The news is constantly reminding us of the challenges families face as lockdown continues and schools remain closed for many pupils. During this time, many of us have made positive steps in reaching out to families and supporting them in their need. There have been opportunities to make connections with families we hadn’t know before lockdown and chances to build stronger relationships with families both from our churches and on the fringe.
Overtime, as lockdown eases and children head back to school, our families are still likely to value support and we don’t want to lose the connections we have made. As restrictions ease, we can find ourselves falling back into old ways, focusing our time in other areas and activities we used to do relating to our ministry, with the consequence that our time for families disappears. It is vital that we purposely block out time from our everyday planning to focus on connecting with our families, both those from within our church and those who we reached out to for the first time.
Several years ago, a child came to one of my children’s clubs at church. Their parents dropped off and picked up their child, but had no other church connections. For me, the club was always my priority, until I felt this strong sense to stop at the end of one of the sessions, go to the door and chat with this child’s parents. Making an intentional effort to speak with them every week, we slowly built up a good relationship. I then felt God say, to take this further: to visit them. Each month, I made time in my diary to visit their home, building a stronger relationship. A year later, the family faced a huge crisis and it was the church they turned to. We were there to support them through every step of the way, to meet regularly and pray with them for God to do a miracle and that’s just what He did.
Every leader needs to be intentional in supporting families and here are seven ways that can help. (Whilst living with lockdown restrictions visiting in homes is on hold, but when restrictions are lifted, opportunities to have face to face meetings whether in their homes or elsewhere, gradually become available again.)
1. Don’t put pressure on yourself
It’s very unlikely that one leader can visit every family you have made contact with in a month. Pray and ask God to show you which families to concentrate on and visit first.
2. Block time in your diary
It is important to find time in your diary to contact your families and arrange a convenient time with them to meet. This might start with a phone call each month or a door step visit before they feel comfortable with you meeting in their homes.
3. Get others involved
If in a larger church, delegate responsibility to other children’s leaders you know that have a pastoral heart and who know the children from the group or activity they attend. This way, you can ensure that every family is contacted on a regular basis. (Be sure to stick with GDPR and your church safeguarding policy)
4. Don’t ignore the children
We may work with children on a regular basis, but sometimes when it comes to families it’s easy to think we are ministering to the parents. When we visit, it’s important that our first greeting goes to the child or children and then to the parents. It helps children feel accepted, that you are there for all of them and not just to see their parents. And parents love to see their children acknowledged.
5. Listen to families
At church we don’t get the time to take a deep interest. Most of the time we ask superficial questions like ‘How are you?’ but rarely do we get a real, genuine answer! So it is during these visits, we can really listen and take interest in all they say. As we give families time for them to talk, we will find out more about their interests, get a glimpse to what they go through in the week and also hear their cries. This opens the doorway to how we can support them in the coming months.
6. Pray with the family
Ask the family if they are happy for you to pray with them. Be open to God and let Him lead you in prayer. Continue to pray for the family throughout the week and let them know you are praying for them.
7. Serve their needs
After reviewing feedback from your families, is there anything that jumps out as a common trend in what families would benefit from? If so, what can be done to fulfil these needs?
In some way or other, lockdown has brought strain and challenges to most families. Now is the time to reach out and connect with them. It may only take a phone call or a knock on the door to let a family know we are there for them. From this, relationships will build and families will feel valued and cared for.
written by Fiona Stutton, Thrive’s Children’s Ministry Adviser