What Keeps Kids With ADHD Out of Church? Part One


Now that we have a better understanding of why people with ADHD are different than others and considered some of the challenges they might face in growing spiritually, let’s look at some of the impediments to their active involvement at church.

Let’s start by looking at this issue from the perspective of the parent. In all probability, the kids aren’t coming to church if the parent doesn’t bring them to church.

By the weekend, many of these folks are really tired. Kids with ADHD often have a very difficult time getting through their morning routine. They need constant reminders to get out of bed, get dressed, eat breakfast and are easily distracted by the TV, the dog, just about anything. If kids are taking medication, the stuff does take a little while to kick in, so that mornings often become a great source of frustration to parents.

If the parent(s) can get their child up and ready in a reasonable time, the next challenge is the car ride to church. Compared to kids without ADHD, the child with ADHD is more likely to be angry about going to church, more likely to be screaming, yelling or crying because of some perceived grievance about their sibling’s behavior, and the family as a whole is less likely to arrive in a worshipful mood.

A major obstacle is the perception of many parents that they’ll be placed in a situation where they’ll be expected to explain their child’s behavior to others, or where they’ll be judged by others. Like it or not, there’s a stigma associated with many of the hidden disabilities (while this study from the American Journal of Psychiatry doesn’t address ADHD, it does reinforce the point). I was at a worship service in our old church for Disability Sunday at which a couple got up to share their story of what it was like looking for a church with two young boys with ADHD. The mother’s words illustrated the expectations parents of kids with ADHD and other hidden disabilities bring to church:

“People in the church believe they can tell when a disability ends and bad parenting begins.”

Another common complaint I hear from parents whose experience of church has been in denominations or traditions in which children and parents are expected to attend worship services together is that they can’t get anything out of the experience if their primary focus is monitoring their child’s behavior during the service. We’re seeing a growing trend among Catholic churches we serve to offer (at least periodically) separate worship experiences for kids and adults as a strategy for addressing this problem. I’m admittedly apprehensive about the well-intentioned efforts of some in the family ministry movement to discontinue separate worship experiences for kids because I suspect we’d lose many of the families of kids with ADHD who have difficulty with self-control.

shutterstock_255913471Finally, we have the issue of parents who themselves have ADHD. They’re more likely to have difficulty following through on good intentions. They may want to come to church, they may know it’s important for their kids to be involved at church, but they have a hard time pulling things together to make it to church. They’re more likely to suffer from insomnia, or be “night owls” themselves, and struggle to get themselves up in the morning, much less their kids. They have more difficulty with establishing priorities and managing time. I can spot the families affected by ADHD in our church parking lot ten minutes after the start of the last service with Mom hopping across the parking lot putting her shoes on with three kids in tow.

We’re going to discuss environments at length in a future post, but for parents who themselves may have ADHD, the ease and clarity with which a church communicates where to go and what to do when you arrive is especially important. They tend to be easily frustrated looking for parking. They have a very difficult time remembering directions, resulting in the need for signage that is highly visible and processes for checking in and checking out kids that are as simple as possible.

Here’s one more issue to consider: Unlike families in which a child has an autism spectrum disorder, in which divorce rates are no higher than in the general population, the divorce rate nearly doubles in marriages where there’s a child under the age of eight with ADHD. Kids with ADHD are more likely to be alternating from household to household on the weekend, making establishment of a consistent routine of church attendance more difficult.

Updated March 22, 2016


shutterstock_24510829Key Ministry is pleased to make available our FREE consultation service to pastors, church leaders and ministry volunteers. Got questions about launching a ministry that you can’t answer…here we are! Have a kid you’re struggling to serve? Contact us! Want to kick around a problem with someone who’s “been there and done that?” Click here to submit a request!

About Dr. G

Dr. Stephen Grcevich serves as President and Founder of Key Ministry, a non-profit organization providing free training, consultation, resources and support to help churches serve families of children with disabilities. Dr. Grcevich is a graduate of Northeastern Ohio Medical University (NEOMED), trained in General Psychiatry at the Cleveland Clinic Foundation and in Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at University Hospitals of Cleveland/Case Western Reserve University. He is a faculty member in Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at two medical schools, leads a group practice in suburban Cleveland (Family Center by the Falls), and continues to be involved in research evaluating the safety and effectiveness of medications prescribed to children for ADHD, anxiety and depression. He is a past recipient of the Exemplary Psychiatrist Award from the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI). Dr. Grcevich was recently recognized by Sharecare as one of the top ten online influencers in children’s mental health. His blog for Key Ministry, www.church4everychild.org was ranked fourth among the top 100 children's ministry blogs in 2015 by Ministry to Children.
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8 Responses to What Keeps Kids With ADHD Out of Church? Part One

  1. Steve, I so appreciate the sensitivity with which you approach the parents’ perspective…I wish every family had you for their doc! Thanks for the insight, as always.


  2. yeskids says:

    This really excites me. I have served children and their families for over 40 years. I have been a children’s pastor, developed a ministry for Campus Crusade and started a new ministry to reach “at-risk” kids (mostly inner city) nine years ago.

    I have a real heart to see all the kids intentionally and individualistically discipled. We are presently writing a whole-istic Children’s Ministry Curriculum based on the challenge of Deuteronomy 6 which is aimed to get ALL adults in the church involved (at some level) in the discipleship of the children. There are two elements of the curriculum that equips the parents to disciple their own children. However, I believe that every parent needs other believers to come alongside to walk through life with their children as they raise them up to walk with the Lord.

    For the children you serve, if needed, we suggest there be one adult to child to serve that child. One of the churches who will be piloting our new curriculum has such a child and it was such an ah-ha to them to do this. https://sequoiatg.box.net/shared/lktysof9zv This is a link to suggestions for assigning Disciplers to kids.

    My blog is http://www.whymissionaries.wordpress.com Our website is http://www.kidtrek.org


    • drgrcevich says:


      Very cool ministry! Prior to the launch of Key Ministry, I served as Medical Director of an inner-city mental health center for children and teens. Too much of the stuff I was asked to deal with was a direct result of really bad choices on the part of parents as they tried to fill the emptiness in their lives in ways that left their kids damaged and broken.

      While we certainly help churches to provide 1:1 support to the kids with the most severe impairments, the vast majority of kids are able to be successfully included in the age-appropriate programming offered through local churches.

      I definitely agree with your comments about the importance of being intentional about introducing kids to other adults who will offer them wisdom and reflect our values when stuff comes up that they can’t or won’t discuss with their parents.

      There’s a lot of overlap in the “at-risk” populations of kids that we serve. I hope you’ll continue to comment when topics of interest come up.



  3. yeskids says:

    Sorry, I didn’t make myself clear. We never remove the kids from the regular classes. They participate in everything. However, they have an adult who is their Discipler who is there if the child needs some away time. I learned often all the child needs is a touch from the Discipler. If you looked at the registration suggestions. You see that one group has two Disciplers, the other groups have 1.

    The goal is for the kids to build relationships with the other kids and interact as much as possible. God has created each kid unique and that uniqueness is considered as the church puts their volunteer teams together. The goal is to get the church to think outside the box – not what makes the adults feel comfortable but what does each child need.


  4. Pingback: What Keeps Kids With ADHD Out of Church? Part Two | Church4EveryChild

  5. Pingback: The Children’s Ministry Blog Patrol (September 2010) | Dad in the Middle

  6. Pingback: ADHD and Spiritual Development: Tying it All Together | Church4EveryChild

  7. Pingback: Help Your Family Get Ready for Church | Making Us Whole

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