For engaged Christian parents, church is a family affair. And even though children may be small, they carry big weight when it comes to family decisions about where to worship. Nearly six in 10 highly engaged Christian parents say children’s programming is the primary reason they chose their current church (58%). As we might expect, church-guided parents—who look to church leaders for faith formation guidance—are more likely to highly prioritize the children’s ministry when selecting a church home (64% say this is their primary reason for choosing where to attend vs. 52% of self-guided parents).
For churches to attract and retain strong Christian families, children’s programming must be a key part of holistic family ministry.
As any parent can confirm, regular church attendance with a kid can be a challenge. So how often are families making it to church?
In general, more than one might think. Regardless of what region you’re in, about three in five engaged Christians’ children attend church every week. This is as true in the West and Northeast (generally speaking, more unchurched) as it is in the South.
Attendance at Sunday worship appears quite consistent across age groups, hovering in the 80- to 88-percent range across the span of childhood years. Sunday school attendance trails by only a few percentage points across these years. The dedicated truly are dedicated.
That said, various factors appear to impact the likelihood of a family attending church on a regular basis. As one example, two-thirds of married people’s children (64%) attend church every week, compared to half of single parents’ kids (51%). For some, the weeklong work and parenting demands of a typical single parent means less time and energy even for a family activity that’s very important to them, such as attending church. For others, it may be a logistical issue having to do with weekend custody.
In a similar (and often related) vein, household income is also a predictor for how often a family attends. Families with lower household income are more likely than others to miss one Sunday a month. The percentage differences between economic groups for church-engaged are not statistically significant; those who attend every week are dedicated, regardless of financial situation. But families who miss a week here and there are more likely to have less income, perhaps due to inconsistent work schedules.
No matter how committed they are, there are days when parents just can’t make it to church. It might be easy for ministry leaders to feel, when they see empty seats, that attendance is a low priority for parents—but that’s not usually the case. Researchers asked parents two related questions: What prevented them from making it to church, and how often they participated in online services. The good news? When engaged Christian families miss church, they typically have a good reason.
About two out of three report that illness (33%) or travel (29%) were the cause of their last absence. Half of young parents ages 24 to 34 say they missed church because someone was sick (52%). Young families, especially, are doing their best to be there. (But sometimes the flu says otherwise!)
Fewer report they were “too tired” (6%) or they “didn’t feel like going” (9%). In a noticeable jump, older parents are more willing than younger ones to say they simply “didn’t feel like going” (31% vs. 5%). Could this point to disengagement or a diminished value of church in the minds of older parents? (Alternately, some may just be tired!)
Parents in the Northeast are more likely to say they skipped church due to an activity compared to parents living in other regions. Given that the Northeast is a highly unchurched region, it seems possible that events are scheduled at times that frequently conflict with church services more often than in other regions.
What about engaging with a service via the internet? Roughly one in three says they “never” watch a church service online (30%). Among the one-quarter of all engaged Christian parents (24%) who watch two or more times per month, doing so is more common among African Americans (45%) and single parents (32% vs. 21% married).
The crux of the matter is this: Even when they are absent, parents’ desire to be with their church family (with kids in tow) is strong—so strong that many “go” to church any way they can.