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The Rhythm Of Family

The best investment a church leader can make

Family / Parenting //

Everybody has a rhythm, and every family has a rhythm. You don’t have to try to have one.  You just end up with one.  As we go from day to day, the way we manage our time and priorities shapes a rhythm and ultimately that rhythm shapes us.

Most of us will gently resist that truth.  After all, we like to think of ourselves as free creatures—people not shaped by habits or rhythms.  But if you want to test the extent to which rhythm is a part of your life, try taking a different route to work tomorrow, switch places at the dinner table or change the side of the bed you sleep on.  We really are creatures of habit.

Which is why rhythm is so critical; rhythm silently but significantly communicates what you value.   Ultimately, if it’s not part of our rhythm, it’s not part of our reality.  That doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.  It simply means that if we don’t weave a value or priority into our rhythm, it won’t become part of who we are or what we do.  Making God a part of a family’s everyday rhythm, then, is crucial.

Parents set the rhythm that becomes a child’s reality. Every study shows that no one is more influential in the life of a child than a parent.  In fact, the average parent has 3000 hours of unstructured time with their children every year.  I know that sounds unbelievable, but do the math.  If you sleep eight hours every night, if you work eight hours every day and if the kids are enrolled full time in school, you still end up with well over 3000 unstructured hours left over every year.   As a result, no one is more instrumental in shaping the rhythm or the reality of family life than a parent.

By contrast, as church leaders, we have about 40 hours over the course of a given year to influence that same child.  We plan ministry for 52 Sundays each year, but between vacations, illnesses, sports and the odd missed Sunday, we might see the average child or student 40 Sundays. This disparity creates a lot of tension inside most of us who lead or volunteer in the church.  We see how pivotal what happens at home is, and something inside us tells us we need to respond to it.

Sometimes our response is to compete with the parents.  We invest our time, energy and funding into creating the best hour we possible can on Sunday, hoping that our 60 minutes can undo, offset or balance what happens (or doesn’t happen) at home.  We add programming like mid-week groups or clubs.  But even then, at best, you might move your influence to 80 or 120 hours per year.  Compared to the 3000 hours a parent has, it’s tiny.

Rather than compete with parents, why not cooperate with them, enlisting families to leverage their 3000 hours of influence toward a common goal?  Many parents don’t know how to help their children develop spiritually or morally.  They have the influence … they just don’t know what to do with it.  A 2010 Barna Group poll commissioned by Orange (the ReThink Group) of over 1000 American parents showed that 49 percent of parents said they had a plan or goal in mind to help their children develop as a person.  Fully 46 percent said they don’t; they simply do the best they can in the moment. When you drill down further on the 49 percent who said they have a plan in mind, there’s no indication the plan is cohesive, comprehensive or effective.

It would seem that parents could use a partner to help them focus their plans or to craft a strategy to leverage their 3000 hours.  The great news for church leaders is that parents appear to be wide open to having you help them.  In fact, 72 percent of parents believe that the church might be a potential partner to help them create a plan to develop their children morally and spiritually.

In light of all this, what do you do as a church leader?  The key may actually lie in combining the influences of church leaders and parents.  If what happens at home is more influential than what happens at church, and most parents are open to creative ways to use their influence and hours to develop their kids spiritually and morally, then it only makes sense for church leaders to focus effort, time energy and resources on equipping parents to win at home.  Maybe the best investment you can make with your time and energy is to help parents figure out how to leverage their time and influence to make a spiritual impact in their homes.

Increasingly, where I lead at Connexus Community Church, we are shifting our focus to help parents change their rhythm at home.  If God becomes part of the everyday rhythm in a family’s home, He becomes part of a child’s every day reality.

Tangibly, this means that what we send home with kids and parents is as important, if not more so, than what we do with them during our one hour each week.  Instead of just sending home token artwork that is on the fridge today and in the recycling bin tomorrow, church leaders who come alongside parents and kids with helpful resources that can impact the family rhythm at home can help integrate God into the family reality.

At Connexus, we’ve made some key changes in the last few years to attempt to make an impact on family rhythm.  Here are five strategies that we’ve embraced that have helped us better enlist and engage parents to create a rhythm at home.

Target parents with your take-home material.  Our family ministry team leaders hand a monthly FamilyCue pack to each parent (not child) full of resources to help parents and children use morning time, meal time, drive time and bed time to talk about faith and life with their kids. We’ve found the best time to distribute the FamilyCue pack is at security check-in, where a parent drops off their kids into a children’s ministry environment. Kids get their own things to take home as well, but we were concerned that what we place in the hand of a child might not make it into the hand of a parent.  So we send the key ingredients home with parents.

Use multiple-communication paths.  Handing out even a stellar FamilyCue pack each month is no guarantee families are going to use it or understand how to use it.  We supplement what we hand out with resources on our website, email and blog posts targeted at parents to help them understand how we can partner together to impact at home.

Talk about it in the adult service.  No one has more direct communication time with parents than a senior pastor.  After parents drop off their kids in various environments, they magically assemble in this forum we call adult worship.  The senior pastor gets their undivided attention for a full one-hour service.  We realized it’s the only time we have virtually all the parents in one place at one time.  So occasionally, we’ll talk about one of our key values in family ministry, we’ll demonstrate how to use a FamilyCue pack, or we’ll explain our strategy to parents.   You don’t need to spend more than two or three minutes doing this, but parents are often grateful for the clarification and help.

Preach It.  In 2009, our church made a decision that, to the best of our knowledge, no other church was making at the time.  We decided to do a six-week parenting series designed to help parents see the influence they have and realize the kind of partnership church and family could have together.  The advice we received from various other church leaders was that six weeks on family was far too long and too exclusive.  It would alienate singles, empty nesters, seniors and others.  We gulped, prayed and moved ahead anyway.  That six-week series set attendance records for us and remains the most watched series and podcast we have.  Singles loved it.  Seniors saw it as a chance to impact their grandchildren, and even empty nesters saw that they still had influence.  Parents flocked to it, too … and many invited their neighbors to the services because family is such a universal issue.  As I write this article, we’re wrapping up another five-week series on family called “Modern Families.”  It’s the second family series in eighteen months.  The series is setting attendance records again.  Attendance aside, our hope is that it actually helps families leverage their 3000 hours of influence and makes a lasting impact on the next generation.

Get creative.  Just because you send home a monthly pack for parents, have a great website or preach it and communicate it regularly doesn’t mean you’re done.  Our family ministry team got creative and recently launched the first Great Family Experiment.  The idea behind it is simple: if the goal is to help families integrate faith into life, they need to increase the quantity of quality time they spend together.  So our team created a family “date” for families centered on a family meal.   Each family picked up a themed envelope with specific instructions on what to do. They could cook the meal together at home or eat out (their choice), and the mealtime conversation was kick-started by conversation cards directed at the various age groups of the kids.  There were some fun moments integrated into the time together and the date wrapped up with a key question:  what change can we make to our family rhythm to increase the quantity of quality time we spend together?   Families loved it, and our team is planning to create new Great Family Experiments several times over the course of the next year.

What you do to help families win at home is up to you.  But, the bottom line is this:  if all you do is leverage the 40 hours of influence you have as a church leader to make an impact for one hour on Sunday, you only get what church can do.  But, if you leverage that 40 hours of influence to make an impact on the rhythm each family has at home, you get a much greater impact than what church or family could accomplish alone.   Impacting the rhythm of family might be the best investment you as a church leader can make.

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About the Author

Carey Nieuwhof is lead pastor of Connexus Community Church and author of the best selling books, Leading Change Without Losing It and Parenting Beyond Your Capacity. Carey speaks to North American and global church leaders about change, leadership, and parenting. Follow Carey on Twitter: http://twitter.com/cnieuwhof