I hadn't really been thinking about this today, but as I sat down to write my blog, it just sort of came to mind. It all started with a conversation I had yesterday evening with someone who was very upset that her cousin was "being made" to go to church at the age of 15. Her issue seemed to be that a 15 year old should be made to go to church at all when it wasn't necessary; after all, one can find God on their own.
This wasn't the entirety of that particular story, but it was enough to make reflect on where I would be if I chose to stop going to church. My parents stopped taking us to church when I was very young because of disagreements about the message being taught. We church hopped for a while, but never really settled into any particular one. When I was going to be 13, I was forced to go back to church so that I could get confirmed in our church (as had practically everyone else in my family since we helped to rebuild the church centuries ago). I'll be the first to admit my experience in that particular church wasn't good. However, I wasn't actively trying to find God either. I consider this point in my life the first time I really started to consider why I wasn't happy at the church we were attending, and the point where I finally started to research theology in earnest.
This is precisely why I don't think it's necessarily a bad to 'force' children to go to church. That being said, I will acknowledge extenuating circumstances where particular situations may occur that bring about negative experiences associated with the church. E.G. I really didn't ever plan to return to church after we left our church for the second time due to my own awful experiences and it wasn't until my senior year of high school that a friend of mine convinced me to go back. At the age of 15, a person is capable of understanding and reasoning why they like or don't like a particular situation. They are becoming abstract thinkers. They are trying on different personalities/lifestyles to see which one fits. If nothing else positive comes out of their experiences, they may just get a better understanding of the people who attend church or particular worship in particular denominations.
This is hardly the only reason why attending church is a good thing, however. I can honestly say my faith would not have grown the way it has if not for my parish. I am a very different person than I was a year ago and my desire to grow closer to God has only continued to increase. I can't get enough of the homilies, I adore going to worship, and the extra things our church offers to supplement a Christian life really helps me to make the changes in my life that I need to be a follower of Christ. On my own, I may have read scripture, may have prayed, may have had more discussion with different people from different denominations about their thoughts and ideas, but I don't believe I could have ever reached the depths I've started to delve. I genuinely want to change my life, to become the person God wants me to be. I don't know that many people could do this on their own. If so, they're probably the exception to the rule.
A good church provides strength and stability, growth and compassion, forgiveness and hope. I sincerely wish there were more good ones out there, or that people would give them more of a chance. It's something to pray about at least.