I have been a part of a couple recent conversations where churches are dealing with children showing up to weekly ministry activities, but their parents don’t come to church at all. The issue is 1) that the church would like to see those children and youth during Sunday worship, but they are rarely if ever in attendance and 2) They aren’t sure how to reach out to the parents if they don’t even get a chance to meet them or get to know them.
One question the church needs to ask: Is the end goal to have the kids in Sunday worship? I believe that regular, corporate worship an important bedrock for any believer, but the main goal is to share Jesus with the kids. This can be accomplished at other times besides Sunday morning.
I’ve heard it said before that you minister to those who respond to you. If you have kids coming to kids club, Sunday school or youth group, then we minister to them with no stipulations about who might attend from their household with them. Don’t berate the non church going parents—their home is being reached with the gospel and that’s a closer step than many other homes in your community and region where that isn’t happening on a such a personal level.
Here are some thoughts about reaching out:
1. Get parents names, emails and addresses. And don’t ever apologize for staying in touch with them the best way you can. Maybe use practical reasons such as permission to have photos taken, allergy information, permission to take a little trip, etc. Anything to have the parent’s interaction and to communicate with them.
2. Send information to their home that would be helpful as a family – resources for raising kids, resources for financial planning, articles or information on bullying, developing gifts, etc. This can be newsletter format, papers sent home with kids or emails. There are lots of resources like this, many of them free or very inexpensive.
3. Create some sort of award night, promotion event or other special honor that you can invite families to participate in. Use this time as an opportunity to thank families for “allowing us to minister to your children.” Don’t try to trick them into coming to a normal worship time, but set up a totally different time that works in their schedules.
4. Don’t go negative. People walk lots of tough roads and we may not know what the families are dealing with. How can your words, your smile, your grace and love for them shine through in conversation and communication.
5. Teach kids something they can do in worship – music, skit, puppets, art display or anything of the sort. Often this happens around Christmas, Easter or VBS. What if we took a regular Sunday to allow the kids club or Sunday school to share and give a special invitation for parents and families to attend.
6. Pray for those students and their families. Invite the congregation to pray for them. Pray for all the kids in your group and community.
7. Help the church see the good fruit of the ministry by having pictures displayed or statements from kids following a program or ministry night. These can be printed in publications, can be a video or can be an old fashioned bulletin board. Let the congregation in on the beauty of reaching kids – and their families – right where they are.
8. Always remember that some plant seeds, some water seeds, some reap the harvest, but it’s God who does the growing and the bearing of fruit. I often think of the testimonies that will be shared in the next two decades. The kids you are ministering now will be adults soon and in twenty years some of their testimonies might sound like this, ”Well, my family didn’t go to church, but on Tuesdays after school, I went down to the small church in our neighborhood. I don’t remember what they taught down there, but the leaders were so different from anything I had every experienced in my home. It was one of those Tuesday nights where I first realized that Jesus loved me more than anything in the world.”
9. Offering connection and belonging—it’s what kids need. A church that lives this out will work wonders in the lives of children and youth in their communities.
10. What if it works? What if the ministry works and kids lives are changed, the homes are changed and their families begin to attend worship? Well, at that point, you wouldn’t stop ministering to kids who’s families don’t attend. For churches who are struggling in this area, take heart – it’s not just you. Every church will always have the privilege – and the hard work – of ministry in the context of children whose families are not believers. Don’t shy away. Keep on sharing the message of Jesus.