Confession time: Before I was a parent, I could never understand when parents complained about how “hard” it was to get their kids out the door on Sunday mornings or to midweek programs.
Church didn’t start until 11 – and it started the same time every single week – so I figured, how hard it could be?
I discovered the answer to that question when Levi came along. How hard can it be? Answer: really, really, hard. Nearly impossible, even.
While I can’t prove it scientifically or with stats, I am convinced that Sundays are THE most difficult day of the week with children. When Levi was an infant, it was nearly guaranteed that he would be up all night on Saturday, spit up over his church clothes, have a blowout as we were heading out the door, or just be plain cranky.
Now that we’ve entered into the phase known as the “terrific twos” (insert eyeroll here), Sunday mornings mostly consist of a few tantrums and timeouts, Levi wanting to pick out his own outfit, getting up at an ungodly hour, and battling over what toys we are taking with us to church.
When I arrive at church on Sunday, any ounce of judgment I once felt towards families trotting in late has been replaced with empathy. “I wonder what their morning was like.” “Good for them for being here!” “They deserve a round of applause for making it today.”
Your kids’ clothes don’t match? At least they’re wearing clothes.
You got here 10 minutes before the sermon starts? Well, at least you’re here for the sermon.
Your kid is throwing a tantrum during prayer time? I feel you.
I sit with other parents in the back rows of our sanctuary. We are in solidarity as we pass fruit snacks and cheerios and try to keep our children (okay, mostly my child) from escaping on to the platform before it’s time to head to the nursery.
Whether you have children of your own or not, let me just tell you – Sundays are really hard for families with kids.
They may believe church is important, they may desire to be there on time (or even early), they may love every program and ministry you offer, but it doesn’t change the fact that Sundays are disaster days for most of us.
It doesn’t change the fact that getting everyone ready and the car ride to the service leaves many parents on the verge of tears.
It doesn’t change the fact that when they get to church, they often forget why they are there in the first place.
I am convinced then, that it is important for our church families to ask this question – how can we best serve the young families who are a part of our church family? I don’t believe this requires a complete overhaul of your existing church structure or programming. In fact, I think there are simple things EVERY church can do to welcome and serve young families with open arms.
Greet families warmly.
Even though I’m the pastor in our church, I feel important just as a parent when people in our church family take the time to say “Good morning.” When people who are old enough to be my grandparents ask how my week was and tell Levi he looks handsome, it makes me feel like I’m a part of a family.
I believe this is true for all young families – and is so simple to implement. Ensure that your ushers and greeters make a special effort to welcome young families into your church service. Give them a warm smile, get down at eye level with their kids, tell them how glad you are they are here today. Enlist people in your congregation to remember the names of kids, slip into rows before the service starts to ask parents how they’re doing, or to shoot a knowing smile when a child starts crying for more Goldfish or fruit snacks.
Even if it’s hard to get to church, it makes all the difference when someone intentionally takes the time to let you know they are happy you are present. Whether your church has 25, 250 or 2500, you can easily do this.
Be clear about the fact you are a family-friendly church.
It is one thing to say your church is “family-friendly” on a sign, bulletin or social media post, but it is another to be clear about it week-in and week-out. Here are some simple ways you can do that:
- Say it from the front! When you make your morning announcements or welcome people to the service, simply say “We’re especially glad to see all the families here today! It means a lot to us that you’ve joined us!”
- Make ‘noise’ an accepted part of your church culture. Yes, I believe that there are times when kids can be exceptionally rowdy and out of control, but most of the time, parents are doing their absolute best. It’s just a fact that children are not made to be perfectly still and silent. So, if children are present during a part of or all of your worship, embrace it. Accept the movement, whispers (and sometimes not-whispers), interpretative dance, snack wrappers crinkling and crying as a normal part of your church.
- Say it whenever you get the chance – “We are a church for families.” Communicate it on the platform, when you speak, at special events, on your church sign, in weekly social media posts, in one-on-one conversations – whenever you get the chance.
Ask families what they need from your church.
If you want to truly serve young families, ask them what it is they need from you. You may not always be able to provide it, but asking at least lets families know what they have to say matters.
You can do this through personal conversations, a church-wide survey, social media polls, an email ask – the possibilities are endless. Simply ask parents the question – “How can we serve you better?” and “What do you need from a church family?” I also like to accompany these questions with “What do you love about our church right now?” This helps me see what we’re already doing well – sometimes things I don’t even see!
Honestly, I had no idea what young families most needed until I started asking them. Where I thought they may have needed another program or ministry, they just needed someone to be in their corner. They had – and still have ideas – on how to best serve them, because well, they are them!
Make it a church for their kids too.
Children’s ministry can be a lot of work – but I believe it is some of the most worthwhile work a church can do. Regardless of your church size or staffing, I believe you can offer a ministry for kids that makes them feel like a valuable part of your church family. You don’t need a huge budget or volunteer base to do this. While I love our children’s program on Sundays, people are often surprised to find out it isn’t elaborate or high-tech. It is simply kids in a room with screened volunteers learning about the Bible through teaching and hands-on activities. Sometimes I write the lessons, sometimes we use a set curriculum, sometimes there are tech elements, but most often, there are not.
What it is, however, is designed to be about kids and to allow them to learn about and experience God in an age-appropriate way.
Beyond our kids’ programming though, I want kids to feel like church is for them too.
That’s why every single Sunday, even when it is chaotic and messy, we take time to have a “kids’ time” before we dismiss the children.
That’s why we take time every once and a while to have our kids sing on the worship team, take up the offering or hand out bulletins.
That’s why even when we don’t have regular kids’ ministry, we do something – even if its as simple as handing kids a coloring sheet and crayons when they come into church – to make sure they know “Hey! We didn’t forget you today!”
When church is a place kids want to come, it makes it easier for their parents to come too.
Regardless of the size or demographics of your church, I believe every church can be one where young families feel supported, wanted and valued. It may take effort, but it is so worthwhile. A church filled with families is one that has life, is growing and can make an impact for generations to come.
For more on the church, check out this post.