By Eric Johnson
For more information on this topic concerning whether adults should visit a Mormon Church service, listen to a Viewpoint on Mormonism podcast that aired Feb. 6, 2017 titled Should I Visit a Mormon Church Service?
When a Christian child is invited to attend a friend’s church service at a local LDS chapel, the parent needs to monitor the situation. Should the child be allowed to go to this service? Based on my own experience, I think the circumstances dictate the decision to answer the question. Nobody ever said parenting would be easy.
Every Mormon meetinghouse has a sign outside its building that reads “Visitors Welcome.” (Unlike the information provided on signs located outside many Christian churches, service times for Mormon services are not posted!) Your child’s Mormon friend may invite your child to come to her Sunday morning service. Congratulations and welcome to being placed between the proverbial rock and a hard place.
On the one hand, you want to protect your child in a spiritual sense. If you have this feeling, you are not just a “Christian parent” but a “good Christian parent.” There are many “Christian parents” who shirk their duty, so I’m glad it’s not you (or you probably wouldn’t be reading this article). On the other hand, you do want your children to own their own faith and not just borrow yours, especially as they head into young adulthood.
TANGENT: You know what they call teens who graduate from high school still borrowing Mommy and Daddy’s faith? Answer: An atheist or, at best, an apathetic Christian. Read the statistics that explain how 70% (or more!) of all young adults who graduate as Christian high school students will abandon the Christian faith within a year! Source and see this article as well
With that, you as a Christian parent have two options:
- You allow the child to attend
- You don’t allow the child to attend
Before going any further, I want to stress that the parent has the prerogative to choose either option, though there is probably a “better” choice. To be wise, the parent needs to understand the situation and consider the following questions:
- How old is the child?
- How mature is the child?
- What is the purpose of visiting the Mormon service?
- Can this situation be used for the glory of God? (Col. 3:23)
Let me cover each of these questions and provide my insight:
- If the child is under 12, I probably would not allow the child to visit a church of a different faith. It could be very confusing for most children who are not yet middle school age + to be placed in this position. It is probably better to have a sit-down conversation with the child and explain why you won’t allow them to go. For example, you should point out:
- Churches teach different things about God and the Bible, and there are differences between your faith and the Mormon’s.
- Our family goes to church every Sunday and we would like you to go there.
- Ask, “Would you like to learn a little more about those differences? If so, let’s talk about them.” (It’s a perfect opportunity to discuss this at a family devotional or at a family dinner.)
- Say, “Maybe when you are older this could happen. But, for now, we say no.”
- If your child is immature and gets easily confused, even as a young teen, I would say no as well. This is especially true if you, as a family, have left Mormonism during the past few years. But if your teenager is mature enough to understand the differences, then perhaps this could be a “teachable moment,” as I’ll explain in the next section.
- If going to the service is just a thing to do and there is no purpose, then I’m not sure if there is value in allowing the child to go. However, if the purpose is to satisfy a teen’s curiosity, then there could be value in letting this happen, provided there is follow-up by the parent.
- If this situation can help a student to better understand the differences between Mormonism and biblical Christianity–whether or not the child actually goes to the service–then I can see the potential for bringing glory to God. This can be helpful in having the child understand that all religions are not the same. In these formative years, do your best to teach the child critical thinking skills and provide a foundation for her to own a Christian worldview perspective.
While the child remains a minor, the parent has the responsibility to guide her in the way she should go. According to Proverbs 22:6, when she is old, she will not depart from it. Of course, there have been many children who were raised “right” in the Christian faith who have gone against all teaching that was done at home. It is a general truth that, if Christian parents train the child in the godly way that parents are commanded to do, the child will stick to the wisdom that was learned. But this is not a universal adage.
A teachable moment
I think it’s healthy for children to be curious about another religion. You can expect this if you live in a Mormon community. (Fact: 60% of Utah’s residents are LDS, while 24% of Idaho and 9% of Wyoming are LDS. Those states with 3-5% total Mormon population are (in order) Nevada, Montana, Arizona, Hawaii, Alaska, Washington, Colorado, and Oregon. Meanwhile, California is a large state and it has more Mormons than any other state outside Utah. So, if you live in the western (from Wyoming and Colorado to the Pacific Ocean) in the United States, there is a good chance your child will have a Mormon neighbor or classmate that is called “friend.”)
If you are a parent who says, “As long as my child is under my roof, she will never go to another church’s service.” As a teacher of 16- and 17-year olds at a Christian school for close to two decades, I can tell you many stories when I ran into parents with this type of attitude. It is no wonder why some of my most unruly and (often repressed) angry students lived in a home where Mom and Dad kept a tight rein on their children, never letting up even as they went through the high school years. I have found that parents who treat their teen-aged children as 5-year-olds while not providing them more freedoms as they get older will generally have rebellious teens, even if the kids do what they are told while mumbling under their breath and even becoming passive aggressive.
Think about it this way: Having children ask if they can go to another church service is not the worst question that could be asked. I think it’s much better than having these questions come up:
- “Mom, can I go to Johnny’s birthday sleepover? The boys will sleep in one room and the girls will be in the other?”
- “Dad, can I take the van out on the highway to see if it really can get up to 120 MPH?”
- “Mom, I want to prove that smoking is not good. Would you mind if I got a pack of cigarettes and see what would happen if I smoked the entire pack in an hour?”
- “Hey Pop, would you mind if I put this lit firecracker into the lawnmower’s tank full of gas? I don’t think anything would happen.”
You get the point. For the rest of this article, I am going to assume that the child who is asking to attend a Mormon church service is over 12 years of age, mature, and is curious about her friend’s church. Let’s see how we can turn this situation into a “teachable moment.”
Setting up the situation
First of all, the child needs to understand that a Sunday service runs for three hours broken up into three parts. That’s a much longer time commitment than most Evangelical services require and might be an eye-opener for your children. Everybody–from infants to teens and adults–attend the sacrament service. The first Sunday of the month is a good time to visit because church members are allowed to go up front of the chapel and give testimonies in this main church service. Among other things, they will “testify” that Joseph Smith is a true prophet, that the current president is God’s prophet on earth, and that the Book of Mormon is true. There may be tears shed in the congregation with lots of emotional comments being made, giving your child the chance to see that Mormons are very adamant about their faith and really do believe in their church.
Second, the child needs to understand that full respect ought to be given while attending the service. For example, I would encourage “Sunday best” clothes, even if your church allows for casual wear. Anything less than this may be considered disrespectful by the friend’s parents. The Mormon boys and men will typically wear white shirts and ties with a dark pair of slacks and black shoes. Meanwhile, women usually wear dresses or blouses and skirts. Females who come to a Sunday service in pants are considered to be rebellious by some Mormons. As a visitor, your child should realize that she may be watched very closely by those in regular attendance. One of my daughters attended a “mission send-off” at a local chapel that honored one of her school friends who was departing for his mission. Because she was wearing a cross necklace that was visually noticeable, she was taken aside by a Mormon acquaintance and told how rude she was.
My daughter explained that she didn’t intend to offend anyone but that the cross was a very important symbol to her. Yet my daughter went as a visitor and her cross ended up causing a distraction that might have been unnecessary. Mind you, I don’t think there is anything wrong with wearing a cross, as I normally do so as well. (I am not saying my daughter was wrong, as she didn’t intend to cause a scene.) My advice to her was the next time maybe it would be better to slip the cross under her blouse if she was a guest at someone’s church event. And, I will admit, that just might be me, but I want my child to know that there is a time and a place for everything, including something as simple as wearing a cross around one’s neck.
Here are other points for your child to consider:
- Be polite and don’t interrupt the service.
- When the weekly sacrament (similar but different from the Christian’s celebration of communion or the Lord’s Supper) is passed, don’t partake. Only those who are baptized into the Mormon Church (beginning at the age of 8) are allowed to participate. According to the official Church Handbook of Instructions, “Although the sacrament is for Church members, the bishopric should not announce that it will be passed to members only, and nothing should be done to prevent nonmembers from partaking of the sacrament” (Church Handbook of Instructions, 1998, p. 28). Therefore, no announcement will be made, which is something your child should be told before going to the service.
- Be a good witness and listen to what is being said.
- Bring your Bible. Your friend will probably bring their “Quad” which contains all four LDS written scriptures.
- Think about the differences between what your friend is learning and what you believe is true.
- If you are invited to share during the Sunday School time, ask questions rather than immediately sharing your opinion. Most likely your Mormon friend and others are curious about what you think about their church or what is being taught. By asking questions, you can clarify what your friends believe, even if it differs from official church teaching. And, if they ask what you believe, by all means, share your beliefs with the curious friend and the class.
When your child returns home, I think it would be helpful to sit down and talk about the experience. Of course, the more you as the adult understand Mormonism and its beliefs/practices, the better questions you can ask. Here are some possibilities:
- What did you think about their service? (Does the child have any questions about what went on?)
- Did you notice what elements were used in the sacrament? (Bread and water. This might be a perfect time to get into a discussion about why Evangelical churches use grape juice and wine with the bread or wafers. For more information on this topic, click here.)
- Do you know what the Mormons do when they take the sacrament? (They covenant–which is a promise–to keep all of God’s commandments. For more on this, click here.)
- What did they talk about in the Aaronic priesthood (for boys) or Young Women’s meetings?
- How was this service similar to what we do at our church? What was different?
- Was there anything that was said or done that was confusing to you?
You may encourage your children to come up with some questions that they can ask their Mormon friends the next time they get together. This could be very constructive in dialoguing on issues that have eternal significance.
Of course, if your child attends the service of a Mormon, it seems natural that the Mormon child could be invited to your family’s church service. While I am not a big fan of trading service attendances (deals such as “I’ll go to your church if you come to mine”), it seems appropriate to make a return invitation. Generally, Mormon parents will be willing to allow their child to attend your church as long as your child attends theirs. So, if that works, why not?
But I’d go a step further. Most likely your church’s service and Sunday school will be shorter in length than a Mormon service. Why not invite the Mormon child out for lunch afterward? Be careful about shoving the Gospel down this youngster’s throat, but provide a time of debriefing. Questions that can be asked include:
- What did you think about our service? (Be aware that a service utilizing instruments besides the organ or piano will confuse a Mormon child. For instance, drums in a Mormon church service happens about 0% of the time. This is a chance to talk about churches that worship in different ways.)
- If your church had communion that Sunday, ask the friend what she thought the elements symbolized. Ask, “How do you think this might be different from your church’s practice?”
- What did you think of the Sunday School hour? What was the teacher’s topic? Did you agree with the lesson?
- Was there anything that was said or done at the church that confused you?
Again, all of this can be part of a wonderful teachable moment, for both your child and her friend.
Meanwhile, good parenting means staying abreast of your child’s experience and helping her to formulate how Christianity differs from other religions, Mormonism included. Perhaps this will be the impetus for you and your child to study more about this topic so she can better understand the unique teachings of Christianity when compared to other religions, including Mormonism.
Another meeting that your child may get invited to is when a teenage Mormon missionary candidate is sent off to a particular state or country. Boys are able to become missionaries at the age of 18 (for 2 years) while females can go staring at 19 (for 18 months). It is traditional for Mormon families to gather together to watch the candidate open up the letter from the LDS Church announcing the city/country where that individual will be sent. (Deep down, most faithful LDS youth hope to be sent to an exotic, out-of-country destination rather than Utah or another place where Mormonism is common.) There will also be a special service for the missionary just before being sent off to the mission field.
Your child may be asked to attend one or both of these events. Should she? There are two differing opinions:
- Some feel that attending these events equals the approval of the Mormon religion. By trying to show support of your friend, could your attendance be misunderstood as agreeing with the Mormon religion?
- Others feel that, because these events are so important to the Mormons, a Christian who doesn’t attend without having a good excuse will be considered rude. Shouldn’t the relationship be more important than possibly being misunderstood?
Personally, I lean toward option 1, as I think having anyone believe that the child is in approval of Mormonism by attending these events is a possible drawback. While we are certainly commanded to love our Mormon friends, I hope the message we send in our relationships with them is that truth matters. If the others who see a Christian in attendance think it means that he or she has no problem with Mormonism, they might not be challenged to think through the important issues, including doctrinal differences.
With my idealistic mindset stated, I should point out that my middle and youngest daughters have practiced the second option, something that their mother and I have allowed them to do. (Remember, there comes a time when flexibility will be the better option because it is too easy to lose our children to stringent, non-flexible rules and guidance.) My girls feel that their relationships mean more than the principle advocated by the first choice. More than three-quarters of their high school friends were Mormon. My daughters sometimes used the invitation to give their missionary friends handwritten letters describing their beliefs about Christianity along with an explanation about why they disagree with Mormonism. At the same time, they let the friend know how much they cared for him or her, which is epitomized in their attendance. As a father, I considered this to be a reasonable compromise.
All in all, this is a personal issue that ought to be determined by each individual child in conjunction with the parents. Hopefully this article has provided some food-for-thought as you consider the possible options and help you deal with this if the issue(s) ever come up.
Eric Johnson has three daughters, with his youngest daughter graduating from high school in 2017. He has written a book titled Mormonism 101 for Teens: The Religion of the Latter-day Saints Simplified. For a teenager who would like to better understand Mormonism, this is a valuable resource. You can order it on our website or on Amazon.