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We all want our kids to be happy and to feel comfortable, especially at church. Over many years of ministry, I have talked to parents who expressed concern that their child did not have friends at church. Often this is a reason that families give when they stop attending.
Friendships between kids can be challenging no matter what, but church is a different dynamic because of the limited amount of time kids spend there each week. It can be hard to make significant friendships in an hour or two a week. However, there are things that you and I can do as parents that can better or worsen the situation.
If your child is expressing these thoughts, here are some tough questions to ask yourself as the parent:
How consistently is my child attending? Think about this … if your child is only there 1 to 2 times a month, it is going to be very hard for him to make real connections with other kids. If you just spent an hour a month with someone, would you feel you knew them very well? In fact, he might even feel left out because the kids who are there most of the time are going to naturally know each other better. The more consistently your child attends, the better chance he will have at getting to know other kids and building friendships.
Is my child in a small group environment where she can build relationships? To answer this question, you need to have a good understanding of what happens in your church’s children’s or youth ministry. Many children’s ministries have large group worship and small group activities. At our church, Wednesday nights are the very best environment for kids to build relationships. We keep those groups small and kids attend more consistently during the week. Also, our Sunday morning life groups/small groups are the next best opportunity to get to know other kids. Large group environments are designed for kids to connect with God through worship, teaching, and prayer. It is a larger group though, so it will be more difficult for kids to connect with each other. Maybe by expanding your child’s involvement you can help her connect better.
Are YOU in a small group? My kids’ closest friends at church did not come from Sunday or Wednesday ministries. Their closest relationships have been formed with the kids whose parents are my friends. Why? Because we spend time together outside of Sunday morning. We eat lunch together or hang out on the weekend. You need to be intentional about connecting with other parents with kids of similar ages. The best way to do this in most churches is to join a small group yourself. I guarantee the more you are connected, the more your kids will connect.
Are you encouraging your child to take the first step? What I have noticed in children’s ministry is that very few kids are intentionally excluded. Kids just tend to gravitate to the people and groups they are used to being around. (Adults do too, by the way.) Challenge your child to be the one to try to connect with another kid in class. Maybe encourage him to look for someone else who needs a friend or is sitting by himself.
Have you talked to the teacher in the class? We are all on the same team. We all want your child to grow spiritually and to be a part of the church. Sometimes parents feel awkward talking to kidmin leaders and vice versa. Don’t! Tell them what your concern is. Ask what they are observing. Ask if there is a specific child your child could buddy up with. Be aware though – there is a great chance that the teachers will have no idea what you are talking about. Some kids will participate all morning and be the center of the party and then go back and tell Mom and Dad that they don’t know anyone! Or, another warning, a really honest leader may help you see some things that your child is doing that is making it harder for him to make friends. Be ready to receive those things well. Talking to the leaders can give you a whole new perspective and often relieve a lot of anxiety.
Have you reminded your child that friends aren’t the main point? Yes, I am fully aware how important friendships are to kids. However, this is a great teaching point to remind your child that we go to church to connect first with God and learn more about Him. Secondly, we come to church to connect with other believers. Don’t be afraid to remind them to keep those priorities straight. The more they do the first, the more naturally the second will eventually happen. Also, remember, this isn’t necessarily your problem to solve. God may have some very important lessons for your child to learn in this. Don’t be afraid you’re going to turn her off from church forever. Most importantly, please do not let them talk you into quitting church. There is a good chance that this same problem might pop up at the next church. It might not … sometimes it is a better fit somewhere else … but make sure you have tried all the other things listed above first.
Have you been praying about it? I know. That is such a church-y answer. However, God cares about these things in your child’s life. Ask God to help your child connect and build friendships. Ask Him to show you what you can do as a parent and what you should not do.
Navigating childhood friendships is hard. Let’s be honest, all church friendships can be hard. However, being strongly connected with the Body of Christ is totally worth it and will provide your kids an amazing foundation and support system. Keep fighting to keep them connected to it!
Jenny serves as Minister to Children at West Bradenton Baptist Church in Bradenton, Florida. This article was originally published at churchanswers.com on March 4. Thom S. Rainer served as president and CEO of LifeWay Christian Resources. Among his greatest joys are his family: his wife Nellie Jo; three sons, Sam, Art, and Jess; and seven grandchildren. Dr. Rainer can be found on Twitter @ThomRainer and at facebook.com/Thom.S.Rainer.