Teens and Religion

Parent Q&A

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  • I've never been to church and my family is not religious, but my 13 year old is interested in exploring his religious inclinations. He doesn't know where to start, and I don't quite know how to help. I'd like to take him to a church to see what it's like--something interfaith or at least open to various paths. He's shy, and I'm a bit terrified myself of going to church, though not at all opposed to the idea. Any suggestions?  We live in Berkeley.

    Most pastors at churches will be open to having a conversation about this. It’s something they get a lot. I’m not Christian but my wife is. I accompany her and our 7-month old daughter to church on sundays and I’ve felt no compulsion to participate in anything that happens there. I usually just hang out and interact with the people at the church and take our daughter out if she’s fussy. Ours also has a youth group I think. I’ve heard that Unitarian churches are more open to different faiths. At my wife’s church a lot of non-Christians come too, usually to support their partners or friends, or just to have a community. The pastor at Lake Merritt United Methodist church is very friendly and she might be willing to talk to you. If you need an introduction, let me know. 

    Consider visiting First Presbyterian Church Berkeley for a Sunday service or try the youth group for question asking.

    My 14-year old just finished confirmation class at Epworth United Methodist Church in Berkeley and they discussed faith and other religious traditions (even visited a Buddhist Temple).  Epworth’s congregation includes people from many faith traditions, even atheists/agnostics.  Everyone is welcome.  You can email me directly if you’d like to come with us some Sunday.


    First Unitarian Church of Oakland is a pretty cool place with diverse (age/race/socio-economic) congregation and welcoming stance. I think it would be a very non-threatening (for him and for you!) place to start. Pretty easily accessible from Berkeley.  https://uuoakland.org/ 

    First Presbyterian on Dana St is super welcoming and has a nice youth group (also amazing singing). Ive heard that universal Unitarians are a good fit if you want a more flexible philosophy or open to various paths, but I also heard the UU church in Berkeley is not a young congregation. If your child is interested in the ritual aspect Catholic church might be a good fit. For me I would prioritize a church with a youth program, but you would know better what type of religious inclinations your child is seeking to explore.

    Try an Episcopal Church. All Souls Berkeley is very good and St. John's Oakland (Montclair) is too.

    My family has been attending All Souls Episcopal Parish in Berkeley for many years (www.allsoulsparish.org). It is a very open and inclusive community that welcomes people wherever they are on their faith journey. There is a strong youth program and many ways to get involved .. or not. I've also found it very no-pressure. On Sun Aug 27th at 10.30 we're having a rally Sunday to kick-off and highlight all ministries, and especially to welcome a new associate rector, who's in charge of youth and families, and seems amazing (she is also marine biologist, and she discovered two fish species!). There will be taco truck, popcorn, cotton candy and other fun things that day. The Episcopal Church can also give him a glimpse into both catholicism and protestantism, but is also very progressive and non-dogmatic (no "you HAVE to believe this set of principles to be part of this community"). Feel free to email me if you'd like to know more (tonimborg [at] gmail.com). 

    Does your son have any friends who attend a church that he/you could go with? This would be the simplest way. But any church you choose to try should be welcoming to you, Every church has 'strangers' that attend from time to time and no one would ever look twice at someone new in the pews. If you want to start with something interfaith, I'd suggest a Unitarian service. Our student did a study for school of various religions and attended a mosque, Sikh temple and a variety of churches, and found that both the Sikh temple and the Christian churches were very welcoming. Wishing you the best!

    Not sure where you are but Both temple Sinai & temple Beth El have teen oriented programming - like one evening a month (or week- can’t remember) where there’s time for socializing & then discussion of some Jewish issue, social issue or teaching. It’s a warm environment & attracts both super social and awkward or shy kids!

    Hi, I would highly recommend St. John's Episcopal Church in Oakland (Montclair). We have a small, thoughtful, community minded congregation and a quality, low key, outreach oriented youth group with an optional "Confirm Not Conform" (CNC) program that is starting this fall. Both of my kids grew up at St. John's and participated in YG and the CNC program. Our motto at St. John's is "everyone is welcome" :)

    Hi! You already have a lot of good suggestions looks like, but Unitarian Universalism sounds like a good jumping off point- many different beliefs and viewpoints are welcomed, including atheism and ethical humanism, and a lot of UU's don't consider themselves Christian. UUCB is off the Arlington, and I'd recommend checking it out. 

  • I am in search of a church that has a fun & active youth group. I was raised in the Episcopalian tradition and that is my comfort zone, but I am open to other denominations. I really need the space to be open and affirming of LGBT community and women.


    Try the First Congregational Church of Berkeley, which is very affirming and has women ministers. FCCB is currently having services elsewhere (at Congregation Beth El) due to the fire last fall but will be moving back to its campus in a month or two.

    Look into Unitarian Universalism. Not sure where our Bay Area congregations are, but we welcome ALL individuals of any race, ethnicity, faith (or lack thereof), gender identity, social status, family makeup, etc. who seek a path of truth for themselves.  As a former Catholic and Episcopalian, I have always felt at home there, most likely you will feel at home there too, as we strive to provide appropriate lifelong education on how all faiths are valid and honored. Youth groups typically engage in civil activism and charity activism. It's great for networking with other parents regardless of your child's age, there will always be parents "in the same boat" (whatever boat that may be at the time). It comes out of the Judeo-Christian tradition, with a few set liturgical practices, but mostly everything is very free and easy. It originated in Transylvania as Universalism - the idea that there is universal salvation for all those who seek it, regardless of the path chosen. UUs have been and are currently very active in civil rights -- from Black Lives Matter to immigration reform to bail/jail reform, we are in a lot of fights and we encourage our youth to participate as much as possible.  Good luck, Peace and let us know what works out for you!

    You might try Danville Congregational Church.  Very open and welcoming to all.  https://danvillechurch.org/

    The East Bay Lutheran Youth Program has an active and fun group.  It is very inclusive and affirming of LGBT community and of women!!  The elementary group meets once a month; the Middle School and High School Ministry each meet 2x a month. The groups also go on retreats and do service projects.

    For info email: craigmunich [at] gmail.com

    Hello! You might be interested in All Souls, an Episcopal church in Berkeley. They have weekly programs for youth (separate high school and middle school groups), and a very upbeat, friendly focus on families. All the family events I've attended so far have been great and I love the services. From the website description: "Youth Group and Confirmation Class are places where it is safe to question and wonder together about faith and the stuff of daily life in a community. We belong to one another and are lifted up and supported by the larger All Souls community. This is a place where we can take our masks off and be ourselves, loved and accepted for who we are." The community welcomes LGBT families and has LGBT representatives on church staff. Come any Sunday and check it out, or drop an email to Emily Hansen Curran Emily [at] allsoulsparish.com (Emily[at]allsoulsparish[dot]com) . Good luck with your search!

    Epworth United Methodist church in Berkeley has a thriving youth group comprised of middle school-high school. The church is definitely open to the LGBTQ community and to women. Come check it out any Sunday at 10 AM. The kids and youth meet for Sunday school and youth group around 10:15 AM as part of worship.  https://www.epworthberkeley.org/

    I'm a member of the First Unitarian church of Oakland at 14th st x Castro and I HIGHLY encourage you to check us out. We have a great, embracing and active youth group, both ministers are women (one is openly gay), the congregation is justice-centered, all-faiths-and loves-affirming, with LOTS of lgbtq leaders and congregants. It's a wonderful place for so many of us who seek spirituality and community but not dogma. May you find what you seek!

    I highly recommend Epworth United Methodist Church in North Berkekey.  The congregation is socially active, progressive, and welcoming. The youth are a lovely group of kids.

    I attend Mosaic Bay Church in Albany, 1221 Marin. We are a progressive church and open and affirming of LGBT community. As far as youth. We have 5 teenagers from 4 different schools in the area. We have a lot of children and will diffently be growing the youth program. As of now we are don't have an "active" youth program but the teens are engaged in the Mosaic community. They help with children, go on excursions and attend a summer camp. I personally have a heart for teens and would like to develop something for our teens. Come check us out sometime.

    My family and I attend All Souls Episcopal in Berkeley. It is a wonderful church, with a very active youth group for middle and high-schoolers. The teens are involved in a variety of activities, from formation to immersion trips (Standing Rock, Katrina relief, for example), helping with open door dinners for the homeless people in the community, etc. The church is very welcoming, inclusive progressive. We have many LGTB families and people from many roads and in many stages in their faith. We participate in many social justice activities, such as prayer vigils at the ICE detention center, programs for foster youth, participation in the Women´s march, and many other. The service itself has great preaching and great music (and when you visit, people tend to be warm and welcoming, without being pushy). 


Archived Q&A and Reviews


Seeking Youth oriented church in Berkeley

March 2010

I just moved to the area and have two sons, 15 and 19. I'm looking for a church with a good youth program. I read an earlier posting about whether to ''make'' older teens go to church or not, and that was informative -- my sons may or may not want to go to church a lot, but church was a big part of their life where we came from, and since they don't know anyone here at all, seemed like at least a good start for social outlet (as well as school and sports). Optimally would like a larger church with good contemporary worship and opportunity for youth to perform (percussionist and vocalist). Thanks.

First Presbyterian Church of Berkeley has a great youth program. Great H.S. staff but also great volunteers, many are Cal students. It also has 2 contemporary services (11:27 & 5:05) with great music opportunities and music opportunities for the kids Kids come from many different schools. Check out their website fpcberkeley.org or email their pastor erikh [at] fpcberkeley.org for more. parent at FPCB

Should I insist that teens' continue with church?

Jan 2009

I have two girls - one a teen and one getting close. I have tried to raise them with a spiritual focus. We often talk about God, pray and we consider ourselves a Christian family. We attend a great church in Berkeley that is fun and somewhat youth oriented, and I am involved in volunteering there, Both the girls are really great kids - smart, funny, and spiritual as well. However, as the girls get older, I notice that they really are not that interested in church, especially as they don't seem to have any friends that go there. On top of that, I hate making them go to church. This may sound selfish, but sitting next to a mopey teen is so distracting and brings me down too. Both won't go to the youth groups for their ages (too many boys, too sports oriented). I have looked into a fabulous group called Young Life which meets at a friend's home, but they are nervous about going to a group where they know no-one. I have received some advice from another Mom indicating I expect too much from teens and pre-teens and that they'll ''come around''. My concern is that as the kids get more and more influenced by peers and less likely to speak to old Mom and Dad about things, I would love to see them surrounded by positive influences and to continue in the faith that we instilled in them. My questions are: do I force them to go to church, or go without them? Do I take them to the Young Life group even though they know no-one. Do I just let them be - is my job done in this regard (as one friend seems to think)? How have other families dealt with this? Faith in a sometimes cold world

When I was about 16 my parents stopped making me go to church. At that age I was always tired and restless in church, even when I was listening to and getting something from the sermon. I didn't really much enjoy going any more at that age and hated sitting their for an hour. All the kids in Youth Group were much younger and I had nothing in common with them. The leaders were judgemental about my friends (who were ''skaters'' and had lots of piercings, etc.) and my music (which was relatively harmless stuff like Bob Dylan, REM, Leonard Cohen, Radiohead). I also felt that when I did go or did want to be involved, they discriminated against me because I didn't go regularly and because I didn't want to bring my non-Christian friends so I could evangelize them. I continued to go to church once in awhile because I did believe in God and wanted to not worry my parents too much, but got out of it whenever I could think of a valid excuse (like I was too tired, ha, ha). I didn't go to church much in the years that followed. A bit when I was 18-19 and lived on my own. I was, however, always a very spiritual person and considered myself a Christian (even while not always acting like much of one). When my husband's teenager moved in with us and I was pregnant, we started going to church more, partly for ourselves and also in order to expose him to it (as he was raised without any sort of spiritual or moral guidance). We also wanted to bring up our daughter as a Christian. I am now much more interested in church and enjoy the sermons much more than I ever did. My point is this - if you bring your children up in the faith then it usually sticks with them in some way. You also need to remember that as your children enter their teens, they begin to develop their own personal understanding of the world and their own beliefs. You have done your job by surrounding them with the faith that you believe to be the right one. My advice is to continue as you always have, but give them a choice about church (are you coming to church with us this morning?) and avoid pushing them into expressing their own spirituality exactly as you would like them to. That is more likely to turn them off to your faith and make them resentful about being forced to go to church. I would advise doing as my parents did (and as we did with my stepson) and letting them decide when they reach a certain age. Don't worry about their spirituality, they are no longer children in many ways. That is between them and God now and your job is to love them no matter what direction they choose. My feeling is that when they older, especially when they get into their late twenties you will really start to see that early influence in their lives. anon

Hi - I'm not religious but I had similar concerns about the values instilled at home vs the toxic (in many ways) culture. Your letter was well written and thoughtful. I'd say they're still at that threshold and whatever you can do, do it. The backlash you may get from making this a unilateral decision... say maybe they have to go three times and then they can stop if they don't like it... the backlash will be brief and you won't ruin your relationship over it. On the other hand, it could be a source of support that could be very important for them later. As for not knowing anybody, at least they have each other. They are not mature enough to understand the value of community, support, and a buffer against the pressures they will face. I would definitely do it. anon

I think it's great you've found a cool church and are working on a spiritual aspect. If that teenage group was recommended to you, YES, take them there, even if they 'know no one.' Hey, in life, sometimes we have to go places where we 'know no one.' I often give my kids four opr five times to try it. Then, if after that they still have strong feelings, i check it out closely and then decide. no catering

I noticed that only one of the posts that you got was from someone who related this decision to their own adolescence, so I wanted to add my perspective. I was raised in a religious family where everyone was expected to go to church weekly. Even though I was enthusiastic about religion as a young child, by the time I hit adolescence it became part of my power struggles with my parents and my desire to prove my independence. My decision to stop going to church became a knock-down, drag-out fight... and the value of religion got completely overshadowed in the question of whose decision it was.

More than 20 years later, I'm still not religious... in part because the emphasis was more on obedience and conformity, and much less on what was meaningful to me, the value of faith, and the support that comes from belonging to a congregation.

You sound like an understanding parent, and I think that your messages about the importance of your faith in your everyday life will take root somewhere. But you may see better long-term results if you allow some flexibility in the short term. You have given your child a solid foundation, but beliefs are always more lasting and meaningful when we embrace them ourselves than when they are dictated to us. Good luck to you. Lapsed

My perspective is from the point of view of someone who had to attend church while I lived at home, stopped attending church when I went to college, returned to attending church when my daughter was eight, and just this year, saw my now 18-year-old daughter go off to college.

First about the youth group - I think it is fair to 'make' your girls try a youth group even if they don't know anyone. (I know that at that age they want to do everything 'with a friend', but that's not real life, and very limiting). Make a deal with them about how many times they have to do, and then if their reasons for not liking it are reasonable, let them stop going.

I started taking my daughter to church when she was eight. Part of my motivation was that she was the only grandchild who hadn't been baptized. I felt like I was breaking with a family tradition, and that didn't feel right. I had to join a church in order to have my daughter baptized.

I had stopped attending church when I went to college at 18, but though I was a lapsed church goer, I still felt some semblance of faith and belief. When I was growing up, my family went to church. That was the way it was - no questioning. However, as all teens, I did begin to question religion, which led to some interesting discussions with my dad.

With my own daughter, she barely went to church her last year of high school. I'm a single parent with shared custody so she was with me only ever other Sunday. I didn't want to 'make' her go because I didn't see the point. She knew what the church service was like, she had been baptized at age 11 and confirmed at age 14. She served on the search committee for our pastor. In other words, she knew what she was missing. However, she did volunteer with me at YEAH (homeless shelter for youth in Berkeley) a couple of times her last year. Though I didn't make her go to church her last year of high school, I pretty much insisted on it when she was younger (at most she had to go to church twice a month).

I think it is worth noting that my daughter attended Saint Mary's Catholic High School, so she was attending school in a religious environment. We didn't choose SMCHS because it is a Catholic school. My daughter ended up there because BHS was not an option, and she didn't get into her first choice high school. She was not keen on the school her first semester, but at the end of four years, she was very happy there and really liked the school. She said that it was a great - and diverse - community of students. The religion classes are well taught and were some of my daughter's favorites. I could not have predicted this when she started at SMCHS.

My daughter does have faith, does believe in God, and even prays now and then. But she says that she doesn't like 'organized' religion. I pretty much felt that way when I was her age.

I think you should take your obligation to raise your children in the Christian faith seriously, as that is the promise you make when your children are baptized. To me that means much more than just going to church. That said, it is tough being a Christian in Berkeley.

Here are my specific suggestions:

* Try to compromise - they don't have to go to church every Sunday, but they do have to go every other Sunday, or something like that.

* See if there is a way that your children can participate in the worship service. For example, my daughter liked being an usher during the service better than just sitting.

* Have family time after church - even when I was in high school, I enjoyed going out to breakfast after church with my parents. We didn't go out to restaurants much, and my parents had a troubled marriage, but breakfast after church always was a nice family time. Maybe there is some after-church activity that would be a treat for your children.

* Look for volunteer activities that you can do with your children in lieu of going to church.

* When your children ask you what you want for your birthday, Mother's Day, etc., tell them that you want them to go to church with you. This tells them that the experience of worshiping together is more precious to you than a material gift. My daughter will go to church with me on these occasions and is well-behaved, i.e., doesn't mope.

* Share with your children what going to church and living a life of faith means to you. Janet