The following guest post is by Kelly Mahler, a former 3D artist, SAHM (stay-at-home mother), Unitarian Universalist since 2007, and member of the UU Growth Lab on Facebook. Thanks for sharing your experience and suggestions, Kelly! I totally relate as a parent of a young child. 11am? Uh, that’s lunch time! ~ Peter
While reading the UU Growth lab on Facebook, I came across a post that caught my attention. The question asked was, “How can we more effectively reach out to and involve young adults and families with children as fully participating congregants?”
I don’t often participate in these online discussions, but this topic was something near and dear to me, considering I’m one of those young parents many UU churches refer to. Having been a former board member in my twenties, and now quickly closing in on my thirties (with a toddler in tow), I wanted to share my experience and perspective regarding how my involvement with my own UU church has changed over time and why those changes have happened.
I used to be quite busy at my UU church before my baby came along (even serving on the board for a time). Now I am a stay at home mom to a 19 month old. My attendance and involvement have changed drastically. What are some of the reasons that hold me back from being more involved? Sometimes it can be the little things (like a church not having changing tables in the bathrooms or nursery), but there are other issues as well that sometimes hold me (and other parents) back from being more involved.
1) Service time – our service is 11-12am, with coffee hour right after the service. Back when I had just graduated from college, I loved this time slot. Now with a kid, however, that is a tough time to make. It’s lunch time for many children, and it’s not easy making a kid wait to eat until 1pm (tantrums, anyone?), especially when their nap is usually around noon or 1pm. If the service time were earlier, we could get in and get home for lunch and nap without major headaches. Likewise, we usually don’t attend anything too late in the evenings due to conflicts with bedtime.
2) Lack of confidence in childcare providers. Ours are very nice, but they are a bit young and sometimes the judgment calls they make seem questionable to me (like letting my kid cry the entire hour of service and never coming to retrieve me to settle her down). Perhaps we need more training for our providers on handling issues such as these.
3) Activities, groups, events that I can’t relate to or that are not kid friendly. I don’t want every meeting or event I attend to require that I use the church childcare service. I would much rather have my child be a part of it, and have her see adults modeling good behavior. I realize this is not possible a lot of the time, but perhaps we should be thinking specifically on what kinds of events could be scheduled that would create opportunities for our children to participate.
4) Limited opportunities for staying in the loop when you can’t attend. Even with a newsletter and website, not enough information is communicated outside of the church walls to keep you in the loop – especially if you frequently can’t attend. It’s a compounding problem. The more you miss out, the “further behind” you feel. I wish our services were recorded and available on our website. I wish more info was provided in various communications.
5) No one has asked. It’s not that you are forgotten as a parent in church… but it does sometimes feel like people assume that you won’t be interested or that you are too busy due to having a child. Even if we say that life is busy with our children, that shouldn’t be taken to mean that we aren’t wanting to be asked to help on occasion. ESPECIALLY, if it could be a good fit – something that aligns well with that congregant’s interests or skills.
6) Outdated forms of communication. Email, phone, snail mail… I hardly ever respond to theses kinds of communications – not on purpose, mind you, but it just seems to happen. I wish my church utilized texting more, or could send out texts about things going on (kind of like how businesses do text advertising). This would help keep me in the loop better. I also would prefer if church members/leaders contacted me via Facebook or texts when they want to communicate with me directly. Email is not my preferred method of communication anymore. It seems antiquated.
7) Expecting attendance for planning purposes. I don’t understand why people want to meet in person just to plan things. In most cases, all of the planning can be handled via text, Facebook, Google+, shared Google documents, online chatting, Skype, or Google hangouts. This is so much easier than packing the kids up and all that that entails (or having to arrange for childcare).
8) Finally, there are other “groups” or “communities” doing it better. Namely, a lot of the moms groups out there are doing a better job. The Moms group I’m involved in provides many more opportunities that my child and I can relate to; the kinds of events that my church does not provide. Think playdates, mommy breaks, baby gyms, Funflatables, miniature golf, zoo, etc, as well as community outreach- outreach that doesn’t require us to be separate from our kids. Examples include bake sales, knitting for charity, 5Ks that allow strollers, craft sales, and more. All of it is managed and planned digitally. We don’t meet in person for planning purposes, we do it via text, Facebook, Meetup, and the like.
I have already addressed some of the above issues with my church. Other issues, I regret to say, I have not brought up much, if at all, with fellow congregants or lay leaders. Maybe it’s due to being busy. Maybe it’s due to the inability to make it to many meetings and services. Perhaps it’s the fact that I can so quickly and easily find other support systems and outlets out there via the internet, social networking, and Meetup. Either way, upon writing this, I’ve come to the conclusion that a congregation can’t grow if we don’t speak up about our concerns, and our lay leaders certainly can’t read our minds. We Millenials need to speak up if we want to see changes happening. We can’t expect our churches to always anticipate our needs, our communication styles, or our differences from generation to generation.
I have decided that rather than leave this discussion to the boundaries of the UU Growth Lab and online blogging, it would be worthwhile to send my thoughts onward to the board at my church. I hope they see it as something encouraging – an opportunity for discussion and growth – rather than a critique of “everything that is wrong.” I encourage you to do the same with your own congregation.
It’s your church, too – don’t passively wait for your lay leaders or fellow congregants to anticipate your needs. Rise to the occasion and shape it into the loving, supportive community you envision.
“Young Adults” image courtesy of photostock / FreeDigitalPhotos.net