Many congregations are struggling to connect (or stay connected) with young families and their children as 34% of Gen Z and 29% of Millennials are religiously unaffiliated. 1 While there is a strong desire to have young families as a part of churches, there is often a disconnect between what families are looking for and what congregations offer as indicated in a 2015 Vibrant Faith survey of 926 parents and grandparents from across the United States. The study found that common congregational models for the Christian education of children, which often utilize school-based educational approaches, were losing their effectiveness. In particular, the study noted declining enthusiasm from parents and children for participating in traditional Christian education activities, such as Sunday schools.2
The National Study of Youth and Religion found that parents are the single most important influence in shaping religious beliefs, values, and practices of their children as well as the importance for churches to provide support and guidance to interested parents as they navigate the challenges of raising children today. Other research confirms that children “learn what they live” and that one of the most critical windows for faith formation may be between birth and age 3.3
For all of these reasons and more, it is important to rethink how the church approaches faith formation for families, children, and youth. Here are some thoughts for your consideration:
- Go out. Rather than the expectation of the families gathering at the church facility at a given time on a given day for a specific program, consider going out to the families where they are already gathering offering an experience that would be meaningful for them.
- Don’t assume. Ask families what type of learning experience they would like to see offered and how they would like them offered.
- Offer a different experience. Consider more experiential learning opportunities and perhaps even inter-generational given your context.
- Equip parents, too. Provide opportunities, tools, resources, and encouragement to equip parents to be a part of their children’s faith formation. The church and the parents are partners together to nurture the faith of the children.
- Assume nothing. Some parents have a solid faith foundation while others are new in their faith as they are simultaneously nurturing their children’s faith at the same time. These parents may need some different or additional support or resourcing.
- Don’t be afraid to ask. Hold focus groups with parents who are earnestly interested in nurturing the faith formation of their children. Be open to hearing what’s working, what’s not, and what could be helpful going forward to better equip parents to participate in their children’s faith formation and what the church could do to provide a stronger faith formation journey for children.
- Be flexible. What works one year or season may not work for another. What works for the church down the street may not work for your church.
- Evaluate. Have a clear understanding of what steps and outcomes towards faith formation look like and how to measure them. Evaluate often to know if what you’re doing is working and to stay on track. Make course corrections as needed.
There is one thing the church must be very clear about – nurturing the faith formation of children is NOT about growing the Sunday morning attendance or keeping the church doors open. Instead, helping children build a relationship with Jesus is at the very essence of what the church is about. It is our purpose! It is our why! When the reason we want to see children in church shifts from discipleship to survival, we have lost our way as followers of Jesus Christ. When discipleship of children is the driver, mature believers let go of their preferred methods, traditions, and favorite hymns and instead do whatever they can to introduce and nurture the faith of children and their families.
If your church is interested in reaching young families and helping them grow their faith through spiritual communities beyond the Sunday morning experience, join us on November 1, 2023, at 1:00 pm central. During this webinar, we will explore integrating children and young families into spiritual communities while creating additional revenue streams for the church. Click here for more information and registration.