I recently attended a parent orientation at a church that’s been innovating in family faith-formation for a long time. As we were greeting families, I asked a few moms and dads how they were doing. I listened to their stories. There were parents whose work is requiring them to return to the office at least a few days a week, and they weren’t sure how they are going to manage daycare. Others had children who need rides to and from school because bus-driver vacancies have yet to be filled. Still others have decided to homeschool their children because of arguments over wearing masks. I held them all in prayer as I looked around the worship space.
I read an article in The Atlantic this month that painted a picture of parents who are not okay right now. The author, Dan Sinker, writes: “We're not even at a breaking point anymore. We're broken.” Parents are navigating so many variables. If we’re expecting things to go back to “normal” this year, for parents to show up and register their children for our programs, we might be disappointed. They’ve had to swim into the current for so long that they’re struggling to keep their heads above water.
The faith- formation team at this parish is determined to give their parents an experience of accompaniment. They’re committed to affirming parents. They told them: “In the midst of everything you have going on, you are here. We’re amazed at all you do. We are here to partner with you.” I told these parents that the research tells us that they matter most in their kids’ faith development (check out Vibrant Faith’s “Passing Down the Faith”webinar with Dr. Christian Smith for more on this). We can only do this together, only in community. I reminded them: “You’re being counter-cultural just showing up, folks. That tells me your faith means something to you.”
This church’s leaders made the point that families come in all shapes and sizes. One leader shared what it was like trying to have family meals as her pre-adolescent girls are now in numerous extracurricular activities. Another leader with four boys shared what it was like to send her firstborn off to college, visiting colleges with the next oldest son, and maintaining some normalcy for the younger ones in the midst of all these transitions. Another leader shared what it was like to advocate for her child who has special needs, in a year when everything seems uncertain. And the youngest of the faith formation team, a single woman, shared what it was like to move home during COVID— to be living in the house she grew up in once again. AS they shared their personal stories with amazing vulnerability, and you could tell the parents were connecting with them.
We gave parents an opportunity to talk with one another, to remember the feeling they had when they first held their little one, to share the dreams and fears they have for their children—and connect it all to their faith. Parents shared in small groups what their children have taught them about life, love, faith, prayer, and God. We unpacked those conversations in the larger group. There was so much hope. Parents thanked the leaders as they left the church that night.
What if this moment is the opportunity we need to really make the move from program-focused to relationship-focused, across all our ministries? What would that look like?
It might look like the night described above. It would mean we provide experiences for families based on what they need, that we find new ways to accompany them and offer hope. And it would mean that we affirm them in all the ways they are spiritually leading their families right now, offering ideas for how they might continue to do so in the future.
These are the essentials to this process:
Many church leaders are worried that families won’t return to church post-pandemic, but if we move toward relationship-focused ministries, I believe those relationships we build and the people we accompany will be the link to those who are not yet present. In this way you will be helping parents, families, and communities heal. I believe this is our call today.
Originally published on September 20, 2021 for Vibrant Faith’s Online Community - https://vibrant-faith-catalyst.mn.co/
I share my own thoughts here. They do not represent the opinions of any organization I work with or for. They are my own, and I reserve the right to change them when I please. I am still growing, and learning, and evolving.