So the Bible has a lot to say about the motif of family in the New Testament church.
- “Love one another with brotherly affection (Rom. 12:10)”
- “See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God (1 John 3:1)”
- “Do not rebuke an older man but encourage him as you would a father, younger men as brothers, older women as mothers, younger women as sisters, in all purity (1 Tim. 5:1-2),” etc.
What happens if we extend that motif into the specific areas where churches seek to do ministry?
Ministry to Adults // The Firstborn
The firstborn child gets all the attention, care, and concern…until they are no longer the only child. Think about it (if you have more than one kid): first child drops a pacifier on the ground. We grab it before the five-second rule expires, plunk it in a sink filled with 50% bleach and 50% scalding hot water. THEN we microwave it in a sterilizing pouch. Then we rinse it off with cold water. Then we give it back, with an eagle-eyed focus for the rest of the day. If the second kid drops it at the playground we wipe it on our shirt and go about our merry way.
Churches can be overly cautious around their ministry to adults because the firstborn, though privileged, has a perception of being neglected. These are the givers (privileged) in the church, but we are “always” changing things on them. Try switching from coffee pots to Keurigs and the angst of the firstborn’s neglect is palpable.
We try to give them what they want but they complain that they never get what they want. Once there’s a perception that we don’t care (because we renamed the newsletter or started texting instead of emailing), churches may try to make up for it, but then we’re stuck in the “I want you to want to” sentiment and the firstborn turns on the TV in the basement for the rest of the afternoon.
Young Adults/College Ministry // The Middle Child
The young adult is often overlooked: no special treatment like the firstborn because “hey, we’re good at this now, you’ll be fine if I don’t sterilize your binky” and they got no special attention like the baby because “been there done that.”
A friend of mine had this to say about the idea of young adult ministry as the middle child:
“Typically, middle children have less of a connection with their families because of a lack of attention; they’re used to just doing their own thing. So the relationships they value most are typically friendships, the relationships they can choose. Similarly, young adults, particularly post-grads, are usually in a new town where the church they attend is entirely their choice. Their choice isn’t particularly influenced by family association but rather on the church alone, and because of this, they usually have no problem moving somewhere they like better.”
So while churches are focused on keeping the firstborn and the baby happy, the middle child is forgotten and becomes generally disgruntled. They don’t give (much) but they can contribute (much). We can’t wait around for them to mature, because then we’ve lost influence, both ours and theirs. The middle child is the one that wants to go to school out of state (read: try churches they like better) because they want to be seen and seen as important.
Children’s Ministry // The Baby
I’m the baby of my family. The babies get LOTS of attention, in theory and in reality. How many dollars and man hours go into a week of VBS? If a church plants a new campus/site, who are they primarily going after? Families (the firstborn) with young children (the baby). I wish we could see more targeting the middle child, but this about the baby. Let’s not get distracted.
The baby gets whatever they want. I’ve been accused of this by one of my two older siblings…who shall remain nameless. But there’s so much promise with the baby of the family! Just look at the stats! How many people can trace their salvation back to their time in children’s ministry? I can.
Children’s ministries often have the nicest facilities in the church, the most volunteers, and the easiest budget proposal meetings. I was recently at a church in Dallas where the focus is definitely on the baby of the family. When you walk in *bam* there’s a huge salt water fish tank, check in computers, a multi-level plastic playground with nets, and slides, and tubes, all enclosed in glass. There was a mall quality, squishy floor play space with turtles and bunnies to climb on. The rooms were immaculate, the art was modern, the paint colors were spot on, the signage was great. Everything was awesome.
Turn the corner.
Everything’s brown. The furniture is neutral. The carpet is neutral.
Walk down a blank hall.
The lights are dimmer. The paint is cheaper. The equipment is from craigslist. The carpet is tearing. The signage pops up. You’re at the youth area in the farthest corner of the building from the door.
BONUS: Youth Ministry // The Cousin From Out-Of-State
The cousin from out-of-state has some of the cool, new, stuff, is a little “off” from the rest of the family, and still has to sit at the kids’ table.