The Search for Young Families

[Note: Sue Bridge found the article below and sent it on to the Transition Team and Church Council.  The topic is timely, especially as it discusses an area that was identified as a top congregational priority in the CAT survey done for Holy Trinity. 

The article is used with permission from The Center for Lifelong Learning at Columbia Theological Seminary.]

WHEN CHURCHES WANT A PASTOR WHO CAN “BRING IN YOUNG FAMILIES”

By Jan Edmiston, DMin ’01

March 12, 2015

Almost every church I’ve ever known has wanted to Attract Young Families. The reasoning behind this includes the following:

  •        If we don’t regenerate, everyone will eventually get old and die.
  •        It’s energizing to have young people around.
  •        Younger members can do the work that older members can’t/won’t do anymore.
  •        Older members tend to be on fixed incomes and younger working members are needed for their pledges.
  •        Young families (i.e. mom, dad, and kids) remind us of church when we were (or wish we were) part of young families.

There are a few things wrong with this reasoning, including the fact that “attracting” people in general feels manipulative – as if people are “targets” to be used for our own purposes. Yuck.

Let’s be honest about the “why? Are we saying that we want these rare and valuable Young Families for what they can give to us?

What if – instead – the “why” of this demographic quest was about feeding souls and sharing authentic community? I always hoped – as a young mom – that church would provide adults that could help me nurture my children. I always wanted to know that – if my kids couldn’t come to me or HH with a problem – they would have other trustworthy adults to whom they could go (and they did.)

Young families are great. Old families are great. Families made up of child-free couples are great. Families of single people are great. Imagine if every church simply wanted A Pastor Who Could Bring In Broken People. Now that’s a church.

Also, the days are gone when Young Families were present in worship every Sunday. The statistics are in about how the definition of “regular worship” has changed since the 1950s. (“Regular” used to mean weekly. Now it means once or twice a month.)

Instead of seeking a Pastor who can bring in those vaunted Young Families, we need to call a Pastor who knows how to shift congregational culture. The culture in which we live and move and have our being has changed, but we are killing ourselves trying to maintain a dated congregational culture.

News flash: Most pastors will fail at “Bringing in Young Families.” Families of every kind are drawn to communities that are in touch with real life. For example, check out Carey Nieuwhof’s recent post about why even committed Christians do not worship as regularly as they did in previous decades. At least two of his “10 Reasons” specifically impact cultural changes connected to Young Families.

So how can we be the kind of congregation that welcomes Young Families for more than their energy and wallets? We can:

  1.      Be real. Deal with real issues in sermons, classes, retreats, conversations, prayers.
  2.      Listen to parents’ concerns. Listen to children’s concerns.
  3.      Ask how we can pray for them. And then pray for them.
  4.      Allow/encourage messiness. Noses will run and squirming will ensue. There might be running. There will definitely be noise.
  5.      Check our personal Stink Eye Quotient. Do we grimace when a baby cries? Do we frown when the kids are wearing soccer uniforms?
  6.      Refrain from expecting everyone to be the church like we have always been the church.
  7.      Help parents, grandparents, and all adults become equipped to minister to children and youth. How can we learn to offer such loving hospitality to the younger people in our midst that they will always experience church as home?
  8.      Do not use children as cute props. Yes they say the darndest things during children’s stories, but they are not there to entertain us.
  9.      Give parents a break. Really. Help struggling parents get coats and hats on their kids. Hold an umbrella. Assist in wiping spills.
  10.   Give parents a break administratively. Make it easy to participate. Minimize the unnecessary.

It’s also okay not to have Young Families in our congregations depending on the context. Some neighborhoods have very few young ones living nearby. But there are still people who crave some Good News.

Jan Edmiston is the associate executive presbytery for ministry in the Presbytery of Chicago, where she has served since 2011. Prior to that she served congregations in northern Virginia and New York. She completed her MDiv at Andover Newton Theological School and her DMin in Christian Spirituality at Columbia Theological Seminary in 2001. She has graciously agreed to let us repost some of her blog entries (including ones from guest bloggers) from A Church for Starving Artists.