Earlier this week I posted a blog of why mainline churches are having problems getting young families to walk through their doors. The article received a good response, and because of this, I wanted to offer a different perspective on the issue. It would be easy to cast all the blame on the churches, but I believe like in any relationship that goes sour there are two parties at fault. Hence, the need for the other side of the coin.
Below I offer 3 push backs to why young families have some work to do on their end as well.
- Churches want you to get over yourself: Steeple churches in their desire to bring in young families are often depicted as desperate. In my last blog, I laid out why this desperation can become suffocating and produce an environment where the congregation becomes stagnant to the point where they stop trying to bring in any new families. The flip side; some churches gear their entire evangelizing efforts towards young families. And just like a 5-star college recruit, young families know they are wanted by everyone. When you know you’re wanted you begin to feel entitled to certain things, but those expectations should be rooted in reality. Your first couple of visits to a church shouldn’t require a red carpet treatment. Don’t count on everyone in the congregation to drop everything to focus on you. The pastor(s) may not be able to greet you properly on those first few visits (trust me, Sunday mornings can be nuts). What I’m asking for is understanding and a little bit of grace. You’re trying to figure them out, and they, in turn, are trying to figure you out. C.S. Lewis in his popular work Mere Christianity says “The real problem of the Christian life comes where people do not usually look for it. It comes the very moment you wake up early each morning.” Young families need to be looking for these meaningful moments from fellow parishioners in the hallways, parking lots, or at the Applebees after church instead of focusing on who didn’t speak to them during those first few awkward visits.
- Churches think you should at least know what your walking into (and in this age of information overload, they’re right): Websites, websites, websites. I’ve written about this before in at least one other post, but getting online and doing some research before you visit a church is essential. I’ve heard stories from people who’ve visited churches and were completely taken back by what they heard and saw that morning. For example, if you have a strong theologically opinion on the role of women in leadership positions in the church you might want to check their website to see if any women are serving on staff with the title of “minister” instead of “director.” Websites “should” give enough information for young families to tell if they have any sort of children’s programming, if they have a functioning nursery, or if they prefer children to stay in the sanctuary during worship. Information about worship style is usually stated as well, which might help indicate whether the church is contemporary or more traditional. Of course, this demands that churches actually have a working up to date website. Spending a few minutes browsing their page could save young families from entering a space that isn’t prepared or even a good fit for them. Take up some responsibility in this area.
- Churches think you’re fickle: I have a family member who became actively involved at an aging church. After some time, she was asked to volunteer for “children’s church” which was made up of mostly elementary aged youths. This family member told me how surprised she was when she noticed after several weeks that none of the younger families volunteered to help even when it involved working with children who were the same age as their own. After a few months, she removed herself from the small rotation of what she considered little more than a “babysitting club.” If young families are wanting to become part of a faith community they need to be present in those communities. I know families are capable of making these types of decisions for their kids because when I pass a local soccer field at 8:15am on my way to church every Sunday the place is packed! In those instances, becoming a soccer parent or helping coach a team is part of the deal. Church participation works in the same way. My point is; show up, be prepared to get involved, and be consistent. It’s hard to take you seriously when they never see you.
Bottom line; the church is wanting to hand the reins to someone. The reason the church isn’t different, more affirming, more tolerant, more relevant, etc...is because you’re not there.