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Future full of faith: Supporting parents in raising faithful children

Face paint, tailgates, screaming crowds. Fans decked out in their favorite team’s gear. The rush to buy season tickets. These are the tell-tale signs of the arrival of the next sports season. It becomes a family affair as babies are given home team onesies and toddlers are given mini jerseys.

Parents want to pass on these important traditions to their children and raise them to cheer for “the right team.” It’s almost second nature since sports are so ingrained in many cultures, but it’s not so simple when it comes to raising children in the faith.

So many opportunities exist for congregations to welcome and encourage parents and their young children. Too often, however, they’re passed over or planning falls through. In this new year, it’s time to change that!

Working with Dr. Dawn Rundman, Director of Faith Formation Resource Development and Assistant Director of ELCA Relations at 1517 Media, ResourceUMC has developed some tips to help your church better support parents with the resources and strategies they need to raise faithful children.

 

Anytime Is a good time

Parents know busyness well. On average, they will spend more than 27 hours each week on parenting tasks like cooking for the family, dropping kids off at school or attending outside activities.

Avoid putting time-consuming expectations on parents with lots of reading and heavy topics. Rundman expressed concern on this issue, “If families think that joining a congregation is going to have them doing all this extra stuff, that's really hard to sell.”

Creating faith-building opportunities for children out of everyday moments is key, especially when it comes to prayer, according to Rundman. Simple practices can include saying a prayer before meals, teaching children a prayer to say when an ambulance goes by or reading short Bible stories during their bath time.

Your church family can play a huge part in modeling these practices for parents. If you suggest a practice, do it every single time your parent group meets or send out digital resources to describe the exercise and remind them to repeat it. “Ordinary Blessings for Parents” by Meta Herrick Carlson provides helpful examples to start finding the sacred in everyday moments.

Augsburg Fortress makes Bible time with children easy with their Frolic First Bible. It includes 20 Bible stories of less than 60 words each, which can be read in under a minute – perfect for families on a time crunch.

 

If you build safe communities, they will come

The church is a place where individuals come together to grow deeper in their relationship with God. People expect it to be a safe space, but that is not always the case.

Churches should create spaces where children are protected and valued. Maintaining an up-to-date child protection policy and regularly training your volunteers are two ways to do this. If possible, try to include infant/child CPR and first aid courses and encourage your entire congregation to participate so that everyone is prepared.

After this, evaluate your church facilities and programming to determine how family-friendly you are and identify areas for improvement. What opportunities exist outside of Sunday morning to engage parents and their children in new ways?

Rundman recommends that congregations experiment with new forms of community, like age-appropriate playgroups. Host a gathering on a weekday morning or afternoon. Some parents stay home and having a moment outside of the house can help them slow down and feel peace.

Offering spaces where stressed-out, sleep-deprived parents can bring their children to play while being fully vulnerable creates room for relationships to develop. Even more, as those children grow with authentic faith modeled around them, they’ll be more willing to step up and volunteer later in life.

Taking the next step can be challenging. Rundman’s book, “Little Steps, Big Faith” can help you identify the best ways to build safe spaces that foster child faith development.

 

Encourage them, support them, love them

The amount of parenting information available today is overwhelming when compared to just a few decades ago. While helpful, some of this information can be damaging to parents.

Social media and blog posts depicting unrealistic family life have caused over one in five parents to experience feelings of inadequacy and depression. Over 40% feel anxiety and a need to overperform due to such idealized images, according to a study by Priory.

Rundman believes the church can play a role in supporting parents which, in turn, helps them support their children in living a life of faith: “There is so much media out there that makes parents think that they’re not doing enough, that they’re not enough, that they’re messing things up. Parents should know that they are enough and that they just need to try something. Churches need to be prepared to support and love these parents and their children if they want to grow.”

Your congregation has a wonderful chance to take the stress off of parents and help their children develop a stronger faith. When they come to worship, have volunteers pass out coloring books and other activities that reflect the message in a child-friendly way. Commit to keeping your nursery open and staffed during all church services so that families have a place to go, if necessary, that is stocked with toys, snacks and Bible stories.

If your congregation offers Sunday School, ensure you have a curriculum that ties Scripture into practical lessons. The “Spark: Activate Faith” and “Whirl” curricula from Augsburg Fortress help children see exactly how they can put their faith into action. By keeping the learning flexible and fun, you allow the children to ask tough questions and give parents a foundation for continuing the conversation afterward.

 

Conclusion

The message is relatively simple. The church is a place where people can show up and feel loved for who they are. God's grace is present and can be seen in the relationships between people. Churches have the power to be safe, supportive places where parents can find compassion and hope, children can find love and nourishment, and congregation members can find new ways to live out God’s call. If this becomes the focus, perhaps your congregation can find revitalization you didn't even know was possible.

 

Conner Prusha is a senior creative content specialists for the Marketing/Creative Strategies team at United Methodist Communications in Nashville, TN. This article is sponsored by 1517 Media.