The church I grew up in was the center of our social life; I felt loved and accepted by this extended "family." That little body of believers provided an unshakable foundation of values and understanding, which I still hold firmly.
The greatest contribution the church can make is to draw families to the person of Jesus Christ in an attitude of genuine repentance and renewal. Nothing brings husbands, wives, and children together more effectively than a face-to-face encounter with the Creator of families. In fact, it is almost impossible to stand in his holy presence without recognizing our pettiness and resentment and selfishness with those closest to us.
Each size of church has its contribution to make to the family. Some people thrive better in a crowd; they need the programs and specialists that can be provided only in a large church community. On the other hand, some people need the intimacy and personal touch of a small church family.
What Families Need
The local church is the first line of defense for the family. The vast majority of people who come to Christ do so by the efforts of organized churches, which nurture and feed them as babes in Christ.
We need fellowship with believers, we need reinforcement from those of like mind, and we need biblical exegesis from someone trained to explain the Word. We need the church.
I once conducted a poll on our radio program, asking people if they felt their churches were supportive of families. We received 1,440 responses: 61 percent were decidedly positive, while 39 percent tended to be negative.
The first group of respondents focused on the pastor himself. People said, "He teaches us about the importance of families." "He is a family-oriented man." "He models good fathering for the men of the church." "He obviously loves his wife."
There's nothing quite so forceful as a pastor getting up in the pulpit and stating, "You won't be able to find me on Mondays or Saturdays, [or whatever day] unless there's been an absolute emergency. I will not be here; my home phone will ring, and no one will answer it. What I'm saying to you is 'Go thou and do likewise.' No one should work seven days a week."
The most frequent complaint of the negative 39 percent, however, surprised me: They criticized the church for fragmenting families. They regretted, for example, that children don't worship with (or even see) their parents while at church. Even at picnics and informal activities, the children have separate activities while the adults play softball or whatever. Most felt that families should not be together all the time, but there should be some common experiences to unite them spiritually.
I believe it is possible to minister effectively to a transgenerational audience. The key is storytelling. Children love to hear stories, and surprisingly, adults listen to them, too. Obviously, we can't gear the whole preaching ministry to a preschool level, but we can certainly come together occasionally for meaningful worship. If nothing else, they see their parents responding to the worship, the music, and the pastor. They need this experience.
Targeting the Key Life Stage
Adolescence is the great turning point, perhaps the key stage in family development. At this point, teenagers who have been raised in the church are either strengthened in their faith or lost to the world. During this difficult and risky time, beleaguered parents desperately need the church's support. Not only are wholesome activities and biblical teaching necessary, but instruction is needed to counterbalance the un-Christian experiences young people are exposed to every day.