Faith communities often express exuberant support of families. They may offer printed devotionals each week for the family to complete together and use familial metaphors in sermons and other presentations. By all appearances, the church is a place where the family unit is treasured.
When families walk in the door, however, individual members often scatter in different directions. Children go to the nursery or their own classes, and the youth sit with their friends. While it's certainly commendable to have age-appropriate options available, if the church wants its mission to continue past Sunday morning, it makes sense to encourage members to experience some aspects of worship with the people they will see the rest of the week.
Many families with small children tend to look for churches that have programs specifically designed for their youngest members. They may be concerned that their young ones will get bored and act out during the service, causing an unwelcome disruption. Parents may assume that they will have to entertain their children instead of being able to be fully present in worship, so they look for churches that offer attractive alternatives.
If the service itself is more engaging for people of all ages, though, these families may feel freer to keep their children with them so that they can experience it together. Having a spirited children's sermon is a good start. Lively music with space available for dancing or other movement can bring more joy to the service for everyone. Look for opportunities to incorporate the whole family into the celebration.
Include Chosen Families
Church leaders are often nervous about focusing too much on family units, and this hesitation likely comes from a noble place. No one wants single people or those who attend church alone to feel left out of any part of the service, and seeing others worshipping with their families can make these members feel like they're on the outside looking in. However, you can welcome everyone into the larger church family without downplaying the importance of the family by simply expanding the definition to any of the people with whom members live their everyday lives.
Many single people either live with others or have a core group of friends on whom they depend for the support a family typically offers. While these people are vital to their lives, they may still attend services alone if they don't feel like their chosen family units are validated by the church. Acknowledging these core groups as families is a great way to encourage them not to separate church life from home life.
Introduce Service Projects
Volunteering is hard work, and it's hard to stay excited or motivated about it by oneself. Finding projects that are family friendly can help members keep up their momentum. Look for projects that include tasks that require different skill levels. These projects are perfect for families, particularly those with large age ranges.
A community garden is a great family project. Each family can tend its own section, or families can take turns by scheduling specific times to do the chores needed each day. If you encourage members to work in groups, it can also be a way for those who don't have family nearby or feel isolated to get to know others in a more comfortable, casual environment. The church can actually help people form their chosen families through this project!
Trying to find a balance between encouraging families to worship together and including those who feel alone may seem difficult, but it doesn't have to be. No two families are exactly alike, so expanding the traditional view of the family may be easier than you imagine. Intentional plans for group cooperation can serve everyone, no matter what their family looks like.