According to many research projects, 0-16 is the fastest declining demographic in the Church. The “nones” category of adults has increased, and currently the idea of discipleship is the hot button at most churches.
Whose job is it to lead kids spiritually? How can the church lead if the kids aren’t there? And how can the parents be expected to lead their kids spiritually if they themselves are struggling to walk as disciples?
What we know for sure is that kids are rarely the decision makers for how or where they end up at church on Sunday.
So the question becomes: Who’s missing from the community and how do we create a space that welcomes and includes today’s parents so that we can walk with them through the spiritually formative years of their children’s lives?
Focusing on the parents’ demographic helps us better understand what matters to today’s parent, and what we can do to invite them into community and grow in relationship with us.
So, who is today’s parent and how are they choosing church? How can we equip parents and support this generation of kids? And where are the new opportunities and how can we, the Church, create them?
Who Are Today’s Parents?
The Deloitte Global 2022 GenZ and Millennial Survey Executive Summary
Every year, I like to take a look at this particular study to get a glimpse of the decision-making drivers in the lives of our economic engine: millennials and older GenZs, or, as we know them: today’s parents. Here’s what they found:
- Struggling with the cost of living/financial concerns and anxiety
- The Great Resignation signals a breaking point, and an opportunity to reassess how we work
- Prioritizing sustainable choices and environmental action by employers
- Workplace mental health continues to be a challenge
How can our knowledge and understanding of these trying realities inform how we engage with, and equip, today’s parents? How can we prioritize these concerns and walk with parents in and through them in such a way that we build discipleship pathways through relationship, empathy, and compassion?
What Does This Tell Us Our Parents Say They Care About?
Equipping spiritually begins with building a community that cares about what matters to them.
Things to consider:
- Where can your parents easily find community in your context?
- Where are the barriers?
- How can we leverage what matters to our parents?
- How can you support the financial concerns parents are facing?
- Are there programs you can offer like parents night out or a Bible study with childcare?
- Does your ministry reflect creation care in a way that mirrors this generation’s concerns for sustainability and the environment?
- Are there classes or experts you can bring in to discuss mental health, common challenges, coping strategies, or topics that parents and kids are navigating?
How Are Parents Choosing Church?
Besides ministry opportunities that we can create to invite parents in, how are parents choosing church for their families? (5 findings from Millennial Parents of Faith, Michayla White, INCM, Sept 2019)
1. Online Presence
This generation of digital natives is online shopping for their church community first.
Millennials are well-read, curious, and paying attention. Their values reflect equity, inclusion and diversity and they need to see this in order to engage with you.
3. Safety & Security
Millennials were children and youth during 9/11, the real estate crash of 2008, the last recession, and the advent of terrorism as a household term. Their number one priority is safety when choosing to engage in community with their kids.
4. Kids’ Ministry
Parents want community to do life with. They want to go with you in the discipleship of their kids, not simply be resourced. They are crowdsourcing on social media for opinions and advice, and the Church needs to be in that crowd.
5. Preaching & Teaching
Because of YouTube, podcasts, livestreaming and the widespread availability of almost any preacher, author or thought leader online, the adult Sunday morning experience is no longer the decision driver.
Be sure that your website reflects who your church is as a community first, so that parents can find themselves among you before they even come through the door.
Equipping Today’s Parents
What surprises you most as you seek to equip the families in your ministry? Chances are that you and your families may have different ideas about what they need in this season of life.
And I think growing in understanding and compassion for parents and leading them well as they lead their kids needs to be a top priority. Here’s where we might get stuck, however:
According to the Barna Group study, “Children’s Ministry in a New Reality” (2022) when asked “Where should the primary source of children’s discipleship take place,” 95% of children’s ministry leaders say it should be at home while 51% of parents of 5–14-year-olds say it should be at church.
I think what we can learn from this gap is we need to go together on the journey of discipleship with each other, for the sake of the spiritual formation of this generation of kids.
Equipping Parents: What They Need to Know?
By the age of 5, children have formed an idea of who, or what, they think God is. Throughout childhood (between ages 5-12), kids will decide whether or not what they believe about God is true.
Further, Barna’s study “Children’s ministry in a new reality” indicates that a person’s world view is primarily shaped by and firmly in place by the time a person is 13 … And throughout adolescence until the age of 17, youth will defend their decision and make other decisions accordingly.
What Our Equipping Needs to Consider
1. The Gospel was meant to be accessible and unhindered.
The language we use can be the very hindrance we are trying to avoid (Acts 28:30-31). Here’s what this means: the language of the Church (words that are Scriptural and not daily social vernacular) can create a sense of exclusion for families who do not know the language of Scripture yet.
This is not to say that words like gospel, sin, salvation, baptism, discipleship don’t matter; rather, they need context and deserve careful exegesis so that who we are as a body is just as understood as how we are as a body of believers.
Further, we cannot assume grownups all understand this exclusive language. We may need to equip families to walk side-by-side rather than parent to child if we assume some parents are just as new to Jesus as their kids.
What would it look like for discipleship to include the whole family at the same time instead of resourcing parents and assuming they know how to handle the resource?
2. Kids need the Gospel because it is the only way for them to know who they truly are and who they were always meant to be.
There is no higher value for today’s parent. Today’s parents value authenticity, truth, inclusion, and equity. Helping kids find their place of belonging in the Body of Christ matters to Jesus, but finding belonging at all matters to their grownups, too.
Identity is a big word that means many things to each of us. Helping families find their identity in Jesus, in the family of God, needs to be a priority for this generation. Equipping the adults in today’s kids’ lives with the language and knowledge to help them find their identity as image bearers in the Kingdom is careful and necessary work.
What working assumptions do you have around the word “identity”? How does the word show up in Scripture, and who do you want the kids you know and serve to say they are? How is your team defining identity for today’s families?
3. We cannot tell kids they need Jesus when they don’t understand the concept of “need.”
Parents may recycle jargon if they themselves are don’t understand the need. Here’s what I mean: many kids we serve have deep, real, felt needs.
Others may not understand need at all because they have more than enough, and even their wants attended to. We cannot preach a need for Jesus that resolves earthly tensions.
Our need for Jesus is to truly know who we were made to be, as image bearers, as authentic selves, as children of God. Start here with the Gospel, and watch parents and children grow curious equally.
A Season of New Opportunities
What has you most excited when you reflect on new opportunities to equip families? Where can you plug families in, and help them find each other as they choose to be part of your community?
As you pray for and encourage the grownups in today’s kids’ lives, how can you come alongside them relationally so that they might lead their kids spiritually?
Discipleship happens on top of relationship. Spiritual formation happens in the context of feeling known and loved. When we model loving relationships and language that leads kids to Jesus, we gain the privilege of equipping parents to do the same, and we get to go with them.