What’s the Choice When the Options Are Church or Family?

It’s almost time for the rousing cry of May signaling the official start to summer is here. Summer vacation means sleeping in, sunny days, water sports, sandy beaches, campfires, parades, and plenty of time with family and friends.

It also means that church attendance in the United States plummets.

Like seriously takes a nosedive. Attendance becomes sporadic and spotty. When school lets out for the summer, it seems like church does too. The response of the church has been to cut programming (no Wednesday nights for the summer anyone?) and plan “fun events” like picnics and Vacation Bible School. And the post-Covid environment just seems to amplify the concerns.

As a parent, I get it. All year long our calendar is held captive by the school calendar that informs when we can go away and for how long. Seeing extended family is difficult when you have two days to travel. And spending quality time together can suffer. So planning vacations and day trips during the summer months makes sense.

As a minister, I used to dread it. It’s hard. You develop relationships with kids and you have really cool things going like small groups and prayer teams and discipleship, and then, you don’t see them but off and on for weeks. And then there is Vacation Bible School; don’t even get me started on that. The sheer amount of time and effort that is put into pulling off a “successful” VBS event takes all the energy you have, so the regular programming starts to suffer.

I’ve seen some posts recently from children’s pastors around the country utterly discouraged by this attendance reality and frustrated and what seems like a lack of commitment and concern. On the other hand, I’ve seen equally as many posts from parents excited about the cool things they have planned this summer to do as a family and the memories they are looking forward to making.

So who’s right? What’s more important? Church or family?

And therein, I believe, lies the problem. Because of the “way” we do church (Sunday morning, Wednesday night and/or separate ministries for the family members), if someone misses one of these times, it leaves a gap; a sizable gap. But families who want to spend these summer months together don’t want to come to a place where once again they are separated and unable to be with each other. So it becomes a choice – do I go with my family OR do I go to church?

Ugh. Those choices kinda stink.

What ends up happening then is that when the opportunity arises by default of the summer school schedule to spend that quantity of quality time together, the choice becomes clear –family. And when the default schedule makes finding that quantity of quality time together more difficult – church.

But I don’t think either of those reflect God’s heart for family or for church. In fact, I think that it creates a tension where the two are opposed to each other rather than being in partnership with one another. Where there should be mutual edification, there is instead unhealthy competition. And let me be clear, this also takes place with sports, especially travel ball, and academics, especially academic teams, and friends, especially non-churchgoing friends.

And I don’t have all the answers, but I do know this.

Church isn’t supposed to be a building or a program or a set time in the week. And family isn’t supposed to be vacations and softball games and straight As on report cards. 

Those things might be a part of what church and family are, but they are not supposed to define them.

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