able to sit for increasingly long (but not too long) periods of time is something that every child should learn. Parenthetically, when a child comes to our church I can tell pretty quickly if he or she has been in a place where there is an emphasis on reverence or whether there was little expectation for the maintenance of decorum. Believe me, as your child gets older and is required to be in more social situations, you’re going to want them to know how to behave.

One more thing: I won’t say we’re better at this than anyone else, but I’ll stack the care and concern our leaders have for your children up against any group in the world. It means something that children are loved by more than just their parents, that their teachers know their names, that their pastor relates to them on a personal level, that they have a place other than their own home where they feel they are safe and that they think of as theirs. That’s the way they should feel about church.

I have the greatest admiration and respect for the parents of our congregation. They have the most difficult job in the world. But we’re here to help. I pray that, as you think — and pray — about how your children will spend this school year, attendance at church will be an essential part of the schedule.