On Sunday, we announced that my wife and I are expecting the birth of our second child. I still smile at the reaction from the congregation as we played the announce video and the ultrasound image flashed onto the screen. There was excitement, joy, and, yes, hope.
We are right there with those emotions. We have long desired a second child, and that it is finally happening is a blessing and a joy. There is a part of me that wants April 2020 to come now. I don’t have a lot of patience for standing around waiting. I’m pretty sure Abbi is ready for me to find something to occupy my mind so I’m not bugging her about getting ready now.
There is, however, a lot of work that goes into getting ready for a new baby. There are the obvious preparatory needs, such as the doctor’s appointments, purchasing new items, and getting the house ready for a new child. There is also the harder work of preparing your children, if you already have any, on what that new life will look like and, of course, that you will not love them any less.
All of this work makes me wonder … what does it look like to get ready for new families and children in the church?
Every church that I have served has told me two things: they want to grow and they want more children. That is a great and holy desire. Jesus, himself, says that we should welcome the children and bring them to him. It is a goal that I have to grow and see more families become part of the life of the kingdom of God, but what does that look like? Have you ever thought about what it actually means to get ready for more children and families to come?
Our first reaction to those questions might be to simply invite and expect people to come. There is a deeper work that is involved in making room for children and families. It is a work that is necessary if we are to be about the work of loving God and making disciples of Jesus Christ.
Making room for children means recognizing how family life, today, is a lot different than what many of us knew from generations past. Most families are juggling schedules that have them in different directions throughout the day. I see that in my own family with trying to juggle three therapy appointments each week. There is not a lot of free time that is not already scheduled out.
At the same time, most families need at least two-incomes to provide for their family’s needs. We need to understand all of that, because if we place upon families the expectations of our time it will turn young families away. That is because we are not listening or understanding what it is like for them and the challenges the face. The most important thing we can do in making room for families is to simply understand the dynamics many face today in raising their children.
It also means that we cannot see bringing in new families into the church as a way to “keep the doors open.” Families looking for a place to connect will immediately pull away if they sense they are only accepted in order to maintain the status quo and the financial requirements of the church. When our outreach to new people is simply for institutional reasons, it will miss the larger point of what we are trying to accomplish. The goal has to be about bringing new families, because we desire all people to know the love of God and to build relationships with them.
To live that out, we have to be willing to accept some changes in order to reach new people. We cannot expect to do the same things over and over again that are not necessarily reaching new people and expect to grow the church. Change is always a prerequisite to grow and reach new people. What might need to change in me and what might need to change in us, so that we do become a place where all are welcome to experience the love of God? It might mean something as simple as the style of worship and incorporating newer songs into worship. It might also mean changing our attitudes towards people. Regardless, we cannot expect to keep doing the same things and reach new people. Something has to change.
Most importantly, though, making room for children and families means that we have to love the very people Christ calls us to reach. Without that very desire to love – to build relationships, to pray for, and to grow with one another in Christ – we will be unable to make room for anyone, let alone families and children. The very essence of our faith is centered on a desire to love God and love one another. That cannot just be a mission strategy. It has to be the core principle of who we are and how we live in response to our love of God.
Welcoming new families in the church is not as simple as putting up a sign that says “families welcome” or saying “we want more children.” It requires in us some deep work that leads to a greater joy of sharing the love of Christ with new families and children.
Are we willing to do that hard work?