"Sunday is our one day to relax and be together as a family," one mother said to me as a way of confessing why her family was rarely in church.
I completely understand; there are times when I'd like to relax on Sunday mornings too, but I'd need to change vocations! Getting kids up and dressed to consistently attend church takes tremendous commitment.
Certainly, church attendance alone doesn't create faith and the desire to follow in God's ways, but in church, children learn about a God whose love they don't have to earn, a God who seeks to give them the abundant life that can only be found in relationship with God through Jesus and in service to others.
Through Bible stories, prayers, hymns and sermons, as well as discussions and service projects offered in children and youth programs, young people experience real community as they study God's Word. They can have their questions taken seriously, and explore what it might mean to be a disciple of Jesus.
In community, they learn of God's intention that all God's children experience God's abundance. They also learn values that stand in stark contrast to much of what they witness in the world. They learn a reversal of cultural values that say status and money and looking out for No. 1 are the ways to the good life.
Study after study shows that getting children into the habit of church pays off down the road in terms of the religious practices of young adults. Because children and youth are more open, they can be fertile soil in which the seed of faith can take root and grow.
The older we get, the less open to new ideas we become, which is why it makes me sad when parents opt out of church, making it highly unlikely their children will have any kind of faith.
In a study entitled "Finding Faith," professors from Notre Dame and Furman surveyed adolescents from their teenage years into their early 20s. They found three sets of factors that appear more important in leading to high levels of religiosity in young adults: the importance of religion in their daily lives as teens; personal experience (had a prayer answered or felt a miracle had occurred); and ties to others, primarily parents but also religious adults in their congregations.
One professor wrote, "Parents who think religion is very important and who frequently attend worship services are much more likely to produce young adults who are highly religious."
As this and other studies have shown, the greatest predictor of whether or not grown children will have faith and participate in church is whether or not they saw the importance of church attendance and faith modeled, discussed and lived out daily in the lives of their parents.
As a parent and a pastor, this reality drives me to my knees, as I know how often I makes mistakes as a parent, and how imperfectly I live as a disciple, failing to love God and neighbor.
This reality makes me so very grateful that in the family of faith, the church, children are exposed to many saints of all ages who share their faith with them week after week, by the way they speak and the way they live.
Rev. Christine Herrin is the pastor at Lowcountry Presbyterian Church in Bluffton.