Any church that wants to thrive must reach young families. In fact, I'd go as far as to say any church that wants to exist in the future, must reach young families.
A healthy church is made up of all generations, just like a family is. Kids, teenagers, parents, grandparents and great-grandparents.
But if a church only has grandparents and great-grandparents, it will eventually die as the members die. Young parents and their children must be a substantial part of a congregation for it to have a future.
That being established, how does a church reach young families? How does a church see its nursery, preschool, elementary and student ministries full of the life and excitement that the next generation brings? How does a church bustle with the energy young families create?
If you are going to reach today's young families, the starting point is to know who they are. Let's talk about that.
Today's young parents are primarily made up of Millennials. And the sad fact is many churches are void of Millennials. Studies by Barna and other researchers reveal that church attendance is the lowest in recent history ... especially among Millennials.
- 59 percent of Millennials who were raised in church have dropped out.
- 35 percent of Millennials have an anti-church stance—even to the point that they believe the church does more harm than good.
Millennials are the least likely adult generation to attend church. Just go to your average church on Sunday morning and look around. You will see it's true.
But before we place the blame on a new generation of parents, I think, as the church, we have to take a hard look in the mirror. Remember, 59 percent of the young parents who were raised in our churches have dropped out.
If we are going to reach those who have dropped out, then I believe we need to change what caused them to drop out in the first place. And if we are going to reach Millennials who have no previous church background, then we must be willing to gear our ministries to meet the needs of today's young parents rather than continuing to do ministry like we have for the past 30 years.
Let's talk about seven keys to reaching today's young families.
1. Give them a voice. Rather than just being told what to do, Millennials want to speak into what they are involved in. Communication must happen through collaboration if we want to engage young parents.
Think about it. Are you giving Millennial parents the opportunity to provide input and insight into the ministry? Are you allowing them to serve in key leadership roles? When you combine the wisdom of Boomers with the fresh ideas, creativity and insight of Millennials, you get a dynamic that can't happen if you leave one out.
How about creating some focus groups with Millennials parents? Invite them to provide feedback, ideas and direction to the ministry. How about inviting Millennials to help shape the future of the ministry?
Perhaps many of them have dropped out because they wanted to do more than just sit on a pew for an hour a week and receive a lecture. With thousands of online sermon options, they can sit home and do that.
It's not the sermon that is going to bring Millennials in. It's giving them the opportunity to speak into the ministry and help build it.
2. Keep it simple. Today's young families are bombarded with messages. Social media and technology sends hundreds, if not thousands of messages their way every day. This creates a noisy buzz that is hard to break through. Especially if you complicate the message you are trying to get through to them.
Simple programs. Simple messaging. Simple vision. Simple communication. That's what it takes to get your message through to today's young families.
3. Give them something worth giving their time to. Millennials want to make a difference. They are not interested in playing church. When a church is nothing more than a social club, they check out.
Millennials care deeply about helping those in need. They will give their time, energy and resources to those who are involved with this. You can see this in their engagement with companies who donate some of their profit to charitable causes.
Let them find those causes through your ministry and they will engage.
Balance Bible study and worship with serving in the community and overseas. Balance giving toward your local ministry with giving toward those in need both locally and internationally. Balance being inside the walls of the church with serving the city outside the walls of your church.
Millennials want to change the world. Show them how they can change the world through the church, and they will be drawn to it.
4. Focus on what you're for just as much as what you're against. The world sees the church as narrow-minded, judgmental and hypocritical. That's what we've become known for.
That's the opposite of what Jesus said we should be known for, isn't it? He said the world should know us because of our love for one another.
I don't believe that means we should never stand for the truth. We should. Millennials are looking to the church for guidance about relationships, sex, parenting, finances and more. We must help guide them to God's plans in these matters, because His plans lead to a truly fulfilling life.
But we must balance the truth we share with the love we demonstrate.
When Millennials see how much we love those around us, they will be drawn to the truth and accept it. It's about relationship, right? Love opens the door for Millennials to receive the truth of God's Word.
5. Be a community rather than a clique. Take a peek inside many of the dying churches in our land, and you will find a small clique of people who are happy and content for it to stay that way. They have their comfortable group and are very content to just "hang on 'til Jesus comes."
Oh yes, they will smile at a visitor, but they wouldn't think of changing anything that might make a guest consider coming back. Usually, the church is built around a small clique of families who go through the motions of putting their hour in at church each week.
What ends up happening is the church become a small clique of people and families that never grows or reaches anyone outside its four walls. And they are OK with that.
If you are going to reach young families, you must create a church community where new people are welcomed and can get connected quickly. The cliques must be adjusted so they become welcoming communities.
Millennials are longing to get connected and develop relationships. Someone they can do life with.
6. Transparency. Millennials are tired of seeing hypocrisy in the church. When church leaders are involved in adultery, fraud, lying, abuse and other scandals, Millennials run the other way. And can you blame them?
If we're going to reach young families, we must stop covering up these atrocities and confront them head-on. We must practice what we preach and live aboveboard. Our words must match our actions.
We must make church finances available for every member, so they can see where dollars are being spent. Leaders must be committed to upholding their integrity and going the second mile to avoid even the appearance of evil.
7. Take a risk. Change is always a risk. But the greater risk is to do what you've always done. You know how it goes. If you keep doing the same thing, you will get the same result.
If what you're doing now is not reaching young families, then guess what? Nothing is going to change that unless you change what you are doing.
This next Sunday, I want to challenge you. Take a close look at your ministry. What do you see? A mostly older group of people with young families and their kids being few and far between? If that's what you see, are you willing to take some risks to change that?
Let me ask you like this: Is reaching the next generation of parents and their children worth going out of your comfort zone for?
Will you work to create a church environment that they will be drawn toward?
There's only one alternative: a slow death for your ministry.
And that's not what Christ wants. He wants the church to be a healthy, thriving community, made up of all generations. Growing and serving and changing the world together.
Dale Hudson has been in children's ministry for over 27 years. He is the director of children's ministry at Christ Fellowship Church in south Florida. Christ Fellowship has nine campuses and ministers to over 25,000 people on weekends. Dale leads a children's ministry staff team of over 70 and a volunteer team of over 2,600. He has authored 100 Best Ideas to Turbocharge Your Children's Ministry, 100 Best Ideas to Turbocharge Your Preschool Ministry, Children's Ministry in the 21st Century, Sunday School That Works, the churchleaders.com Top 100 book, and If Disney Ran Your Children's Ministry.
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