By Rev. Dr. Anna Hall
When I help churches through our Church Vitality Assessment, there is one comment that I see again and again.
“We need more young families.”
I also hear “We need younger folks to serve in leadership roles,” and “We are declining because of a lack of young families, children, and youth.” I know that this challenge is top of mind for so many of you out there trying to live into God’s calling in a time of national church decline. It can be hard when you believe a healthy church is generationally diverse and you look out on Sunday mornings and see only gray hair. While I believe that God has a calling for every church, no matter what color your hair or what your age bracket, I completely understand the anxiety caused by seeing your beloved congregation age.
However, when I read these statements by members of churches that are already struggling to minister to their existing members, much less their community, I have to wonder if they actually know any young families. You see, the young families I know in my networks of friends and relations are struggling. They are stretched so thin they are near the breaking point.
This study by researchers at Ohio State University shows that parental burnout may be at an all time high these days. Some of this increase is due to the pandemic, but studies as far back as 2017 cite rising burnout rates, simply because of the ever-increasing demands of modern parenting. As many as 66% of parents experienced symptoms of parental burnout during 2021. Mothers were particularly affected along with parents of children who have special needs. Burnout like this is strongly associated with parental depression, anxiety, and substance abuse. Parents are more isolated than ever from community and family support, feeling like they have to do everything on their own. They feel torn between doing a good job at work and being a good parent. Simply put, these parents need help.
Yet the churches I hear saying the most about young families are also saying that they are tired and wanting to pass the baton of work and leadership to a new generation. They see young families as a source of help to them as they age, without considering the great needs of any family with school-age children right now. Trust me when I say, these young families that I know do not have the capacity to take on one new thing. Some of my friends and acquaintances with young children are or have been involved with churches, and too often I hear stories of them being offered no help and support at all, while being asked to serve in leadership year after year without a break. Can you blame them for taking church off the “to-do” list?
If there was one question I would ask any church that wants more young families, it would be this:
Why do you want them?
I might go on to ask:
Do you want them simply to help you do your work? Or are you called to minister to them?
If the answer is the latter (and I truly hope it is), I invite you to first consider what the families in your neighborhood actually need. And the best way to do that is to ask them. When was the last time you reached out to your neighbors to simply ask: What do you need? And how can we help?
Of course, this doesn’t only apply to young families, these are great questions to ask all of our neighbors if we seek to love them as ourselves. The key here is seeing your neighbors as more than fodder for the survival of your church. It means seeing each and every one of them as beloved children of God. It means loving your neighbors, even when their needs far outweigh anything they can offer in time or service.
This is the great commandment. How will you live into it today?
If you are interested in exploring how you might better love and serve your neighbors, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org to learn about all the ways Convergence can help.