How can you raise your children to be among the 40% that have a sustainable Christian faith? Yes, only 40%. How does your marriage thrive among a cacophony of stressors that leave more than 50% of them broken? The answer to each of these questions for many of us is rooted in one common denominator—the church. But, for many of us the church has lost our family. I can relate.
The statistics are staggering.
Recent research suggests that 60% of Christian children raised in the church will stray from active faith engagement during early adulthood. Few things are more devastating to a devoted parent than watching their child struggle to translate the faith of their youth to the significant decisions of adulthood. Yet, this is what is happening to epidemic proportions.
For decades, we have seen marriages of churchgoers fail at the same rate as non-churchgoers. Only about half of them will survive.
Singles—whether parenting, dating, or just trying to find like-minded community—feel isolated in their faith journey—even while many of them sit among thousands in the church pews.
Does it sometimes feel like there is a disconnect between your faith and your personal and family health?
Pundits are quick to blame disturbing cultural trends in the media, education, and politics for the challenges families face. But, could the truth be deeper and more rooted in our faith tradition, in our churches?
From the foundation of America, the church has been a centerpiece of community. In fact, religious liberty was a primary motivation for our country’s founding. For most of American history, the community has looked to the church for answers to social, political, relational, and moral questions, especially during times of national crises. Generations of parishioners have clung to the words of pastors (as oracles of the gospel) to guide our beliefs and behaviors.
But, something is changing. Seriously changing.
Earlier this year, the Barna Group, a Christian-oriented research firm, reported “although church involvement was once a cornerstone of American life, U.S. adults today are evenly divided on the importance of attending church.” Data show that a slight majority (51%) of Americans believe that church attendance isn’t very important. Further analysis shows that among Americans under age 30, the results are even more staggering. Only 20% of these so called “Millennials” value church attendance.
Even among the minority of Americans who still consider themselves “regular” church goers, the frequency of attending has dropped precipitously to only one visit every four to six weeks.
More than one-third of non-churchgoers, report that church is just not personally relevant to them.
I have grown up in the church. My father has been a pastor for nearly all of my life. I have attended church weekly for practically my entire life. I have given significant time, intellectual, and financial resources to the church. In other words, I believe in the church in word and deed. I’m committed to Christ. I believe that the Lord desires us to commit ourselves to this form of faith and fellowship.
But, here is one thing I know even for a committed churchgoer like myself. Something about the church has changed. It isn’t what it was for me. Is it my fault? Is the church to blame? That is hard to answer.
It is hard for me to write this. But, this is how I feel—not as a minister, a scholar, or a relationship expert but as a father, a husband, a man. I’m disappointed in church.
I’m disappointed when my local church…
- Fails to reach my children with an inspiring gospel
- Is not a source of friends who are part of my inner circle to whom I am fully known
- Leaves me feeling less important when I’m not performing for it
- Seems less concerned about the future of me and my family and more concerned about its own future
- Lacks a commitment to helping me and my family fully develop what God has placed in us
I believe that others are experiencing the same disappointments that I am. This is why so many feel that church is no longer relevant for them.
This is not intended as an indictment of the committed volunteers and church staff who labor so hard in the trenches of the church. You are appreciated. I applaud you for serving the Kingdom. For much of my adult life, I’ve been one of those volunteers. I’ve led Christian Education departments with up to eleven ministries. I’ve run youth programs. I’ve conducted leadership development. I still conduct workshops in churches all over the country and lead the marriage ministry in my own local church.
So, why do we feel so disappointed with the church?
At the real risk of extreme oversimplification, I will offer my perspective.
After spending a lifetime in the church and many thousands of hours serving congregations—trying to follow what I discern as God’s path for me, I’ve come to the conclusion that the problem we’re facing is that churches are NOT family-friendly. Yes, its a generalization. But, I believe it to be true for most churches. Churches have lost the family.
What do I mean when I say churches are not “family friendly”?
Here is what I believe are the ten most common “family” problems areas plaguing most churches (in descending order of importance in my opinion).
- Pastors and church leaders are not trained in relationship education (I was shocked during my seminary days to learn that a Master’s of Divinity curriculum only required one class in relational counseling, though this is what most pastors spend the majority of their time doiong)
- Pastors’ and ministry leaders’ home life is in disarray (in one large survey, 77% of pastors felt that they don’t have a good marriage)
- Relationship education is rare (according to the Fragile Families and Well-being Study)
- Family-related outcomes (e.g., % married, % sexually active teens, % high school dropouts) are not measured as barometers of church health
- Biblical teachings are not well translated into contemporary practice—especially for children, youth, and young adults
- Blended family dynamics are rarely addressed—though they represent the “new normal” family constellation
- Only 18% of churches nationally have marriage and family ministries—among Black churches this precipitously drops to 3% (according to the National Congregations Study)
- Church does not feel like a safe place to be relationally sick
- Singles (especially single parents) and the elderly feel ignored
- Programming is not multi-generational (bringing together several generations in activities that appeal to each)
So, who’s responsibility is it to create a “family friendly” church?
Some might place the responsibility squarely at the feet of the pastor and church leaders. But, this would only be partially true. The truth is much more personal. You are the key to making your church more family friendly. But, how?
When disappointed, we’re quick to abandon our church in an often futile search for more “family friendly” church pastures rather than “growing where we are planted”—like my own pastor, Dr. C. Milton Grannum says. Churches need more of us to raise our hands and offer our skills to the cause. Churches need more parents to commit to being personally responsible for the children’s spiritual development rather than outsourcing everything to the church. Churches need members to be more faithful and disciplined in giving of their financial resources to allocate to family resources. But, there is more.
Each of us has to demand more of our church. Be more vocal with what we need. I’ve developed a 12-point “Family-friendly Assessment” that you can use to gauge what you should expect of your church. Download your free copy HERE (Click link to download). We have to stop accepting mediocrity when it comes to our families.
It isn’t enough to get a “good Word” on Sunday if it doesn’t enrich your family on Monday. It isn’t enough to experience emotional bliss during church service but tolerate an emotion-less marriage when you exit. It isn’t enough to hug your fellow church members on the weekend, but not hug your children all week. It’s not enough to lead the worship team on Sunday but rarely lead your family in worship or bible study.
What’s going on in most churches is just not enough!
We are walking in disobedience to God’s most fundamental precepts and the church is turning a blind eye—even worse the church is often contributing to the problem. Proverbs 22:6 says “train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he shall not depart from it”. Yet, our churches are not teaching us on how to discern the uniqueness of each of our children or how our specific child “should go”.
The bible tells us husbands to give ourselves for our wives in the way Christ gave himself to the church (Ephesians 5:25). But, the church seems more interested in what we husbands give to it rather than to our wives.
Proverbs 31 beautifully describes a virtuous woman. But, the church doesn’t help the young girl understand how to develop into one.
No. The church isn’t doing enough for families. As a result, they are leaving–in droves.
Churches are always looking for growth strategies. But, your church growth may depend on your willingness to re-commit to the family.
Here are 10 steps that you can encourage your church leadership to take to transform your church into a paragon of virtue for the family.
10 Steps to Growth Your Church’s Family Culture
- Promote a church-wide vision and strategy for family ministry
- Identify a pastor/elder who will be directly accessible to serve the needs of the marriage and family ministry leaders
- Recruit diverse age ranges in family ministry leadership
- Consistently offer training (some devised specifically for blended families) for ministers and laity
- Maintain a prayer covering over family ministry leadership
- Develop a structure for small accountability groups—include biblical study and prayer
- Hold pastors and leaders accountable for modeling healthy marriage
- Form strategic partnerships with other churches to leverage each other’s relationship enrichment programming
- Organize a community-wide marriage rally (outreach) – Celebrate marriage and family with other churches/community organizations
- Plan couple retreats for pastors and marriage and family leaders
Which of these is your church doing? Leave a comment below.
The stakes have never been higher for your family or mine. Family life is in crisis. Church life has reached a crisis point in our culture. The future of families and churches are intricately interlocked. Who will lead this transformation? Great leaders are forged in times of crisis. It has to be you.
I would love to hear your thoughts about your church and what it is doing to promote healthy families. Take a copy of the 12-point “Family-Friendly Church” assessment to your church leadership. Hold them accountable to it. Then do your part to make it happen.