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 email@example.com to learn about all the ways Convergence can help.
Excellent article that addresses this issue (and others) very well. What is the process to gain permission to share with my congregation?
As our congregation began the process of search for a new settled pastor, our newly elected interim, Rev. Kent Organ, began only moments after voting our approval, when his first words were “How does your community know who you are?”
His question was met with a prolonged moment of silence before one hand was raised.
I am not sure what I can do for my neighbors, although I know all of them on this private street. They helped me considerably during the “lockdown”, but I am the “elderly” at 88-90. Any suggestions? I do attend church service and bible study on Zoom, but though the sanctuary is now open, I cannot get there. I believe I am the oldest member of ACCUCC.
Important and effective messaging. How’s the audience?
This is well written. Hits the nail on the head.
Young family’s needs
Sounds very interesting..
Its not like before out there..
The challenges are the same..people are less equipped to do the job .
Thank you! I’ve had the sense that my church is wanting to attract younger people in order to insure its own survival rather than feeling called to minister to families and young people who are unchurched. I suspect they are unchurched because Churchianity has failed to meet them where they live and failed to offer them the spiritual support and inspiration they need and deserve.
I belong to one of these churches. We formed in 2013 as a UCC church. Deciding to do church differently in our very conservative community. We are a mainly 50 and above congregation. No young families and a small leadership team that is in need of new people to take their place. As you stated, everyone loves the church, but no one is willing to take on the leadership of it.
Trying to let our community know about us and how we are different has been our goal for several years. We are down to about 20 members and a half time pastor. It’s been a journey..
Anna, thank you for your actual, insightful, and honest article. The nation is in the midst of a spiritual crisis and many churches are caught in the cycle of woe. You have provided excellent cues to motivate us to be engaged in the lives of our neighbors and to encourage them to find shelter and community in local churches. People are on overload and don’t need to be invited to come to church where they may face more chores, responsibilities, and work. They need a place that is safe, worshipful, and receives them as a priority where people are respected, honored, and allowed to rest in God’s love. “Remember the Sabbath and keep it holy,” is more than a slogan. It is an instruction because God knows people need to take a time out from all the tasks and responsibilities they face everyday. Sabbath is a precious gift from God so we will take a timeout from our everyday, endless rushing around and taking care of all the business that demands our time. Going to church is an opportunity to be inspired and renewed so we can face the week ahead.
Asking the proper questions is key to transformation! Thank you for this article.
Anna – this is excellent and wise. Thank you!
Your article is excellent! I would like to share it with my congregation in the church’s upcoming newsletter. I’m writing to ask if I have your permission to do so.