Is your church stressing out families? Read on to discover if your innocent–but stressful–practices are pushing families away from church.
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 out…
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 focuses only on age-category programs. 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]age audiences.”
Your church has too many non-ministry activities. 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.”
Your church is insensitive. 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. Here’s how.
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.”
Evaluate scheduling. 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 summer.
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, ‘This 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 something.
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 options.”
- 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 parents’ 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, “This generation is expressing a deep need. They sense their lives are being fragmented…The best thing a church can do with that impulse is to move to…children and family ministry.”
Take this test to determine if your own 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 exhausted?
- 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 30 minutes?
- Have you forgotten appointments or meetings in the last two weeks?
- 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 stomachaches?
- 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 involvement?
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.