Mark McCrindle, a social researcher, states this about parenting:
In our parenting research we found that there is more information than ever, yet less personal advice or help than ever. Parents don’t need an expert or another research study as much as they need a friend or family member to offer some encouragement and maybe a helping hand. They felt swamped by their busy lives, undermined by advertising and entertainment that targets their children and was at odds with their values, and judged by a society that calls on parents to better control their children while removing some of the tools in their parenting toolkit.1
Parenting is hard work! Feelings of anxiety and insecurity plague most parents and it is into this mix that the wider church family has an enormous contribution to make both to Christian parents and also the wider secular community. There are a number of things we have done to engage our families with our church family. While we are by no means experts; we have tried a number of things over the last few years to engage families in the church family which may be helpful in encouraging others.
- The first, and most important, thing is to engage in prayer to our heavenly Father. On a regular basis we have encouraged people to be praying for parents as they raise their children in the Lord as well as lifting up leaders of kids’ church in prayer. On our ministry planner (you may call it a ‘roster’) we include suggested prayer points that include our kids’ church leaders as well as the 9:30am congregation which is primarily made up of families.
Engage families by interviewing a wide variety of people as part of our morning church service. The aim here is to help people think through how they live out family life with Jesus at the centre.
Deep down most parents feel insecure about how they raise their kids in the Lord. Rather than telling people how to be parents, we are looking to share ideas and experiences that would benefit other parents. We ask one key question: how do you encourage your kids in their walk with Jesus?
We also interview the kids’ church leaders with two purposes in mind. The first is to introduce new leaders to the congregation ensuring that we pray both for them and their ministry to our kids. The second is to equip parents with ideas on how to reinforce things they are learning in kids’ church. The feedback from this has been very positive, with parents relishing the opportunity to get to know a little better those leaders who love their kids and want to see them grow in their love for Jesus.
Engage people through God’s word. As we all know, Scripture is a rich and deep treasure for unpacking what it means to grow disciples of Jesus from parents through to kids. Recognising this, we have worked hard at applying talks that address issues that parents face; unpack the role that God has given families; and speaking to children on what it means to be part of a family (on occasions when they join us in the service).
Increase the lines of communication between kids’ church, parents and staff. Currently, at the end of every Sunday morning, parents are encouraged to take what is called ‘Today@one’ (all our kids’ and youth ministries are under the banner of ‘one’). This is a document that provides a summary of what is taught in each of our kids’ ministry groups for that day. It is brief and includes the following lines:
Today we talked about …
We encouraged the kids to …
You can ask them …
There are three things to pray for ...
A family activity to do during the week together is ...
As a parent, this has been a wonderful resource to use with my kids to reinforce teaching and spark gospel conversations. For example, last week my 6 year-old daughter learned about Satan and she was very excited by the snake in her exercise book. It was a good conversation to have together; to figure out what she has learned from the sheet and to expand on it as we drove in the car together.
Another thing we have done in the past is to include articles and ideas in the weekly and monthly newssheet. These have ranged from excerpts taken from good books on parenting (as a staff team it is a good idea to have at your disposal books about parenting that you have read and know are good to give away) to ideas written by staff. In these newssheets, we also include what each group is learning for the term (including memory verses). Increasing communication has been enormously helpful all round.
The creation of kids’ church teams. Over the past three years we have sought to establish a stable team that runs our kids’ church. This has been one of the most beneficial aspects to the overall health of the ministry. (The number of people we have recruited has grown from four to 11 in this time.) We have brought all of our kids and youth leaders together for regular training, emphasising that we are all on about the same task, albeit in age-appropriate contexts. In January we took 25 people away for a weekend of training to prepare for ministry in the year ahead. We work hard to ensure our leaders are supported and cared for through good training. We have a two-year training program covering what it means to be a leader with specific teaching on church and the gospel and a healthy dose of biblical theology to begin each session. I can’t stress how important this whole process of teams and training has been to the health of children’s and youth ministry.2
Provide opportunities for fellowship between leaders and parents. Each year we have two BBQ lunches at the local park where the leaders and families join together. These are super-relaxed opportunities for parents to get to know leaders and vice versa. The ‘vibe’ after the BBQs has always been very positive!
The last kind of engagement is through small group networks. In those few small groups that are primarily made up of mums and dads we have run some Bible studies on parenting. These have provided opportunities for parents to share ideas, frustrations and biblical ideals and accountability on parenting.
This is by no means an exhaustive list of ways to engage families in the church family. But I hope it has provided you with some ways to move forward, generated some new ideas and has been an encouragement towards achieving this goal.
1 http://mccrindle.com.au/RESOURCES/Sn_Parenting-in-the-21st-Century.pdf (accessed 14th Feb 2011)
2 If you want to read more of this, then see my article: http://www.youthworks.net/articles/a_new_direction_for_our_childrens_ministry