Redefining family ministry to match the real world

For many working mothers such as myself, the period between the end of summer camp and the beginning of the school year creates a childcare quandary.  Do you take the week off of work to stay home?  Do you work out an arrangement with your manager to telecommute for part or all of the week?  Or, do you find alternative childcare arrangements which may end up being unreliable or cost-prohibitive?  Whatever made the most sense for your family, there was no getting around it – arrangements had to be made!

As families of all types settle back into the routine of work, school, and extracurricular activities, the church must think of new and innovative ways to respond to ‘the new normal,’ ever-seeking to meet the diverse needs of members to be actively involved and engaged in thriving and nurturing faith communities.

It’s no surprise to most of us that the definition of ‘family’ has evolved over the years from the historical model of a mother, father and children living together under one roof.  So why the firestorm in both mainstream and social media earlier this summer when the Pew Research Center released an analysis of census data that indicated, among other things, that 40% of American households with children under 18 now have a woman as the sole or primary breadwinner, with 37% of those women married mothers with incomes higher than their husbands?

With divorces; never-married, cohabitating couples; single parents; adoptions and the like, the landscape of the American family is changing rapidly. Stay-at-home dads are no longer an anomaly, and many couples no longer adhere to ‘traditional’ gender roles in the care and keeping of the household and offspring, instead deferring to a model of negotiation that finds both partners as equal participants in the division of labor at home.  Additionally, the racial/ethnic aesthetic of the American family continues to change via interracial marriages and transracial adoptions.

Whether you live in a large urban metropolis or a rural small town community, the reality of the numerous changing trends in family systems is impossible to ignore.  Because church pews are filled directly by the communities in which we reside and serve, it is imperative that the church pay attention to these trends and use the data to make congregational spaces more welcoming and inclusive of all.  This will not only help in retention of members, but will also open the doors to attract new members, particularly those family units that have historically felt ignored or unwelcome.

Redefining Family Ministry: questions to consider

Ministry to Families with Breadwinner Mothers

What does our theology say (or not say) about working mothers?

  • Is the image of father as ‘head of household’ lifted up?
  • What roles or volunteer opportunities are women asked to do by the church?
  • Are educational classes or other programs scheduled at times that are convenient for working women?
  • Is childcare provided for evening/weekend meetings at church?
  • Is your church helping single working moms find affordable childcare in your community?
  • How are these changing roles affecting men in the congregation?  How is the church responding to that?
  • How are children with working parents helped to be made to feel included?  How are their specific needs/challenges being attended to?
  • Are children’s programs during the day, when kids whose parents work are unable to attend?
  • Are there programs during school holidays to support families whose parents need to work?

Ministry to Families with Stay-at-Home Dads

  • What does our theology say (or not say) about stay-at-home fathers?
  • What roles or volunteer opportunities are offered for men who stay at home all day caring for their children? (i.e. are we using ‘Mommy and Me’ language and thereby excluding men or other caregivers?)
  • How are men treated when they are in ‘children’s settings’ (i.e. Sunday school, nursery), etc?
  • How are the unique ministry needs of stay-at-home dads being attended to?

Ministry to Interracial Families

  •  Is your church welcoming to people of different races or ethnicities?
  • If your church is a mono-cultural church, how will it be accepting of people of other cultures that may want to pursue membership?
  • Are there training or educational lessons for church leadership if the composition of the church is changing?
  • What impact does a changing composition of the church have on the church?

These lists are by no means exhaustive and are instead meant to act as a guide to begin (or continue) conversations within your local congregations around these issues.  The familial configurations listed are but a snippet of the many and myriad types of family units in our communities today.  Reach out to your congregations and your wider communities and ask them what they want and need from a faith community.  Let’s continue to do the work to ensure that all families are welcomed, included, and nurtured in our churches!

Kentina Washington, who earned a master of divinity degree in May from Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary, worked as a GCSRW office assistant until late August, when she began working a residency in hospital chaplaincy.

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