Families are complicated organisms. As the old saying goes: “you can choose your friends but not your family”. If you pause and think through your extended family I’m sure you would see as I do lots of great relationships but also at least as many dysfunctional elements and challenging behaviours. Despite what those who try and sell us things might try and have us believe, I am yet to meet the perfect family.
Over the years I have heard another saying repeated in different ways and contexts. It goes something like “if someone tells you they go to the perfect church, run the other way because there is no such thing as a perfect church.” As someone who has been in a number of churches my whole life, I can vouch from my experience that I am yet to find the perfect church. But I’ve also learnt as with families, you don’t have to be perfect to love them. I’ve loved every church that I’ve been part of in the past, and I love this church despite its imperfections. In many ways it’s often the imperfections that give us cause to show our love.
I actually find the idea of a perfect church as somewhat scary. I kind of imagine a group of clones all thinking the same, acting the same, believing the same… Families are diverse, complicated and messy! Churches are families, we are all the children of God, we are God’s family and we too are diverse, complicated and messy! I think a ‘healthy church’ exhibits a high level of diversity and messiness… I sometimes feel like I could do without the complications but I know that is part of life in a family.
One of the challenges of the season we are enduring is that as a church some of that demographic diversity has been impacted. I had the opportunity of spending some time with Stu Cameron before he finished up as Senior Pastor of Newlife Church. He reflected that most of his congregation who were in the ‘families with school age children’ demographic had not returned, it has been a similar story for all churches except one that he was aware of. We were not that exception. We too have struggled to ‘bring back’ that demographic on a regular basis.
There’s lots of things we could hypothesise about ‘why’ this has happened and we could invest a lot of time trying to reconcile the situation. I do however think there’s more value in identifying the issue and getting to work in rectifying, rebuilding, reshaping and renewing.
If you’ve been to a church with no children, you’ll know that there is something missing. Like any family when a significant part of the family is absent or not included the family is less. With children active, present and engaged in the life of our church we are always going to be more. Yes there is a fair degree of messiness in dealing with this demographic but it’s a messiness that brings immeasurable reward. The ministry that children and young people bring to the church family is incredibly profound and significant.
As such, one of the many focus areas at the beginning of the year is the demographic of ‘families with school age children’. It’s not that we will be favouring this or ignoring others but it is an area of attention if we want to be a church family. We don’t necessarily have any easy answers but I am encouraging all of us to see this as family business and as such we all need to be aware, praying, involved and encouraging.
In the power of the Holy Spirit and in God’s providence and provision, I have no doubt that our family will grow and change and mature and I believe that the ministry of our children and young people will continue to be a critical part of this transformation.
Your prayers, support and involvement are appreciated and valued.