The International Network of Children’s Ministers has been one of the more faithful voices speaking over those of us in truth and love in the trenches of the local church who point littles and bigs to Jesus. Last week they published data specific to millennial parents of faith. You can read about it here. Millennial parents span birth years 1981-1996. My adult children are in this amazing, generous, Jesus-loving, and overwhelmed generation of young parents. This is personal.
INCM reports ‘they want their children to love Jesus, but most of them don’t fully understand what discipleship means or looks like for themselves.’ We lead littles in children’s ministry, but what does it mean to lead their bigs? Here are a few ideas…
Intentionally plan to provide ‘church’ other than Sunday mornings. Faith communities can provide consistent, excellent faith formation experiences other than on Sunday mornings. This is one of the reasons we provide weekly, intergenerational experiences in ‘seasons’ alongside a family’s seasonal rhythm like Thursday evening family drive-in services in the summer at two different times: 6pm & 7pm. We may not have the numbers of a Sunday morning, but we have consistent attendance of weekly and seasonal guests because we make it easy, short, energetic, relaxed and kid-friendly to practice the holy habits with us as a guide and parents or grandparents as the lead and hero. We are there every Thursday, rain or shine….kinda like we’re also there on Sunday mornings.
Story: B and E have careers (retail management and law enforcement) where regular Sunday mornings are every-other so that their boys don’t go to day-care during the typical work week. Because the familiar faces of their weekday preschool staff are sprinkled through the church throughout the week and weekend, they and their boys are loved on by a consistent faith family. They attended a different church before the pandemic. This ‘preschool church’ is now their church. INCM and Barna reported not long ago that parents will put up with mediocre preaching and music as long as their kids are known by name and are hearing about Jesus.
Story: B and K’s work schedule is every-other (nurse and law enforcement) and are consistent attenders to the weekly Thursday evening summer drive-in services, offered at two different times, and now bring their parents (the grandparents) so the entire family sings, plays games, prays, and hears a Jesus teaching as an intergenerational team for the sake of their littles. They even brought the dog last time! Connection and content have equal weight in priority of planning.
Intentionally plan to communicate in lots of different ways. Email is still king, but make it short, friendly, less formal, and relative. Digging for info is not helpful and no one’s got time for that. Social media basic image consistency, but post so that these parents don’t have to dig through the feed. Sending personal texts the morning of makes us real, personal, and communicates, “I’m in this with you, friend, and I really want to see you and your littles.” Old school still works, too. Update bulletin announcements because parents are looking for ways to grow with their children’s faith and are looking to us to help them do that easily and developmentally appropriately. New people read bulletins. New people are looking for new friends. Make posters to grab a kid’s attention. Post pics almost immediately afterwards for the purpose of recording memories and building a desire for those who weren’t there to want to be there next time. Pictures and images tell stories best. A quick review of your photos of an experience can let you know if families are all–in in that area of the event or checked-out and an edit might be in store for next time. Always edit your communication and event to excellence, but the basics of when, where, how, and who are consistent and reliable.
Intentionally plan to build community by interacting with families where THEY are. Figure out where your parents are and be there. If they’re online, be there. If they’re not online, they still have phones so plan to regularly text or email. Parents want the best for their children. All of them! Even if we don’t see them on a regular basis because they are doing other great things, we should keep up with them wherever they are. Decide to not make them feel guilty for not coming to your stuff, but rather feel they haven’t missed a beat when the do come. Four weekends in a row at a dance competition or a travel ball tournament? I’ve got something to chat about when I do see them and a handwritten note of ‘missing you’ or ‘congratulations’ goes a long way in relationships. You know that friend who no matter how much time has passed you can pick right back up where you left off? We want to be that.
Story: Mom works in the medical field and I haven’t seen her nor her girls since before COVID, but I’ve texted her every Sunday morning since COVID. She responded a couple of times, but I still texted. She and her girls came to last week’s drive-in service and our team didn’t miss a beat making sure they felt they still belonged and we had lots to chat about. Finding the girl’s Sunday school teacher at the same drive-in service, we were able to get them re-connected face-to-face and the chatting was over-the-top.
I eagerly await for INCM to continue reporting how we can walk alongside our millennial parents. These folks are leading the ultimate small group. We’d train our small group leaders, right? Can we do any less for these amazing disciples who want desperately to point their small group of little people to Jesus?
“He tends his flock like a shepherd: He gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart; he gently leads those that have young.” Isaiah 40:11