Let your kids choose not to go to church today and they’ll choose not to go when they are adults


My dad was a pastor, so I got an inside perspective on church growing up. I did everything from help fold the bulletins to taking up the offering. Occasionally through my preteen and teen years there were those moments where for whatever reason… I did not want to go to church.

Now here is where it gets a little touchy because I had friends whose parents gave them the choice about attending church. (ironically they still HAD to do a lot of things like wear a shirt to the dinner table, do their homework, their chores, and visit with great-grandma).  I thought for sure that the only reason I HAD to attend church was because my dad “worked” there. I mean there must be a reason that my friends parents were lax on the whole church deal but strict on stuff like Algebra.

Then my dad got fired… ahem, I mean resigned from the church he was serving. I thought for sure we’d take a Sunday off or something, but the very next week we were in church (a different church, but a church none-the-less). I tried to get out of going (in hind sight I can’t imagine how difficult this must have been for my dad) but he insisted and we went. I learned in a very real way that church attendance was important, not because my dad was a pastor, but because that is where we gathered with the people of God for the worship of God.

Then there came that first Sunday I was away at college. I had the opportunity for the first time in my life to ditch church, but at 18 years old I got out of bed early, got ready and walked into a church in time for Sunday School and I’ve only missed a handful of Sundays since. You see when my dad made me go to church when I didn’t want to, I learned something… Church is important. It was more important than hunting, fishing, sports, and especially more important than sleeping in.

My friends also learned something from their parents about church… Church wasn’t important. Much to the agony of their parents many of my friends, whose parents let them stay home, have continued to stay home from church. They went to college and didn’t attend church. Now they’re having kids and some are coming back but others aren’t.

I’m sure my friends’ parents meant well. They were probably afraid that they would burn their kids out on church. Maybe the pastor made that awful “I had a drug problem… my parents drug me to church” joke one too many times. Or maybe it’s because deciding to follow Jesus is a ‘personal decision’ we don’t want to “pressure” our kids, that we as parents can make the mistake of backing away from training our kids in spiritually right and helpful behaviors. We wouldn’t think twice about making our kids do their homework or clean their room. But somehow we let church attendance be the one place where we let them decide for themselves? Does this not actually send the unintended message… church is not important and you can blow it off for sleep?

I get it…. We faced a similar issue when we started family prayer time and my kids didn’t want to pray. Should I tell my kid they “have to” pray? I don’t want them to hate prayer… But then I realized that I’m responsible for training my kids and they will follow my example no matter what I do. So it’s probably better to err on the side of “repeat the Lords Prayer with me then” than it is to say, “you don’t have to pray.” At the very least they will know that prayer is important to their father. God has blessed our family prayer time. He’s used the Lord’s Prayer in numerous ways to instruct my children and bring both of them to conviction and repentance. I look back and wonder the shape their hearts would be in if we had not hunkered down and said, “This is too important to skip.”

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40 thoughts on “Let your kids choose not to go to church today and they’ll choose not to go when they are adults

  1. i was forced to go to church every time the doors opened during my entire childhood and teen life. I figure I had enough church to last me a lifetime.

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  2. Ken, sorry your experience caused you to think you’d had enough of church. It was obviously important to your parents (or whoever took you). Your experience was obviously different than mine. I didn’t really appreciate church until later around 24 when I committed my life to Christ. If it interests you, you can read more about my experience in the My Story section.
    https://followjonathan.wordpress.com/about/

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  3. We can force our children to sit on a pew, pray, sing, do Sunday school lessons, but that does not save them or make them committed. I was expected to be at every service. I no longer attend. My children are not forced and they love to go. Go figure.

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  4. Alabama Honey, I agree with you in that having kids sit in the pews and participate doesn’t save them or make them committed… but in my case it was being in that atmosphere that brought me to a real place of repentance. To be sure there was a lot this article didn’t say (that is listed other places on this blog) about key factors in helping our kids form their faith. I’m glad your kids willingly choose to go, that’s always the preference.

    I’ve had friends who grew up in churches where the emphasis was some place other than the gospel (such as how people dress, what version of the bible they read, etc.) and I think I would have walked away from that too. But what I saw illustrated in the faith of my parents what I hope to model for my own kids isn’t a mindless bent for tradition and man-made rules, but a deep love for the gospel and the gospel community.

    I hated church as a teenager. Not because it was boring or I couldn’t sleep in, but because those people were the phonies who fired my dad… The fact that my dad insisted that we go back lead me to a place of forgiveness and ultimately to where I really grasped the gospel. You can read more about it in the “My Story” section of the blog. You might also want to check out these blog posts:
    https://followjonathan.wordpress.com/2013/11/18/why-im-not-bitter-about-the-church/
    https://followjonathan.wordpress.com/2009/12/21/when-church-hurts/

    I don’t know where you are on your faith journey but I would encourage you to check back into a church community and see what you may have been missing.

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  5. “Force” may be a hard word, maybe the wrong choice. I don’t feel I was “forced” to go, but I went every week. I simply didn’t have an option. My parents wouldn’t allow me to stay home alone, neither of them was going to stay, and my grandmother was at church too. They weren’t going to drop me off at a friend’s house either. The option simply didn’t exist. Just as I went to school every weekday during the school year, I went to church every Sunday morning–and with rare exceptions every Sunday night and Wednesday night. I rarely miss any services even now as I am in my late 40s, even now that I am no longer serving in a church as I did for 20 years in a part-time capacity.

    The problem I have with “force” is the strength of the term. It’s sounds like making someone eat Brussels sprouts (which I do voluntarily now)! Church attendance was a part of our lifestyle as a family, part of our identity. And our faith wasn’t merely a go-to-church thing, but it was part of everyday life as well: blessing our friend, reading our Bible, studying Sunday school lessons, praying, talking about spiritual things. That’s part of why it stuck–faith extended beyond the 11 A.M. sermon. By the way, I was not a preacher’s kid!

    Since I am not a parent, I haven’t faced the dilemma of whether to force a child to go to church or not. I don’t envy parents in this day who are faced with difficult decisions daily. While I feel certain, based on my beliefs and my upbringing, that my kids would be in church without an option in the matter, I cannot walk in your shoes. But I would encourage each parent or guardian to do several things:

    1. Live a genuine lifestyle as a Christian before your children, which includes going to church regularly, as well as praying, giving a tithe, etc. Let them know your faith isn’t just a Sunday thing.
    2. Pray about what this author calls being “responsible for training” children in matters pertaining to God; it’s a huge responsibility.
    3. Be patient in dealing with children and teens who rebel, and seek God’s guidance every day to make the decision that God wants you to make, even if it’s hard.
    4. Pray for the salvation of your children and then for a growth as disciples, including their own desire to be with God’s people on His day.
    5. Try to determine why they don’t want to go to church. Sometimes, they stayed up too late on Saturday nights…having to get up early on Sundays just sounds hard; that’s not much of an excuse, but it’s easy to give in to. Ask your children why they want to miss church–pin them down. Is it a cultural thing, a lack of commitment, peer pressure, rebellion against you, rebellion against God, lack of salvation, misplaced priority, or feeling out of place at the current place of worship?

    As our nation slips further and further from God, we need to raise up a generation who will stop the cycle of falling away from church attendance and faith in God. Blessings to all families who struggle with this matter.

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  6. While I understand they child may not choose to attend church later, I still believe it is his/her choice. If you force them to attend at an early age, you are brainwashing them to believe what you believe. If God is important to them, they will follow the word, if not they won’t. You have to remember religion is geographical. If you grew up in certain areas of Africa, you would worship the mud God. India, you probably wind up Hindu or Muslim… When your children are old enough to understand religion, then you discuss religions and what he or she thinks is right. Otherwise you are pushing them to believe what you believe, which may not be right for them and could harm your relationship later in life. Do what is right for them, not you.

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  7. Hey Martin,
    I don’t know what your geography statement was about other than implying that you assume that most people aren’t capable of making intelligent choices about what they believe. You completely dismiss the fact that almost all religions have converts of some sort or another. This statement also doesn’t have any bearing on the truth. If my religion is right, what does it matter if it’s regional? I’ve heard that line thrown out in a few debates and it’s always been addressed as a red herring.

    Secondly, to let my kids grow up and later decide what to believe for themselves would indicate that I don’t believe that Christianity is true. I would have to unbelieve a lot of things to get to that point…. I think what you really meant to say was that the only view you appreciate is one where no one believes anything with conviction but you. That may be fine for you, but I beg you not to enforce it on me. I believe in the truth of the gospel and so that’s what I’m gonna to teach my kids. They can and will decide for themselves later, but they will do so knowing what I believe.

    Finally. How do you choose from ignorance? Really? It’s a noble idea to say you’d compare religions with your kids, but how are you going to do that without engaging in them? I doubt you find enough brochures on each religion to bring you up to speed on what it takes people a lifetime to master… I think that’s just plain arrogant to assume that you could even compare religions.

    If you want to do some honest exploration I dare you to dig into the bible and see what Christianity really teaches.

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  8. You can’t let kids just do whatever they want; they’ll eat candy all day & play in the street. That’s why they have parents, to watch over & guide them.

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  9. I was raised in church all my life. Most of the “rules” that were drilled into me never made sense, even as a child, because there weren’t definite scriptures in the Bible to support them. I just did what I was told because that’s what the preacher said to do or I would most certainly go straight to hell. These included no TV or movie watching, no makeup, no wearing pants for the women and the list goes on and on and on and……. well you get the point. As an adult I do not attend church and most likely never will. Do I believe in God? Of course I do! Do I still pray and read my Bible every day? Yep! Do I need a man to get up and tell me what I need to be doing or not doing? Nope! My relationship is with God and He is who I will answer to, not a man who apparently just wants my time and money in the name of religion.It really doesn’t matter what you make a child do when they are young. Sooner or later they will become an adult and choose what is best for themselves.

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  10. Hey Paula, I think your experience in church and mine are very different. I would say that most everything you listed was religiously abusive. Not all churches are like that. I’m a pastor on staff at a church and we watch TV, my wife wears make-up, and she even wears jeans to church some Sunday’s. I’m glad you’ve held on to your relationship with God, but I think your missing out on the community that a local church provides. It’s not like the church is a man made idea, the true church belongs to Jesus (Matthew 16:18). I would encourage you to look for a non-abusive church that really does focus on the scripture and doesn’t add their own rules & regulations to everything, you might find a different experience.

    I expect my kids to make their own decisions as adults (otherwise I’ve pretty much failed them as a parent), but I want them to have a decision mechanism that goes deeper than “I don’t feel like it”.

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  11. My family attended every time the doors were opened growing up, and now my husband and I take our children faithfully. We have not ever had to “make” them go because it is understood that is what we do as a family. But “going to church” for the sake of “going to church” is legalism at its finest. Please follow up with the heart-based reasoning behind meeting together with fellow believers.

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  12. I see both sides of it. I agree that if you want your children to go when they are adults, that you should have then go when they are growing up, but I also see the burnt out side of it, because that’s where I ended up at, still don’t regularly go to church. Sunday morning, Sunday night, Wednesday night, and quite a few Friday, and Saturday nights also.

    When I went to youth convention, as soon as we got off the bus, we went to a service, first thing when we got up, another service, had about 3 hours of “free” time, usually to eat, maybe walk around the mall for an hour, then right back to church that night.

    Same with camp, service in the morning, a few hours of free time, noon to 4, then dinner and another service that night, same thing all 5 days I was there.

    Lock ins, 5 hour service, get to the gym for the lock in around 11 pm, get together for another hour service at the gym around 2am, then have to leave by 5 am.

    I don’t think church is a bad thing, and would definitely have my kid go to Sunday School. But I don’t think I’d force them to go to every service, mainly because I wouldn’t want them to feel completely burnt out like I did, and not go at all. Just my opinion tho

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  13. Growing up I lived two houses down from the Church, and every time those Church doors were open my mom insisted that we went in. I thought to myself, when I get older I am not going to go to church; at least not every week. But now, I praise God for the teaching and example that my mom gave me. Got a headache, got a stomach ache, etc… go to church and God will heal you. There was never an excuse. I followed my mom’s footsteps in teaching my children commitment, however my husband did not share my urgency about attendance. So to many times they stayed home with dad. My children are now adults and they do not go to church, but they know down deep inside who he is and they know what praying through is. I trust and believe that they will turn back to God, because I still trust and obey God and I know prayer is answered. Thank you for your post.

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  14. Pastorjonathon1, Churches that have high standards are not All abusive. Biblical standards are required in the Bible. There are scriptures that guide us in these things. The church becomes abusive if you are shunned because you choose not to abide by those standards. That is in direct conflict with who Jesus is and why He came to earth.

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  15. I went three times a week from the time I was old enough to be in the nursery until the time I graduated high school; to be honest, I despised it the last several years. Once I was no longer under my parent’s roof I didn’t set foot inside a church for over a decade. Not to say I didn’t share a spiritual connection to my heavenly father, if anything my relationship with him was stronger than before.

    Now that I’m a father my wife and I have decided to become a member of a local church for our son’s sake. I have difficulty with it to this day, but I’m trying my best to set forth a good example and hoping he can develop the same relationship.

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  16. I really hope my child never asked to go. 99% of the christians I have been around talk behind your back, deceive you the first chance they get, stab the knife into the back a little deeper each time you are around them, never do no wrong, could care less about you.. it is all about themselves, they try to fool others with their christian smile and trying to prove they are great but don’t turn your back to them, they always have to have all the control but they place themselves in gods throne and compare themselves to god, they are never accountable for their actions as they never do no wrong, they play on your sympathy, asking for forgiveness with they mistreat you but never intend to make amends – it is only for show for something they want from someone else, they delight in your pain while masquerading as the nobel one, they love to preach what a great christian they are, at the church everytime the doors are open, kissing the preachers ass, bringing food everytime someone has misfortune And yet their actions outside of church never matches the show they put on for others. With people like that, why would anyone want to be a christian…. I have learned by life experiences that when someone claims they are a christian you better run as fast as you can or the knife will go in a little deeper and you better keep a BIG jar of gasoline to lube it up. I will allow my child to make any decision she choses but I hope that she never choses church or christianity. It is best to believe in god in private and meditate your prayers to the universe…… and stay clear of back stabbing unethical christians. My life experiences have only proved to me that the bible is not totally true and christians are not what they are cracked up to be. I rest my case …. all with FACTS.

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  17. My challenge/struggle is a little tougher.. recently divorced father of 2. Ex doesn’t go to church and doesn’t encourage our daughters to go. I do when I have them but it’s hard to make them go without support from the other parent.

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  18. Interesting read (comments too). I must say though, my first impression was the you were taught the “habit” of “church attendance”. Hopefully you attend now for worship, fellowship and service. I know lots of people who grew up representing the whole range of participation. Guess what? Not a scientific poll but many who had no significant regular attendance or participation still don’t and vice versa. Respectfully, your opinion is just that. I am (by choice) very involved in the church community where I have been a member for over 25 years. The single biggest struggle I have in my life is not losing both my legs below the knees to complications from diabetes as I did in 2011, but having my faith shattered by a verbally and physically abusive father. You see, he was also my father.

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  19. I was forced to go to church as a child and teenager. I was bullied at every church of every denomination we went to. I dreaded having to go and would cry myself to sleep on Saturday nights. I don’t attend church anymore. Period. Being forced to go gave me a very negative view of church and so called “Christians”. I still believe in God; however, I think it is absolute insanity to say just because someone doesn’t go to church means that they can’t have a relationship with Christ when the most evil, repulsive, abusive people I have met have gone to church on a regular basis. How about if your child says they don’t want to go, you ask their reasoning behind it? How about you let your children decide for themselves what they believe rather than making them regurgitate your own beliefs? Okay. Rant over. Sorry.

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  20. In 25 years of full time ministry, I have seen this hundred’s of times…..and prayed and cried with the parents when the choices their kids made went WAY beyond staying home! My kids will do algebra and will go to church!! My two oldest are grown, passionate about Jesus…one serving as a missionary in El Salvador and the other is a youth pastor. I couldn’t be more proud of them!

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  21. alexisaok, I understand having issues with some of the people at the church. Check out my blog post “why I’m not bitter about the church” to get a fuller picture of my own painful experiences with (both as a teenager and as a pastor)… To be sure attending church does not make you a Christian, but I think we reach our fullest potential as Christians when we work together with other believers in community. I think we’ve created something other than Christianity when we try to fly solo…. There is no doubt that my kids will decide what they believe, but to assume that they (or anyone) could approach a decision about belief (or any real decision for that matter) in an unbiased way is foolish. Furthermore to assume they would have enough knowledge to make that decision with out someone teaching them something about any deeply held beliefs along the way… much less the beliefs of their parents… is again foolish.

    https://followjonathan.wordpress.com/2013/11/18/why-im-not-bitter-about-the-church/

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  22. Pastorjonathan1 you misunderstand. I didn’t say that children shouldn’t be educated on religion. That is exactly what I want. Have them take a world religion class, or several for that matter. Teach them evolution and creation theory. Give them as much knowledge on the subject as possible. If you are unfit to teach them anything but creation and the bible, find resources on different religions and theories. My emphasis is: give them the resources then let them decide. You say that thinking this way is foolish? How is it that you are allowed to express an opinion but mine can be ridiculed as being foolish? I’m sorry if I have offended you with my belief. You don’t have to have the same views as me; you are entitled to that. Just don’t call my well-enformed and educated opinion “foolish”.

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  23. alexisaok, I apologize for the misunderstanding. I think we agree on a few points. Children should reach their own conclusions about Christianity. Faith in Christ, the way I understand it, is something that each person has to decide for themselves. No one is born a Christian. My kids aren’t Christians until they make their own professions of faith… However, they are growing up in a Christian home and that involved regular church attendance. It also involves regular bible reading and study time. so my kids will be heavily influenced by what I believe… I think this is ultimately healthier than attempting to study everything. If my kids embrace something other than Christianity… it’s with knowledge.

    Perhaps the word “foolish” was too strong. I certainly didn’t mean it in a personal way or as “ridicule,” but only to imply that the idea wasn’t sturdy. Maybe naive would have been a better choice, sorry to have caused offense… To clarify: When you say that I should teach my children about all religions and let them choose, you are implying that all religions are equal and/ or similar and thus can be compared apples to apples. That is a huge bias and presupposition (just as big as my bias that says Jesus is the only true way to God). You’ve just implied that anyone who holds to their religion in singularity or who teaches their children their religion as truth is wrong to do so. The long and short is that your opinion is just as biased as mine, “this is how kids should be raised” but totalitarian in that you suggest that Christian parents raise their kids in a way that seems different… that is what I found to be naive.

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  24. pastorjonathan1, Throughout social psychology, it has been shown that children will vote and have the same religion as their parents. I’m not saying that a christian should teach evolution as truth, but teach it as someone’s truth just as christianity is your truth. Yes, children will most likely believe in the same things as their parents, but not always. I understand that it may seem threatening to your beliefs when you research opposing viewpoints, but if you are so secure, the opposition will simply strengthen your views. Also, if you are so sure that your views are truth, then you should have no problem with exposing your children to other religious cultures.
    I don’t understand how you would now consider my opinion “naïve”. I’m opting for education on the mater. I absolutely have experience in that I am very educated on the nuances of religion and both creationism and evolution theory. This in no way defines me or my opinion as naïve. In fact, your belief perseverance seems naïve. You are wanting to teach children to stray away from any information that may contradict or question their beliefs. However, studies show that when presented with varying information and opposing viewpoints, the belief that does reign true is stronger than a belief held by someone so sheltered that all they were ever taught was what mommy and daddy believe. I’m not trying to argue; although I will not be criticized as being naïve or foolish when I am educated on the matter.

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  25. Hey Alexis, I think we misunderstand each other. I understood your opinion to be that I should present all religious claims as equal to my kids. If that was your opinion, I thought it naive. If was not your opinion, I sincerely apologize. I misunderstood.

    I see your opinion now simply that I should expose my kids to other ideas/ thoughts. I agree with this. My kids are far from sheltered. They are public schooled, watch TV and we regularly have families over who have a different worldview than ours. I have a physical library with hundreds of books on all sorts of topics. I’m a huge fan of reading with a foil…We use our Christianity as a filter for ideas and dialogue. I’m a big fan of living in the real world.

    My main concern is that all religions are not equal. Some keep millions if not billions in poverty, others oppress women, and some are shelters for abuse, (some of these claim to be Christian and simply are not)I see true belief in Christ as a deliverance from these things so while I’ll expose my kids to them, it will be from a decidedly biased perspective.

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  26. I totally disagree. My parents allowed my siblings and myself to choose. We all attend church on regular basis now as adult. I have been very active in my church. I remained active even though I felt as if the preacher was pushing my family away. It was not until my children told me they needed a break because they felt the preacher didn’t care for us or for our church. My children remain vigilant in their prayers and in their bible studies. We have attended other churches but they still hold on to the love of our church. We hope that the new peeacher will have more love for the church and will want to lead God’s people and not worry about receiving awards. You can’t say that people who let their children choose show them the wrong path. Some times if you make your children go they can be pushed away from God.

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  27. I am 22 years old. Parentss offered to pay for my graduate school (since I paid for my undergraduatee degree) and I accepted. Now they are holding it over my head as a way to force mt oattend church. Because of this, I have grown a deep hatred for the church. Maybe you can drag your little ones to church without doing harm, but once they turn 18, you better let the reigns go or they may end up like me. Recognize when an adult is an adult is all I gotta say.

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  28. Dear friend. I know what my graduate school cost. In terms of man hours at a job, just showing up to church would have been a steal. You always have the option not to accept your parents money. If you really hate church then don’t take their money (or pay it back). Your problem isn’t church…,it’s that you feel entitled. It’s a poor look on anyone, especially those in the “adult” world. (My parents didn’t pay a dime for my grad or undergrad degree.)

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  29. The people I know who would not miss church are the least Christian. They get so caught up in who does or says what or what someone wears to church, whether the flowers on the alter are done ‘right’, and fight over who is on which committee. I find it exhausting to deal with the crap. I’ve opted out. God is not in a building. I guess for extroverts who want the interaction and don’t mind the bickering that works, for me not so much A few hours alongside a river or lake, a trip to the ocean, time spent weeding in the back yard. Those connect me much more to spirit than being in a church. Better yet, washing the blankets the homeless man left behind while he went about his daily survival tasks and drying them and leaving them folded in a plastic bag with a sandwich and a book I know he would like, picking up the garbage in the park I visit with my niece, and teaching a senior citizen she can,indeed, crochet brings me closer to God than any church I’ve suffered through. I’ve attended churches from east coast to the west coast and they are all the same. They want to get you involved and then the cliques start to show up and the backbiting begins and you’re standing there listening to the worst of humanity come out of someone’s mouth. I do not care what someone else wears. I do not care if the bulletins have typos. I do not care if the pianist is asleep. (Ok, that one I kind of care because s/he may be going through something and need support and we should be tuned into that instead of judging.) Bottom line? Churches are like any other group of people. As an introvert, I need time away from people so yeah, I’ll skip church. I don’t need to be there to do good in the world, to support my neighbors, to help the elderly, to care for the ill, to feed the poor, or to assist the homeless. It’s one path to doing those things, but not THE path. I’ll skip the whining and meanness and sit that time out next to a tree listening to the homeless man play his harmonica while I knit him a new cap with yarn he picked out. Going to church doesn’t make a better person, choosing to be a better person does. That can happen anywhere. It’s the actions that make the difference.

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  30. I hate ignorant self serving people like you. You force yourself on other people and whine when you ruin a relationship. GUESS WHAT! YOUR RELIGION IS FALSE. Put on your big boy pants and let go of your imaginary friend. Your beliefs are a sad relic of less developed societies attempting to cope with life’s challenges. You will only burden your children by having them attend church.

    Sincerely,
    An intelligent human from the 21st century

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  31. Wow… tell me how you really feel. Obviously we have different opinions. Of course you felt the need to attack my character, make unfounded assertions and call yourself intelligent… of course I disagree with your conclusions but wow man really?

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