When Churches Want a Pastor Who Can “Bring In Young Families”

By Jan Edmiston, DMin ’01

Almost every church I’ve ever known has wanted to Attract Young Families. The reasoning behind this includes the following:

There are a few things wrong with this reasoning, including the fact that “attracting” people in general feels manipulative – as if people are “targets” to be used for our own purposes. Yuck.

Let’s be honest about the “why? Are we saying that we want these rare and valuable Young Families for what they can give to us?

What if – instead – the “why” of this demographic quest was about feeding souls and sharing authentic community? I always hoped – as a young mom – that church would provide adults that could help me nurture my children. I always wanted to know that – if my kids couldn’t come to me or HH with a problem – they would have other trustworthy adults to whom they could go (and they did.)

Young families are great. Old families are great. Families made up of child-free couples are great. Families of single people are great. Imagine if every church simply wanted A Pastor Who Could Bring In Broken People. Now that’s a church.

Also, the days are gone when Young Families were present in worship every Sunday. The statistics are in about how the definition of “regular worship” has changed since the 1950s. (“Regular” used to mean weekly. Now it means once or twice a month.)

Instead of seeking a Pastor who can bring in those vaunted Young Families, we need to call a Pastor who knows how to shift congregational culture. The culture in which we live and move and have our being has changed, but we are killing ourselves trying to maintain a dated congregational culture.

News flash: Most pastors will fail at “Bringing in Young Families.” Families of every kind are drawn to communities that are in touch with real life. For example, check out Carey Nieuwhof’s recent post about why even committed Christians do not worship as regularly as they did in previous decades. At least two of his “10 Reasons” specifically impact cultural changes connected to Young Families.

So how can we be the kind of congregation that welcomes Young Families for more than their energy and wallets? We can:

  1. Be real. Deal with real issues in sermons, classes, retreats, conversations, prayers.
  2. Listen to parents’ concerns. Listen to children’s concerns.
  3. Ask how we can pray for them. And then pray for them.
  4. Allow/encourage messiness. Noses will run and squirming will ensue. There might be running. There will definitely be noise.
  5. Check our personal Stink Eye Quotient. Do we grimace when a baby cries? Do we frown when the kids are wearing soccer uniforms?
  6. Refrain from expecting everyone to be the church like we have always been the church.
  7. Help parents, grandparents, and all adults become equipped to minister to children and youth. How can we learn to offer such loving hospitality to the younger people in our midst that they will always experience church as home?
  8. Do not use children as cute props. Yes they say the darndest things during children’s stories, but they are not there to entertain us.
  9. Give parents a break. Really. Help struggling parents get coats and hats on their kids. Hold an umbrella. Assist in wiping spills.
  10. Give parents a break administratively. Make it easy to participate. Minimize the unnecessary.

It’s also okay not to have Young Families in our congregations depending on the context. Some neighborhoods have very few young ones living nearby. But there are still people who crave some Good News.

I want a Pastor who can minister to whoever lives in the neighborhood in the thick of these cruel and beautiful times.

Jan Edmiston is the associate executive presbytery for ministry in the Presbytery of Chicago, where she has served since 2011. Prior to that she served congregations in northern Virginia and New York. She completed her MDiv at Andover Newton Theological School and her DMin in Christian Spirituality at Columbia Theological Seminary in 2001. She has graciously agreed to let us repost some of her blog entries (including ones from guest bloggers) from A Church for Starving Artists.

The Center for Lifelong Learning offers courses for those who minister to young families, all the way to courses for those ministering to the oldest. Check out our complete courses and events list here.

25 thoughts on “When Churches Want a Pastor Who Can “Bring In Young Families””

  1. Wondimu Girma says:

    This is exactly true. Blessings!

  2. Rich says:

    It is very difficult to build relationships or teach/disciple when people only come erratically/occasionally to church instead of most every week. We go to school, work and the sports teams we play for on a regular schedule; why should church attendance be only we feel like going, have nothing better to do, or don’t sleep in? How about making our church so engaging that people will be eager to come and hate to miss (not because it’s a duty or required)? Biblical and relevant preaching and classes, engaging worship (not entertainment) and genuine caring relationships. And, church is more about God than us.

    1. Anne says:

      It doesn’t seem that hard — I attend a Saturday evening service at my Episcopalian church regularly (weekly), but several members of my church don’t attend that often. They are still known and welcome when they do show up.

    2. Don Fawcett says:

      Much in this blog that is very helpful, yet I struggle with the concept of the “new committed” being there once or twice a month. The congregational life of the early church seemed to function as the center of life, and I believe that is God’s design, not an afterthought. We are somehow trying to accommodate culture (something we cannot escape to a degree) but I resonate with what Rich is saying to a large degree. Now, we seem to be talking about a “churchless” Christianity, or following Christ without church. The apostolic writers seemed to have a much higher view of the church than that.

      1. paula says:

        Right. I think the “how many times each month” question is beside the point. I just can’t quite see our congregations as currently constituted providing real community and intimacy. Perhaps that’s not what we had in the 50’s or 60’s either, just because people were there more often. But now we say to someone new, perhaps you’ll meet someone at coffee hour this week — and maybe you’ll see them again in 3 weeks, if you happen to be there at the same time. Maybe they will become the person who prays for you and your child with problems, but not likely if they don’t learn your name, don’t come to your home, and you don’t rise to the top of their activities list. It doesn’t have to suggest to our kids that religion isn’t the center of life — but it might. And when it is merely one activity on a list — it will be pretty easy for our kids to walk away from it. So its not how many times you’re there, its how deep are your connections with others, how much growth is possible, etc.

  3. Jim Suren says:

    I don’t have to worship on Sunday…. It’s not that I Must worship on a Sunday (or other day I choose as my Sabbath)…… I TRULY GET TO WORSHIP ON THE SABBATH!!! Jim Suren Crawfordsville, Indiana

  4. Jeannette Jones says:

    I think it is the responsibility of ALL the church members and their families….made of whatever backgrounds, old, young, single…to at least invite their friends and neighbors to attend their church, or to attend an event at their church. And it is everyone’s responsibility to be a welcoming church when those people show up and to show kindness, politeness, and genuine hospitality. It should NOT fall squarely on the shoulders of THE PASTOR.

  5. Reblogged this on preachtruthyoumoron and commented:
    love this!

  6. Barry says:

    As a pastor, I want CHURCH that does these things. The pastor alone cannot do it. ..but of course s/he does set the tone and lead the vision. And it’s VISION for a changed culture that’s usually missing.

  7. Sharon Lestor says:

    Not sure of “the angle” this person has when he speaks of bringing in new families for the money. In many large churches, the elderly give 2 to 3 times more as those with young families. As an elderly member dies, it will take two or three new young people to attend and tithe (at whatever %) to “make up” for the elder person who died. Just wanted to have that fact said.

  8. al schubert says:

    Sure, many churches want a pastor to bring in those young families. But he becomes a problem when a child makes noise, a new adult wants to hear more modern music, the new people outnumber the oldtimers….etc. Lived through all of these. If love is the center of what we do maybe then with God’s grace we’ll see the Spirit blow within our parishes.

  9. Shirley A. Weller says:

    “Make new friends, but keep the old. One is silver and the other is gold.”
    Indeed, the church needs to attract young families, though difficult to get regular commitments. The church should not discount the older generation. They are the mainstay.

  10. Linden Wong says:

    For me a pastor who rightly handles the scriptures solves many of the attendance issues.

  11. jb says:

    It is true that churches SAY they want young families, but sometimes in practice the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak. I was approached by an older deacon asking me if I thought my kids were smearing the glass windows. We have seven kids with four ten and younger, so I replied, “I am sure they are.” You just have to look at the height of the finger prints and you’ll know they were made by kids. And since my kids are always at every church event, it stands to reason that they must be the glass smudgers. If you have glass doors, you should expect to have to clean them, right. Also got complaints that they leave the lights on after they use the bathrooms ….

    1. Wendy says:

      While the deacon might seem a little cranky, and might be focusing on the wrong things, there is a difference between being blamed and taking responsibility for something. Perhaps you might consider becoming a part of the window cleaning ministry, and you might even involve your children as they are able. It might be a manageable way to take part in the family of the church, even though I’m sure time management in your large family is challenging. You don’t have to wash all the windows, just pick one and make it yours. It’s a delightfully losing battle staying ahead of fingerprints on Windows in a living church that lovingly includes and encourages children, but being a part of the community might mean washing an occasional window. You can chose to see his statement as a criticism and be offended, or as an invitation to be part of a real community and serve.

      1. J. O'Neal says:

        No, he didn’t mean it as an invitation to be part of a real community. He meant to shame. It’s easy to understand why young families might prefer to spend time with those who actually welcome them. We need to teach grown-ups to behave.

    2. MLSP says:

      This is so ours. There are lots saying they want more, but then complaining about them, sticking the parents to do all of the children’s activities and never allowing them to participate in services, and not wanting the children in the sanctuary with the parents – they want them sent to a nursery.

  12. terivl says:

    Yes!!

  13. I left a church because the minister insisted kids sit through the service which was usually 90 minutes. There was no nursery as he didn’t want one. We went down the road (and joined) to a church that had a children’s sermon and then Sunday school while we had our adult service. AND that is where the kids in our town went to church. I feel it isn’t the way to teach children to love God, and their church, by making them sit in a pew for 90 minutes every Sunday morning. I told our minister that before we left, as we had many conversations over this problem. His solution was I should bring candy and books for my kids while they sat through his sermon, communion, etc. The difference for our family was huge when we left and found our new church. Our kids got up on Sunday and ‘wanted’ to go to church rather than begging not to. We need to address children’s needs and attention spans to teach them church is family, and love, and that God is in their life.

  14. daryl says:

    much of this sounds like the old thinking that if only people would walk through our church doors at a certain time on sunday morning, then they would “see god at work” and want some of that. many of our neighborhoods, though not our churches, have plenty of young people and young families. maybe we should get out of our churches and join god at work in our neighborhoods instead.

  15. yattwood says:

    GUESS WHAT??? _____NOT_____EVERYONE IS MARRIED!!!!! I am TIRED, as a widow and 1958 Baby, of being treated as if I am the carrier of some filovirus (eg: Ebola, Marburg) in the church – I am INVISIBLE, PERSONA NON GRATA (and yes, I’m SHOUTING!!!). Single people, especially OLDER SINGLE PEOPLE (never married, divorced, widowed) have gifts for the church, but you would NEVER KNOW IT, for the CONSTANT DRUMBEAT of ‘Young Married Couple With Children’ in the church and Christisn world!!!!!

    1. Mike Stidham says:

      For that matter, married people with grown children are invisible too….UNLESS the kids start sprouting grandchildren! But yeah, I hear you. I was born the same year as you and spent a few years as a “single again”, as did my new wife. It didn’t help that my then second wife-to be was disabled, as that knocked her further out of the “hip upscale demographic”. With this sort of prejudice toward older adults and singles, we’re going to end up with a two-tier church.

    2. Sarah Franks says:

      Thank you! I am a single, never married female in my 40’s with no children and quite a bit of the time I feel like I am not wanted.

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