March 2020
Beyond the Red Doors

Be A Blessing for Young Families

Tell the sweet story of Christ and His love,
Tell of His power to forgive;
Others will trust Him if only you prove
True, every moment you live.

Make me a blessing, O Savior I pray,
Make me a blessing to someone today.

For diverse reasons, church attendance has declined over the last two generations. This is not surprising news. But there is also good news if we pay attention to the communities that surround us – and particularly, the people raising children in those communities. There is a natural curiosity, an innate yearning for spirituality and community at work in our culture today and little residual institutional bias. Today’s young parents have definite ideas about the cultural context they long to create for their children. I propose that the church has an important role to play in that context, a role that, even today, has broad popular appeal in our country.

I offer the suggestions that follow for you to consider in your unique situation. They are based on a few common traits in today’s churches – limited funds, underutilized space, older, faithful folks and lots of grace and love to give.

Preparation

When you decide to connect with families beyond the doors of your church, there are some steps to take to ensure that you are visible and set up to welcome them.

  • Review and refine your Google rating and comments for your church. This is also a good time to update your web presence, so that it reflects your commitment to supporting families with children.
  • Choose a room for young person activities and make sure it is inviting and comfortable.
  • Solicit the help of a coordinator to welcome and assist in organizing activities for young people.

Community involvement

Here are just a few ways that you can look beyond your church’s doors to share your space and your interest in supporting families and activities in your community.

  • PTA Affiliation – Introduce yourself to the leadership of your closest elementary school and its PTA. Offer to assist with activities and fundraising.
  • Young Moms Support Group – Being a mom today is challenging. Offer meeting space for a self-maintaining mothers support group at your church.
  • Young Parents Meet Up – The challenges parents face today are hard on relationships. Demands are many and varied. Ask long-term relationship partners within your congregation to offer a discussion group.
  • Adopt a Grandparent – The transient lifestyle of our culture today creates loneliness for both seniors and families. Consider setting up “support” families where love develops and the benefits are many.
  • Team Sponsorship – Meet with the leaders of the girls’ and boys’ softball teams and see if your church could sponsor a team.
  • Scout Troop Sponsorship – Call your local Scout headquarters and offer space and other support for their program at your church.
  • Children’s Music Group – See if there’s a community music group for children that would be grateful for rehearsal or meeting space in your facility.
  • After School Homework Group – Work closely with your local elementary school to see about setting up a homework session after school one afternoon a week. There may be retirees in your congregation who would enjoy giving their time to helping students.

Church Programs and Liturgy

You may see some of those who bring their children to your building for Scouts or music lessons or attend the mom’s group or parents meet up on Sundays. Here are some way to make parents and young people welcome in the life of your congregation.

  • Acolyte Service and Children’s Choirs – The desire to serve seems natural and innate. Families become more involved with the church when their children have a role to play in Sunday services.
  • Children’s Bible Study –Learning is important in this context, as many young parents today have had little or no experience of spirituality and religion growing up.
  • Family Service –Introduce a 30-minute service for families that includes song, story and communion. In my experience, for that service the children’s ages range from 2 to 6 years. Parents and children learn together and love the informal interaction.
  • Celebration of Communion –An annual celebration, similar to First Communion, of the sacrament of the eucharist. Children attend classes to prepare. Families are asked to participate with snack and activities.

These efforts – Preparation, Community Involvement, Church Programs and Liturgy – should assist you in connecting and supporting families with children in your community. I advise you to start slowly with something that appeals to your faith community and fits your unique situation.

There is tremendous grace at work when we intentionally address the needs of those in our communities. You and your flock can be a blessing to families who need community, empathy and love. The needs and the response of this new constituency can fire up your congregation and kindle an energy that will make your church a blessing in your community.

The Reverend Timothy P. Carr is rector at All Souls Episcopal Church, Miami Beach, Florida. Prior to becoming All Souls rector in 2019, he served at St. John’s Church in Boonton, NJ. Carr is married to Dr. Edwin A. Acevedo who is a Superintendent of Schools. They have an adopted, grown son, Mario. Their dogs, Barney, a cocker spaniel and Teddy, a rescue terrier, both enjoy the role of parochial canines.

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This article is part of the March 2020 Vestry Papers issue on Beyond the Red Doors