Discover the four surprising cultural trends impacting children’s ministry that’ll impact the way you do ministry for years.
Tucked deep inside 1 Chronicles is the account of Issachar leaders who observed cultural upheaval in Israel. They saw the incumbent King Saul and his banished field general, David. The men of Issachar realized that the times required them to side with one leader or the other-they chose wisely and sided with God’s anointed. There’s a brief phrase praising them: “From the tribe of Issachar…these men understood the signs of the times and knew the best course for Israel to take” (1 Chronicles 12:32). The rest, as they say, is history.
Children’s ministry leaders need the same skill today as did the chiefs of Issachar — to accurately read culture and then develop a strategy for action. As a profession, we’ve done an excellent job of monitoring trends within church culture. We identify trendsetting churches, and we note their strategies and benchmarks. We apply what works best for our ministries. Likewise, children’s ministers must become students of our surrounding culture. Culture shapes our priorities and perceptions of reality on a subconscious level. Studying culture can keep us from being changed by culture in unbiblical ways.
Studying culture isn’t only necessary for our ministries’ survival; it’s an exercise in love. When I married my wife, I quickly realized that loving her also meant I’d have to learn her family’s culture. Exhibit A: The kitchen. I’m the primary cook. Early in our marriage I discovered that our differing family cultures created a problem. My mental image of spaghetti sauce involved hand-diced tomatoes simmering in freshly cut spices for hours. Amy envisioned machine-puréed, jarred, processed sauce. Imagine my surprise when Amy tasted my homemade sauce and asked if I could make it “more like Ragú.” Eventually love (and practicality) overcame indignation, and I now buy jarred sauce. In the same way, children’s ministers study surrounding culture to discover what unchurched people value — and so that our efforts to reach them actually feel the way they’re meant to feel — like an act of love.
Read on for four cultural trends from outside the church that every children’s minister needs to be able to discern, learn from, and respond to.
1. “MICRO-TRENDS” impact family ministry.
From my view, no trends in our wider culture mandate family ministry in the church. Our current spotlight on family ministry seems to be “from within” — arising from prophetic voices within the church. The Orange Movement, driven by forward thinkers such as Reggie Joiner, arose from within church culture and reminds us that God’s institution of choice to transmit faith from generation to generation is the family, not the children’s ministry.
And although this drive for family ministry isn’t a result of outside cultural trends, to be successful we have to build family ministries that resonate with our surrounding culture. Here are microcultural trends to heed.
Young parents value self-expression and customization. Young parents value products and services that are customizable. Facebook, phones, and clothing lines (consider NikeID.com) are designed and marketed as accessories that let individuals showcase their personalities. Parents don’t want massive family ministry programs around which to conform their lives. They want values, advice, and programs to choose from as they build their “family brand.”
Young parents were raised to believe they can change the world. According to sociologists Neil Howe and William Strauss, Millennials’ engaged parents instilled in their children that they matter. We can expect Millennial parents to pass that same value onto their children. Family ministries must tap this trend and provide opportunities for parents and children to serve together.
Young families are often fatherless. According to the National Fatherhood Initiative, 24.7 million children live without their biological fathers. The divorce rate for first marriages is 41 percent. Though the rise of blended families softens some impact of this statistic, the notion that a family consists of husband and wife working together to raise children isn’t reality to a large segment of our population. As you design family ministry, intentionally communicate God’s grace to all families. Consider the book of Genesis and how God chose to save the world through a family dysfunctional enough to make writers of Desperate Housewives blush. Our message to today’s parents must be that God works through our fragile families.