Getting more young families to church. If you’re like most ministry leaders, you’ve found yourself sitting around a meeting table discussing the topic. And if those in the meeting are honest, these conversations are often motivated by the fear that your church may be dying. More young families in church would save it… right?
Let’s Think Big Picture Here
Well, first, it’s short-sighted to think some quick fixes geared toward one demographic will save any church or the Church. Second, young families want, most of all, to be a part of a thriving, loving community of generous, kind, broken, real people.
And really, that’s about church health on the whole. No one wants to be targeted and captured for the benefit of an institution, particularly GenXers and Millennials.
Stop having conversations about attracting young families to benefit the church, hoping for a good return on investment from the young families. Instead, consider the ways your church can simply give of itself. Your church, after all, is the body of Christ, and, therefore, called to offer itself to the world with abandon.
Though compelling programming is important, alone it is not enough to feed souls. We are over-scheduled, over-stimulated, and overwhelmed by our activities and options. No one needs another empty product to consume. What we need now more than ever is an authentic connection, which comes through sharing the beauty and mess of life together.
Perhaps your church has done its work along the way to remain malleable to the Spirit’s leading into this kind of ministry. Maybe your church regularly resists its impulse to insulate and maintain what’s always been. Maybe instead your church makes open doors and open hearts a part of its consistent culture.
If so, hooray! Such a practice of humility is truly a victory! I cannot overstate this. It takes profound surrender to God and letting go of what the ego clings to for safety. And guess what? With such a culture in place, it’s now time for small tweaks.
First, big love. Then, small tweaks.
If your church is ready for small tweaks, let’s get to it! How might you cater to young families’ needs out of simple, genuine care for them?
More Young Families Starts with Understanding
Becoming familiar with the lives of young families sheds light on what they need and hope for. In my years of ministry, families often said the same things over and over. This was consistent no matter the church I was serving. And now, as a parent myself, I can relate to what they shared.
I’ve honed the list and compiled five things parents commonly say and how you all, as ministry leaders, can take them seriously. There are countless ways to connect with more young families on these. To get you started, I’ve listed just a few for each.
Young Families at Church Arrive Pretty Stressed
Young families struggle to get out the door no matter what they’re headed to. It just comes with the territory. Every parent I talk to has their stories depicting the circus that morning outings produce in their family. Sunday mornings are no different. Families arrive at church often feeling frazzled and on edge. So, how can the church be hospitable in light of this to more young families?
First, mark buildings clearly and display signage prominently. Make the fonts large and simple enough for children to read. Feeling lost when already irritable and tired is no good.
Second, assign volunteers to simply keep an eye out for young families who could use some help. Perhaps it’s a matter of helping the single parent wrangle their children. Or maybe it’s asking whether they’d like to have a cup of coffee brought to them if they didn’t make it there before sitting down for worship.
Third, make activities available for children during worship, even if they may go to Sunday school. Looking for a resource? Check out our children’s bulletins here. Or read more at our post about engaging and welcoming children in worship here.
Fourth, when possible, invite parents to volunteer in ways that do not require them to arrive early to church.
More Young Families Feel Loved When Their Kids Are Loved
During my daughter’s first year of life, I took time off of ministry. I attended church as a congregant for the first time in years and learned so much. One of the experiences that still stands out to me is a brief and simple encounter. The nursery director remembered my daughter’s name after we’d attended once and then not been back for weeks. I felt loved because my daughter was special to her.
As ministry leaders, it is our job to bring aboard staff and volunteers who are genuine in their care for children. Those who are interacting with young families need to feel called to offer them love and support. It is obvious to families when this isn’t the case.
What are a few ways this love is communicated? First, like in my daughter’s case, remember names. Make available the tools necessary to do this. Perhaps take a Polaroid of each child to put with their registration card. Or, if you use an app, include a digital photo of the child’s information there.
Second, include children in the life of the church rather than making them an accessory to it. Invite children to read scripture, talk about their experience of God, how they’re loving others in their lives. If your church is one that uses Godly Play, invite one of the children to be the preacher for the morning by telling their favorite story from the curriculum.
Third, create a worship atmosphere that is tolerant and even celebratory of children being children. Babies cry. All need to be understanding and patient about this fact, particularly during the sermon. Alternatively, provide a space for parents to go with their fussy kids that’s inviting and stimulating. Ideally, make it possible for parents to continue listening to the service.
Or, when a child says something or asks a question during church aloud respond, if it’s appropriate to do so, with gratitude and respect.
Also, provide a space for mothers to nurse privately that’s not the bathroom stall, preferably where they can still hear the service. Babies deserve a peaceful place to enjoy their meals, like we all do.
Young Families Consider Relationships Very Important
Life moves fast. It seems jobs move friends every few years, technology isolates us from one another and schedules demand from us warp speed. In this landscape, feeling connected can be difficult. Extended families are more rarely living in close proximity, parents work long hours, kids are slammed with hours of homework and extracurriculars.
And yet, our need for community hasn’t changed. We still need to be needed, cared for, noticed, known. We need shared experiences with others, friends to rely on, witnesses to our lives. Recently, a friend of mine reposted something on social media he’d seen: “No one ever talks about Jesus’ miracle of having 12 close friends in his 30s.” This hits home for a lot more young families than one might assume. And raising children can be lonely.
How might you consider all of this and take action in your church?
First, make it easy for parents to attend small groups. If possible, make small groups on Sunday mornings an option. Parents often have a hard time getting out on weeknights. Provide childcare. There are parents who go it alone, for one reason or another. This keeps a connection with other parents accessible for all. Additionally, children then form friendships.
Second, try pairing families with an older couple in the church. Perhaps they do dinner together once a month or sit together at church. Younger families need intergenerational connections. Parents could use support and perspective. And children benefit from the stories they hear and memories they make with older adults. Moreover, children with adults in their lives who are living their faith will be more likely to hold their faith close as they age.
Third, be sure a pastor and/or ministry leader is reaching out regularly to young families. This may seem simple and insignificant. But it goes a long way in creating a sense of value and belonging.
Big Love, Little Tweaks
Start with open doors and hearts. Let go of what’s always been done. Move with the Spirit and live life as a family of faith, pouring into the lives of others. More young families will come if that’s your only agenda. And then, how do you love them well? Make it easy, love their kids and give them spaces to connect deeply.
We hope these ideas have been helpful. We love hearing from you. So, share what’s working in your faith community in the comments below!