Reaching a New Generation of Families
Practical Next Steps for Church Leaders
I walked away from some recent ministry conversations with the sense that a lot of people are talking about “Family Ministry” but are having a hard time navigating what their next steps should be. Today, I thought I’d share three statements to keep in mind as your church moves toward a more effective family ministry model.
The Parent is the Expert
The reality: All too often, those who serve families in the church come across as thinking that they have all of the answers for the hard times of parenting. However, most parents don’t see the need for your voice in the conversation – they’re the ones doing the parenting… so, obviously, they are the experts. In a way, they’re right: they have logged more hours with their children than anyone else and they have the potential to be the greatest influencer of their child over the course of their lifetime.
Try this: Talk and act as though you are on the same team as parents. In front of children and their parents, support something that a mom or dad has said. Follow up those moments by reminding those around you that you’re on the same team as the parents. A healthy family ministry model is one that recognizes that you are not only serving children – you’re serving the entire family. If parents see and hear that you believe yourself to be a member of their team, they’re more likely to treat you as a partner instead of just someone who spends time with their child while they go to church.
Families are Busy
The reality: Families are being pulled in more directions today than they were a few decades ago. The childhood you remember doesn’t exist anymore. When you tell a family that bringing their child to church isn’t going to be enough – that there’s more to passing on the faith than simply showing up twice a month to Sunday School – you run a strong chance of overwhelming them. Their calendars are already full. They’ve double booked themselves at least twice in the coming week. The don’t have time to do extra things and they’re more likely to give up on you than on Little League.
Try this: Cast a vision for younger families about what it will take to pass the faith on to their children. I’m fond of telling parents of toddlers and preschoolers to “Do what matters before it matters so that when it matters you’re already doing it.” In other words, the rhythms you create when your children are young matter – parents need to be intentional about how they’re spending their time.
Families of older children can be comforted to know that they are already doing many of the things that it takes to have spiritual conversation with their child. Remind them about how they can leverage things they are already doing – sharing meals, bedtime routines, driving in the car & getting ready each morning for the day to come – in order to talk about the things that matter. Don’t give parents an extra list of things to do – teach them how to add value to the time they are already spending with their children.
Not Everyone Cares
The reality: At best, 20% of the families at your church are fully committed to partnering with you in raising up the next generation (their children included) to love Jesus. 90% might check a box saying that it’s a good thing… but, at least 80% of the families in your church think that it’s the church’s job to teach people about Jesus – their own children included. And, to be honest, I’m probably being generous in saying that 20% of your families are bought in to partnering with you. But, if I told you the real number, you might just get sad.
Try this: Don’t be upset when families don’t understand their need for partnering with you. They’re at church – that’s a huge step in the right direction! Work on developing a tiered approach to partnership. Think of commitment in terms of levels of engagement and work on moving families toward having a full commitment to spending time outside of Sunday teaching their children about Jesus. If your church is doing its job, you’ll always have new families coming in and you’ll need an approach to getting them on board with partnering with you – start figuring out what those steps are with the parents you already know. Want to find out what parents are committed to partnering with you? Try “forgetting” to hand out take-home pages this next Sunday and see which parents notice. Warning: only do this if you’re ready for some hard conversations with parents at your church and with yourself.
Families are more diverse than they’ve ever been. For more reading on Reaching a New Generation of Families, check out this post: https://westcoastcm.wordpress.com/2011/10/13/reaching-a-new-generation-of-families/