What to Say to That Boy Who Came to Church Wearing Blue Jeans

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You see him walking through the back of the chapel, hair a bit messy, button-up shirt hanging over the lip of his waistline, hands in the pockets of an old pair of jeans with sneakers bleeding out of the bottoms. Maybe he looks around the room shyly, scuffing his feet on the carpet and glancing with panic from one pew to the next. Or maybe he’s glowering and marching in at the arm of a parent, looking like the last thing he wants to do is worship. You might know him, or maybe he’s a stranger. It doesn’t matter so much. Because when you see him, you shift on your bench uncomfortably.

“He shouldn’t come in here dressed like that. It’s so inappropriate,” you think, “after all, this is Sacrament Meeting. He could at least have the decency to respect that. What were his parents thinking to even allow it?” 

You feel like you should say something, and you’re right. You should.

After a few moments of waiting and twiddling your thumbs, you get up and brush the lint from your skirt or dress pants, march up to him with determination, look him straight in the eyes and say, “Excuse me.”

He looks up at you, either defiant, concerned, embarrassed, or curious.

You know exactly what you need to say to him. And this is what it is:

Welcome to church today!” Free of all pretense.

Say to him, with your hand extended, that you’re glad to see him there and mean it. Tell him your name, unless he already knows it, and then ask for his. Ask him about his family, how he’s doing, where he’s from, if he’s traveling, if he’s curious, if he’s a member. Tell him that you like his shoes, that his smile is handsome.

Tell him you’re grateful to see him, because chances are, he hasn’t been to church for awhile, and right now, he’s thinking that no one even missed him.

Look him in the eye like he’s your brother, because he is. Then try to love him like one.

I know what you may want to tell him, this boy in blue jeans. You may want to tell him that his clothes aren’t appropriate, that he needs to leave, or that he doesn’t belong. But, see, that is not your right.

It’s not your right to tell him he doesn’t belong there when the very sign on the outside of the building tells him that he does. “Visitors welcome,” it says, not “faithful members only,” not “no suits, no service,” not “keep out” or “no trespassing.” It’s the Lord’s church building, and every one of His children are allowed in. That includes non-members who have no idea what they’re doing there, out-of-towners who forgot to pack Sunday clothes and have worn the best they have, teenage girls who couldn’t wear garments beneath what they have on and even rebellious boys whose parents have had too many tearful nights, who have tried everything to get their sons to church, even if it means they come in t-shirts and denim. All of them are welcome.

It’s not your job to tell that boy in blue jeans that his clothes aren’t Sunday clothes. He already knows that. What he doesn’t know is why he should even be there, and as his brother or sister, it’s your responsibility to show him.

I know some of you are trying to do what’s best, but doing what’s best is seeing someone for who they are instead of what they wear. It’s standing in the center of a packed street and choosing to not throw stones at someone who’s sinned. It’s leaving the well-groomed company of your friends to put your hands on the scuffed faces of lepers, the poor, and the homeless, to show them that you care about them. Doing what’s best is leaving the skirts and ties of the ninety and nine to put your arm around the shoulders of the casually dressed one, and ask him, for the first time in a long time, how his life is going.

He needs to be there, and if you tell him he needs to go home and change, it may be years before he decides to make changes that actually matter.

Maybe, he’ll never want to come back again.

So, when that Sunday comes when a boy or a girl or another person walks through the chapel doors wearing blue jeans instead of a suit or a dress, when you see them and feel the need to say something to them, just love them.

That’s the one thing they need most of all. 

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42 comments

  1. One Sunday as a pastor was greeting his congregation, several members approached him and said, "Pastor, you have got to do something about that new gentlemen over there." As the pastor looked, he saw a small old man dressed from head to toe in his farmer's garb. Overalls, flannel, and boots certainly worn directly from work in the fields. The pastor introduced himself and asked if he could have a word.

    He asks the man if he feels like he is dressed appropriately for God's house. The man replies that he doesn't know what God thinks is appropriate clothing. So the pastor gives him an assignment. "Well, why don't you go home and pray to ask God what you should wear to church." The farmer agrees.

    The next Sunday, the same people approach the pastor almost fuming, asking what the farmer is doing back in his old clothes. The pastor is also quite flustered and asks the farmer if they could have a word. As they step into his office, the pastor asks, "Didn't you pray to ask God about what you should wear to church??" The farmer replies, "Yes, sir. I sure did." Then the pastor retorts, "Well what did he tell you?"

    With a sweet and humble voice, the farmer replies, "He said he didn't know how to dress at your church. He said he's never been here before.

    I heard that joke a few times in sacrament meeting growing up. Maybe it was coming from a small Virginia town with a branch of 30. But we were just happy to have any one of our brothers or sisters with us on Sunday. I appreciate this post. Whatever you're wearing, I suspect they're still my brother and sister. I'm just grateful they'd come to church and brighten my day.

  2. A few years ago, I was struggling to get my teenage daughter to come to church. She was going through a rough time and every time I was able to get her there I considered it a small miracle. We had been struggling financially during this time also. For school shopping we could only afford one jacket for her. She picked one out that had a name brand printed across it several times. It was appropriate for school. One particular Sunday we had struggled to get her there. It was a rough morning. That day was a cold winter day and she had worn the only jacket she had. She kept it on all day because she was cold. While at church, one of the young men came up to her and told her that she should not be wearing that jacket to church. Not, "Hey, it's great too see you here". I was sick. I thought to myself, "I will never get her back".

    Sure this was a teenager and sometimes they don't think before they speak. But I have often questioned if he was being taught this in his home. He was old enough to understand he shouldn't say that.

    How many of us has sat and stared at someone that looks out of place or reacted less than Christlike because someone smells of cigarette smoke? I will admit that it has been something I did a couple of times in my life, but as I have gotten older I have come to see how wrong that was.

    I never want to make someone's child or anyone else feel unwanted at church for any reason. We never know what a parent went through to get them there or we may never see what trials someone is going through in their lives. That person could be coming to church as their last ditched effort for help and we could run them out forever by shunning them or mocking them for their appearance. Christ would not do it, nor should we. Ever.

  3. My son got new tennis shoes – black and silver and completely awesome. Church is always somewhat of a struggle for him anyway because he has glasses and is a little awkward. The kids in the ward aren't very nice. Anyway, I couldn't get them off his feet most of the time and decided they were black and I wasn't going to fight a battle that would ruin my son's day and mine, so I let him wear them to Church. I have taught my kids to never say anything about people's clothing unless it is something nice because clothing doesn't matter. A little boy a couple of years older came up to him and told him he is wearing tennis shoes and he should be wearing his church shoes! He was visibly fallen and upset. I have had an even harder time getting him anywhere near the Church building since.

  4. When my father-in-law (we'll call him Steve) was a teenager, he was invited by a friend to go to church. Knowing that Steve had no church clothes, his friend decided that they would both dress in their best bib overalls and clean white t-shirts. When they arrived at church, the one of the ward leaders chewed out the friend saying that he should know better. Then he banished both of them. My father-in-law had nothing to do with the church after that for nearly thirty years when my husband, as a 13-year-old started to investigate. It took an extreme amount of work to overcome the rejection he had felt. That leader will never know the harm he did. The ironic part of this is that the boys had gone to quite a bit of effort to make the overalls look nice. They were even ironed, and they had kerchiefs in the pocket, folded for decoration. Many people in nicer clothes don't go to that much trouble.

  5. As a teenager when I was criticized for wearing jeans or even slacks instead of dresses to church, my answers were always "God does not love me for my clothes but for who I am" and "If God loves me skirts and dresses he loves in slacks and jeans" I feel that we always have to be careful how we approach a situation be it in sacrament or any other place in life. We are all children of God and should act accordingly to that and not judge anyone by their outward appearance.

  6. i had a son who struggle with church due to a variety of reasons. I am a single mom and brought him to a priesthood session of conference….he wore a pair of long shorts (past his knees) and a dress shirt. it was a struggle just to get him to go- one brother though it was horrid that he was dressed that way…..He is in active now because of this unkind- male….

  7. Thank you for that ! I have seen so many people come to church wearing whatever they had. We live in an area where there are a lot of needy people, many of whom are struggling to just keep the clothes on their backs, never mind worrying about Sunday dress. I have seen so many come to church, some inactive members and some non members and the only thought that I have when I see them, is just be glad they came ! I myself have worn the same outfit to church week after week.. But I feel that if I smile and try to be friendly, maybe they won't notice the clothes. I don't know if they notice what I wear or not. But I am not there for a fashion show. I'm there because that is where I need to be. Our Heavenly Father loves all of his children, regardless of how we are dressed. He just wants us to be at church. Hopefully, we can make others comfortable when they come, so that they will feel relaxed enough to come back.

  8. Great article which will hopefully teach people to judge less and care more. I remember one year when a young man had a wild hair cut…one of the brothers was kind of ranting about it but I reminded him the boy was where he was supposed to be. That kid's ears were bright red because he was embarrassed about his hair cut but it grew out and he never chose that style again and really…it was only hair. Viewing each individual as one of God's treasured children has helped keep things in perspective to me.

  9. What do you do when the criticism comes from the family members that are supposed to love unconditionally??? My 13 year old struggles with church in general. He has long hair and often wears jeans and a nice t-shirt to church. His grandparents, every Sunday, ask him where his white shirt and tie are and when he plans to cut his hair. I have confronted them and they tell me that they are only looking out for my sons best interests. I think they are embarrassed that my son hasn't conformed to what everyone thinks he should look like while worshiping.

  10. This really was a wonderful post about how we should treat those who attend with us. All of us at some point have been in a situation where we might not want to go. Going to 9am Church is hard when you are a student, a parent, or a worker, and sometimes just putting pants on at all is a struggle. I can recall in the YSA, the 2:30 start time felt like it impacted my entire day and there were days when I resented it, felt I should have more time during my weekend do other things I wanted to do. We are all there at one point or another. We might be there today, or next year when the warm arm of the Bishopric comes and in that voice we have all heard, "we would like to extend to you a calling…", especially those stressful callings that we know will take as much time as picking up that part-time job at the book store for a few extra bucks. What is important to remember is that we are all at different points in that journey. Some of us are going through a rough patch and some would say their faith has never been stronger. We can remember the teachings of Isaiah, that we all have reached whatever point we are at, one line at a time. The difference, the true place where we cans see faith in action is when there are those who feel they may turn away, those who are intimidated to even show their faces out of fear of some comment, or judgement, choose to attend. These are the chosen, those who walk the earth with us today, as Elder Holland teaches, are "among the valiant" who decided to follow the Savior in the councils in Heaven. We all have agency, and we should be applauding those who choose to worship with us, because as they grow in their own, we too may have the opportunity to grow from the where we are in our faith and learning. Some people come in jeans, I come with lessons that are less prepared than I would like, and often a few minutes late… we all have our things.

    -Joseph

  11. You confront them again and again until they stop. You tell them they are absolutely not helping, but hurting your son. Let them know what a struggle it is just to get him there and how important it is that he feel love, not judgement. Jesus had long hair and never wore a shirt and tie. Honestly, it pains me how important clothes have become in our church. No doubt his grandparents love your son. I just don't think they have any idea how much harm they are inflicting on him… and you. As someone who has been in a similar situation and sat by biting my lip, I'm telling you, make it stop! God bless you and your son:)

  12. To all the nice comments here of love and acceptance I would like to add: Please leave your well dressed friends for this one meeting to sit with this person who is feeling alone and out of place.It will make a great difference. Next week they will probably dress to fit in and if not love them anyway.

    1. Excuse me? Who are you guys to talk about not having respect for people who dissent?How many people from our side have put out an7y&en#821o;s eye with a tear gas canister?

  13. Thank you for your comments. It's true that we never seem to recognize what kind of an impact we can have in someone's life, but I think we all recognize what impact the Savior would want us to have.

  14. Oh no. I'm so sorry. I wish I could get to know your son personally and encourage him. I had glasses and was pretty awkward as a teen, too, and it was hard for me to make friends in my ward. Kids can sometimes be pretty oblivious to the way they make other kids feel. What matters more than those sneakers is the beautiful child of God wearing them. I hope things get easier for him. Let me know if I can help in any way. My email address is found beneath the "Talk to Me" tab up top.

  15. Thank you for sharing that. Your story breaks my heart. How thoughtful of that friend, though. We need more examples of brothers and sisters reacting with that kind of Christlike love to people in different circumstances. I hope everything is going well for "Steve" today.

  16. I'm so sorry that man reacted so poorly. Stories like these just kill me, because more often than not, it's a child who hardly ever goes to church and his fellow ward members should embrace him instead of embarrassing him. It's heartbreaking that these kinds of things happen.

  17. Thank you for your comment. :) It provides a great perspective that members of the church need to see. It also reminds me of the chapters in Alma where he teaches the poor Zoramites who are kicked out of the synagogues because of their lack of wealth/fine things. The best people I know and the most humble are those who don't have much, but still give the Lord their time and love. It doesn't matter that you wear the same thing each week — what matters is that you're a better/different person each week. And to me, it definitely sounds like your heart is in the right place. The Lord loves you for it. I know He does.

  18. I think your son's grandparents definitely mean well, but they probably can't see all of the struggles you are having. One quote I really like that might help is by Boyd K. Packer:

    “True doctrine, understood, changes attitudes and behavior. The study of the doctrines of the gospel will improve behavior quicker than a study of behavior will improve behavior. … That is why we stress so forcefully the study of the doctrines of the gospel."

    Telling someone to change doesn't do nearly as much good as just discussing Gospel doctrine, talking about the plan and what we believe. The trick is to learn how to do that in a way that will be effective for a specific circumstance. Maybe you could outline specific ways that they can be supportive. I've found that a lot of times people want to help out but don't know how to, so they do it in a way that maybe isn't helpful. In any case, I wish you the best of luck. I've experienced the same kinds of things with members of my family, and it can be challenging to get everyone on the same page.

  19. Thank you for your comment, Joseph. :) You're very right. And I love what you said about those around us being among the valiant, because they are. We just need to treat them that way.

  20. I love this. I'm a convert to the church. Even though I received the teachings from the missionaries for eight months before I entered the church, I was still completely nervous when I showed up. I assumed no one would notice I was there because of the size of the congregation and even if they did notice no one would speak to me, afterall I was the "outsider" that wasn't baptized. Boy was I surprised when i walked into sacrament and was approached by several people WELCOMING me and my family. Asking what my children's names were, where we lived, etc. Making me feel like I belonged. I can tell it was those first moments that kept me coming back to church. It was also one of the many reasons why I became a member and five years later am still a member. Thank you for writing this. Sometimes its not just the clothes we wear but I realize this article was much more than that. Thank you.

  21. Thank you so much for your post, I've only just started reading your blog recently. It's right on!!! We as a people really need to reach out more and judge less. I have an inactive daughter and while the people in my ward have been amazing and continue to ask and care about her years later I know this isn't always the case.

  22. When I was a teenager, I was not yet a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, when a friend of mine invited me to attend their church services. He is a member of "Iglesia ni Kristo", a sect here in our country. I was hesitant because I knew how they bring themselves in their church. My friend encouraged me not to worry because after all I was just a visitor.

    We were about to sit down when a man followed us with a piece of paper and I was surprised it was a note of their standard. He told me I should not come in wearing jeans. My friend suddenly told him that I was just visiting. However, I was told that I should wear formal attire the next time I visit their church.

    That was the last time I visited their chapel. Thanks for this article. I was reminded of that experience I had.

  23. I love the part where you reminded us that the sign out front says "Visitors welcome" and how its Christ's church and all his children are welcome. I live in a California beach town and we are more casual in general. But we need to be careful about focusing on how fashionable someone is too. We must remember why we are at church. Do what He would do and say what He would say. Think before you act or speak. Be kind.

  24. How about this one: my return missionary son attended the singles ward. He would get all kinds of bad comments from girls and Bishopric members because he wore a colored dress shirt (with a tie) instead of a white one. I guess they thought it was just righteous teasing. One day the 1st Counselor said something to him in my presence. Mommy bear came out and I said I really doubt Jesus cares what color his shirt is, but He is glad he is here. Hopefully a lesson was taught.

  25. Thank you for that article. My son struggled with church too and it was a battle every Sunday to get him and my daughter there. She had a testimony, but he did not. Finally we gave up and just let him wear what he wanted. If he came, we were happy. Unfortunately, one Sunday he came with all his earrings in and blue hair. The people that knew his heart, welcomed him and kindly teased him about the hair or earrings. On woman in particular complained and he got wind of it. He stopped going altogether, got further from the gospel and got into drugs. Another busy body "warned" a mom that she should keep her sons away from mine, again he was told about the conversation. Yes he was into drugs, but he had/has a good and generous heart. He joyfully volunteers for projects to help elderly family member, sees someone struggling in a store and picks up their bags and helps them to the car, feeds a homeless person, helps his friends who struggle financially and with word of wisdom issues (we've housed many a member and non-member child who was kicked out of their house by unforgiving parents). One member, also a scout leader, went so far as to ban him from getting his eagle because he felt my son did not exemplify the eagle values. He is now 21, past those issues and serving in the military. The same people that drove him from church, now want to write to him during his deployment overseas. He refuses to let me give out his address. He's kind but he doesn't forget. Now my daughter is resentful of the people at church who treated him that way and she struggles with attendance and her testimony. She is very fashion conscious and is modest, but is tall and its very hard to find knee length skirts and dresses. Now it's her turn for the comments. It's amazing how much damage unkind words and actions can have. I truly praise and love the people in our ward that loved my children unconditionally and still do. They will forever have a place in my heart.

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  27. To be honest, when I saw the title of this article I was a bit irritated. Who would want to say anything other than offer warm greetings to someone attending church, however they might be dressed? I read it anyway, and wasn't surprised by the comments you made, other than that I thought they were quite unnecessary, given that no one would speak negatively to someone attending church, regardless of their appearance But then I read the posts from other readers and I thought, 'Really? People actually say things like that?' It seems I own you and apology because your article was not so unnecessary after all!

    To be honest, I am shocked! In over three decades of attending church I have never, no, not once, heard a member say anything negative to someone about how they are dressed. Nor to someone who smells of cigarette smoke, or alcohol. Nor to the obviously pregnant teenage girl; or the one with tattoos and piercings. Nor to the long-haired, bearded young men. Nothing but loving and welcoming comments to those who look as if they don't quite fit in.

    I've always assumed that this is because other church members think as you and I do – that people who dress or look unconventional will, through the love of the members and the inspiration of the Spirit, eventually learn what Heavenly Father requires of them. According to these posts, however, this is far from the truth.

    Of course, one might think that I just happen to be lucky and live in a nice ward. But I've lived in several wards and branches here, in Ireland, and they've all been the same. They all have their ups and downs but no one ever says anything negative to someone simply because of how they look, or how they appear to be living the gospel. Where in the world are all these negative, judgmental people?

    We all have to remember President Uchtdorf's quote, 'Don't judge me because I sin differently to you.' And, as far as I know, how we dress for church has not been carved in stone.

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