According to 2016 U.S. Census data, roughly 42% of American households include children age 18 or younger. Depending on where exactly you live, the number may be higher or lower, but even with variation, this is a significant proportion of the population that many local churches would love to serve and retain as growing members of a church community.
Yet, in many churches, things aren’t designed with parents (single or married) in mind. We aim to accommodate families of all shapes and sizes–but even best accommodation can feel just like that, an exception or compromise that still doesn’t leave families with children feeling like this was really designed for them, that they belong here.
What might designing for parents look like?
In a Parent-Friendly Church…
Preparation for Baptism of Infants
is an opportunity to connect parents, especially new parents, to a community for belonging. It’s not a one-time “instruction” of information for parents to passively listen to, with few intentional opportunities on-going connection to others.
is a privileged place of formation and encounter with the Lord for parents–something parents can be richly nourished from so that they can be the primary catechists and witnesses within their own families. Parents can choose to have children worship with them at Mass or be engaged in an age-appropriate way elsewhere. No parent should experience Mass with children as a burden that requires them to focus so much on keeping young toddlers quiet in the pew that they cannot first and foremost be taken up fully into the liturgy themselves. Mass is also not something that parents need to drag older children to or placate them about Mass being “boring” because homilies are designed for adults, not older children. Mass is a joy and refreshment for the entire family.
Places for Families During Worship
are inviting, child-friendly spaces–not “cry rooms” where visibility for young [=short] children is limited, seating is designed for adults, and the means for a child to be engaged are oftenfewer than in the pews.
is designed to give families maximum time together, so that parents can be witnesses to a joyful Christian life and have the time to pray and engage in catechesis within their families. This means offering opportunities at a lower frequency, in ways that involve parents/family, on multiple days per week, and with intentional overlap of offerings for different ages to minimize disruption.
The Entire Parish (Not Just Parents) Serves Children
In this, parents feel the love of the Christian community surrounding them with support, rather feeling that they must be the VBS, catechesis, and childcare volunteers all the time (simply because they have children).
Parents Have Real Ownership in Children’s Initiation
A parent’s discernment of a child’s readiness to receive a sacrament of initiation or participate in the sacrament of reconciliation has an ordinary place in parent life. This cultivates a perception of partnership and emphasizes the empowerment given uniquely to parents through the sacrament of marriage and the Holy Spirit.
Major Parish Events
are designed from the start with the outlook a large proportion of the target audience has children, and that these families want to attend. Design includes content, location, and scheduling.
are offered not only for adults, but for families–both internal and external to the parish.
Ongoing Discipleship Paths
are as obvious and convenient for adults with children as they are for others. Adult discipleship paths are designed to synchronize with the schedules and needs of parents with children.
Catechesis for Children
doesn’t feel like something parents have to force reluctant children to attend because it feels like another school classroom to them.
Driving takes time. Families in many parts of the U.S. don’t all live near the parish. In a parent-friendly parish, off-campus locations near where families live are utilized to reduce transportation time/burden on families.
Okay, this is just the start of painting a vivid picture of designing for families, in contrast to merely “accommodating” families as an afterthought to our events, schedules, and parish systems. What would you add to the list?