Betsy Hart

Now that it's getting warm, look for church attendance to drop even more.

That's the implication of an article in the current issue of the Baptist Press. Why? Because as Erin Roach reports, sports and other activities for families often trump church time for families, even for those who "regularly" attend church. The trend is most pronounced when it comes to church activities during the week. But as anyone who has driven past a busy soccer field on a Sunday morning knows, the trend affects the fullness of the pews on that day, too.

The Baptist Press looked at a survey of almost 500 pastors done for Leadership Magazine, a publication of Christianity Today. It found that family commitments and kids' activities are definitely bringing down church attendance. It seems that families are looking for more time together. But, ironically, on the menu of things to choose from, church is becoming one more option, even for Christian families. It's an "option" they often find is just not as relevant to them as sports or other events.

Pastors and other church leaders rightly bemoan the trend. I feel their pain, especially when I have to tell my kids they can't go to a Sunday-morning birthday party or Saturday-night sleepover, for instance.

But having watched this trend for some time, I also think the church too often enables parents. As at least one church leader and many parents noted in the Baptist Press piece, too often churches themselves split families up when they come in the door: kids here, adults there, teens in that program around the corner.

Youth programs are great, but historically families worshipped together on Sunday mornings. The age-divided worship programs (versus Sunday school after a church service, for instance) are new to the last half century. Interestingly, in his book "Intergenerational Religious Education," James White reports on studies showing that children who attend worship with their parents are more likely to regularly worship as adults than children who exclusively attend "children's church."

If families want together time, and they don't get it at church, that's one less reason to go. There's evidence, though, that the pendulum on segregating families may be swinging back again, as more and more churches seem to be realizing that as wonderful as their kids programs are, they've got to find ways to build on that and get families worshipping together, so that church becomes a family activity.

Betsy Hart

Betsy Hart is a nationally syndicated columnist for the Scripps Howard News Service. Her column on cultural and family issues, “From the Hart,” is distributed each week to hundreds of newspapers cross the country. Betsy’s first book, "It Takes a Parent: How the Culture of Pushover Parenting is Hurting out Kids – and What to do About It," was released in September, 2005, and was a top seller for its publisher, Putnam Books.