Working with fringe families
We want to invest in families, wherever they are on their faith journey or however much they engage with our church and community. We ran a ‘Lunch with Rachel’ free webinar on this topic, which you can watch on our Facebook page which goes into more detail and answers some of your specific questions. We can equip parents and carers, even if they are at the very beginning of their faith journey or we don’t see them very often, to be powerful spiritual influencers in their child’s life. Here are some suggestions for gathered events where parents are present, and events or groups where your primary connection is with the child.
Many churches run gathered events of some sort such as Christmas services, light parties or toddler groups. We often default to aiming it at children because we know the parents will enjoy their enjoyment - but it’s hugely powerful to help a whole family learn and grow together.
Our aim at these events is to take a whole family unit and move them forward in faith together by sharing faith and then equipping them to take it home with them. Three steps, which might help you to do this are to:
- Give them a clear glimpse of God in active life e.g. at a Christmas service, if your topic is ‘God is with us’, interview someone who has experienced something tough this year and has connected with God through that. Don’t underestimate the power of the ordinary story. While amazing stories of legs growing back or miracle money appearing in bank accounts do speak of God, even more impactful can be the stories where God has broken into a very everyday experience, like a child being bullied at school feeling strengthened by God to face them everyday, or the time a car broke down and you were completely stuck so prayed and the driver of the next car that stopped happened to be a mechanic who was able to help.
- Invite people into encounter. Give them an opportunity to try it for themselves. You could say something like ‘We’re going to take the next twenty seconds and say God is here and you can tell him anything you want in your head wherever you are’. Make sure it is something they can replicate on their own at home.
- Give them a next step to take it home. You can say ‘this exact thing that we just tried, you can do at home with nobody else around too. Next time you’re feeling alone, why not give it a go?’.
If you can, try to enable multigenerational relationships in these settings too. People are more likely to come back if they feel part of a community. There are lots of ways you can do this, for example having a ‘getting to know you’ board with a bit about different families; giving people time and specific questions to ask each other; encouraging people to invite someone knew they meet over for lunch or a playdate in the park. Let’s aim for a culture where our church community is so welcoming that families truly feel at home.
When our primary connection is with a child or teen
There are other scenarios where we never see the parents, we just see their children at a youth event or after school club. Here the steps are slightly different:
- Communicate. Be as open as possible about what is happening in our groups, consistently invite parents in to stay and participate and be as clear and open as you can be about what you are teaching and how you are doing it. Make sure that parents know you are for them, not trying to teach their child something that they are not sure about. Share positive things about their children and encourage them as parents.
- Invest in relationships with parents. Could you hang out at the school gates during drop off once a week, volunteer in classrooms or for school trips, get involved in PTAs or offer to host events at the church for free. There will be different opportunities in different churches but think about where you can position yourself so that you can get to know parents better.
- Have a natural next step in mind. As you get to know them, be open to what a good next step for them might be - offer it and help them to take it. This will look different in every family and situation so don’t assume ‘one size fits all’. For one parent it might be meeting up with another dad 1:1 over a drink at the pub, for another it might be an Alpha course and still another it might be including them in a church walk or weekend away.
For more on this, go to chapter 12 of It takes a church to raise a parent.