On December 17, Pew Research Center released their newest study regarding parenting in America; the good, the bad, and the rest. Their research 1,807 US parents with children younger than 18, representing a wide swath of social, economic, racial, and religious demographics.
Here’s some the highlights that stood out to me:
Finances are a huge indicator of how safe a parent feels their child is and their confidence of a positive and successful future for their children. Those with lower-incomes (less than $30,000) tended to rate their neighborhood, schools, and community as “fair” or “poor” and they worry about such things as violence, kidnapping and teenage pregnancy far more than those of higher incomes ($75,000+). (Source)
Parental marital status was also dramatically affected by income levels. While the number of children living with married parents has decreased overall, the greatest percentage are found in the higher-income bracket. Lower income families tend to have more single parents or co-habitating but not married parents in the home. (Source)
American children – including preschoolers – participate in a variety of extracurricular activities. At least half of parents with school-age children say their kids have played sports (73%), participated in religious instruction or youth groups (60%), taken lessons in music, dance or art (54%) or done volunteer work (53%) after school or on the weekends in the 12 months preceding the survey (Source).
Overall, most parents feel like they are doing a good job raising their children, across all genders and socio-economic groups. Millennials rated themselves the highest and moms were more confident than dads. Moms also tended to have a larger network of support and were willing to look for help in a variety of sources (friends, websites, social media sites) than men were. (Source)
So, what implications do these things have for those of us serving in ministry? Dr. Catherine Stonehouse, renowned children’s ministry author and researcher states, “The spiritual formation of children should begin with the spiritual formation of their parents…given the brokenness of our society this is absolutely crucial.” Therefore, understanding the parents we serve is vitally important to our ministry.
- Parents are worried – The list of concerns varied in intensity depending on socio-economic status, but the worries were there all the same. One common concern across the board was that their child would experience bullying and/or struggle with depression or anxiety.
What can we do? Practically, we can ensure that our ministry areas are safe by creating environments where volunteers are screened and trained, protocols are in place to ensure proper check-in and check-out, and make sure classrooms are visible and adequately staffed. As ministers, ask parents how you can be praying for their kids and what concerns them. Put the focus back on Christ and help them to “cast all their anxiety” on Him.
2. Families don’t fit molds – I’ve shared before that the idea of “family” has become fluid in our society, in some cases referring to people who aren’t even related to one another. Notice the increased number of cohabitating parents in the survey and this study didn’t even look at others who serve as caregivers such as grandparents, other relatives and even close family friends.
What can we do? Practically, we need to make sure that we know the make-up of the families in our church and community and structure our ministry accordingly. If we are hosting events that only reach one demographic of “family” we may be failing to minister to those outside of that mold. From a spiritual standpoint, we still need to realize that the home is the primary place for faith formation and do our best to equip, support and train the leaders of that space.
3. Everyone is Busy – Parents are busy, kids are busy, preschoolers are busy! For those of us in ministry, it comes as no surprise that our families have many competing demands on their time. The good news is that after sports, religious activities come in as the second most popular “extracurricular.”
What can we do? Drop out of the competition, and by that I mean, don’t add more “noise” to the crazy busy lives. Meet families where they are. Provide more than one avenue for involvement in the church. Pray over kids and families who play sports and send them out as the light in this world. Give them tools to use at home or in the car, at bedtime or in the morning (Duet. 6 moments) and offer more than one way to be involved in faith formation at church and home. Some families may be able to do it all; some may choose one or two activities. The goal isn’t to win their time; the goal is to help them experience Jesus in the everyday, not by doing more but by inviting him into every moment.
4. Community is desired – Even though most parents thought they were doing a good job, they still sought out a community to learn from and to experience life with. A community is more than a weekly check-in at a church service. A community does life together. There are good times and there are not so good times but regardless, they are together.
What can we do? Foster community within your ministry. Encourage interactions between your families and the larger church body. Be intentionally intergenerational. Go out of your way to introduce people to each other, to encourage friendships, to establish mentorship. Make sure people know each other and make sure that when they are not there, they are missed. Create a space that is safe and welcoming but also authentic and real by creating a space where life is done together.
I encourage you to take some time and read the full report. It really does give a great deal of insight into the families, parents and children we are serving. I’d love to hear what stood out to you and how that can help us be more effective ministers to the body of Christ and the communities we serve by commenting below.
For more information about
- Kids in Worship
- Determining which Type of Family Ministry model works best for your church
- Encouraging the continued conversation through Practical Discipleship at Home
- And much more!
About the author
Christina Embree is wife to Pastor Luke, mom to three wonderful kids, and family minister at Nicholasville UMC. She is passionate about seeing churches partnering with families to encourage faith formation at home and equipping parents to disciple their kids in the faith. Currently studying Family, Youth and Children’s Ministry at Wesley Seminary, she also blogs at www.refocusministry.org and is a contributing blogger at D6 Family, Seedbed, and ChildrensMinistryBlog.com.