Between Mom, Dad, and the kids, families may be
attending activities at your church seven days a week. If this is a
typical schedule for families at your church, you're stressing them
Dad goes to men's prayer meeting Tuesday mornings, softball
practice on Friday evenings and outreach committee meeting Saturday
mornings. Mom has her Bible study Tuesday afternoons, goes to
women's group Thursday evening and teaches Sunday school. The three
kids divide their time between youth group, Bible clubs and
children's choir. There isn't a day of the week that someone in the
family isn't at church.
If this is a typical schedule for families in your church,
you're stressing them out.
Your church can stress out families by:
Focusing only on age-category
Dr. Roland Martinson, professor of pastoral theology and
ministry in Minnesota, says, "The church basically pulls families
apart by developing its scheduling simply according to [specific]
Having too many non-ministry
Your church can also stress out families by the kinds of
activities you plan. Dr. Martinson says, "Seventy percent of the
time that committed Christians spend at the church is time spent
sitting around planning for ministry rather than receiving ministry
themselves or doing ministry with other people-both of which are
life-giving. [This] tends to stress families out."
Churches that don't consider the costs of their programs can
stress out families. Churches need to ask: "How much money will
this program cost families? Is it scheduled during one of the only
times families have together? Will this program have babysitting
for young couples and single parents?"
You can make your church a better place for families.
Recognize the need
Preschool coordinator Linda Lockyear of Portland, says, "The
family is separated at every point...We see the divorce rate. We
see the traumatized children every week in church go through all
those emotions and those kinds of things. And we want to bring
together the family as a whole."
Get in touch
At some point in your church's life, people should be in small
groups where they can share what's happening in their families.
Lockyear dreams of the day her church will have small
family-groups. She says, "We want to look at more small-group
family devotional centers in homes during the week. We want four or
five families with kids who are a similar age who meet together and
have a devotional time and a Bible study time that can be geared
for a family."
If you overschedule, your committed families may resist
involvement. Senior pastor Harold Bullock of Ft. Worth, says,
"Whenever people are really stressed over a long time, they finally
come to a point that they drop out of programs. So, it's possible
for a church to operate for quite a while, and everything may look
like it's going fine, and then to experience a decline in different
programs-depending on what kind of demands are being placed on
people and how loaded down people are."
Watch the calendar
There are certain times of the year when families are more open
to church involvement. Planning around these times is good
family-friendly practice. Fall is a great time for ongoing
training-as long as it ends before Thanksgiving. In the spring, you
could plan a family retreat over Memorial Day weekend. Dr.
Martinson suggests having a family camp with intergenerational
programming and activities for each age group during the
Plan family activities
"We did an alternative format to VBS this year," says Lockyear.
"Instead of going traditional, we went with a family fitness camp
format...We had a finance seminar for [parents]. And we did our VBS
style program for the kids at the same time...When we finished,
people were saying, ÔThis has been great. The family got to
participate. We did it in a week's time. We were all trained and
equipped and we all had an opportunity to work together.' "
Don't plan "intergenerational" activities where families are at
the church at the same time, but never do things together. And when
families are together, target each age group so everyone receives
Use savvy planning
Bullock's church ensures family-friendly programming by using
three no-fail methods:
- Test marketing-"We go to each one of the parents with children
and get their input on programming." If there is enough of a
response, the staff implements that program.
- Options-Bullock says, "[We don't] lean on people emotionally,
trying to get everyone to attend everything. But instead we create
- Short-term programs-Bullock's church offers adult training as
short-term classes or seminars over two to four weekends. Or
they'll offer one three-hour seminar rather than three one-hour
seminars week after week.
"Training programs tend to be effective for only so many weeks,"
says Bullock. "The studies I've seen have said that any kind of lay
training event, secular or Christian,...usually starts having
attendance problems after the fourth week."
Partner with families
Avoid perceiving baby boomers' strong re-orientation to the
family as a threat to your programs. Rather, see your role as
"coming alongside" families to strengthen them. Dr. Martinson says,
"The baby boomer generation is expressing a deep need. They sense
their lives are being fragmented...The best thing a church can do
with that impulse with baby boomers is to move to...children and
Take this test to determine if your family is suffering from
church-stress-overload. If you or your family is stressed, chances
are other church families are too.
- Are daily chores often neglected because family members are
- Do family members bicker and say things they often regret?
- Do "little habits" seem to get on family members' nerves more
so than usual?
- Do family members have to apologize often for something they've
said in anger?
- Is a family member sleeping more than usual or experiencing a
significantly decreased or increased appetite?
- Is it difficult for your family to sit and rest for more than
- Have you forgotten appointments or meetings in the last two
- Are either parents avoiding interaction with the family through
affinities with another person, television, sports or work?
- Do family members often have colds, flu, headaches or
- Are family members wanting to drop out of church programs?
- Do church responsibilities make you feel angry?
- Are your family relationships weaker as a result of church
If you answered yes to three or more questions, your family is
stressed out. Take a look at your calendar to determine if the
source of your stress is church activities.
Christine Yount Jones is executive editor of CHILDREN'S
MINISTRY Magazine. Please keep in mind that phone numbers,
addresses, and prices are subject to change.