I serve two congregations whose average age is well over 60 years, and most of them are grandparents. While my conversations with them are laments about how there are “no kids in church,” many of them are also lamenting about the fact that their kids – particularly their grandkids – are not attending church.
There are a few of them who simply are interested in nothing more than keeping their congregation alive for years to come, however, many of them express their worry for more substantial reasons. My congregants express their appreciation and love of the church as a community in which people go through life’s peaks and valleys together, and gather to worship, pray, and serve so that they might know that there is a God in Jesus Christ who is present and active with them in their lives. They express that while saddened that their children choose not to be part of a church, at least they as parents raised them in the church and exposed them to what church is and can be for them. Yet my congregants’ greater saddness is that their grandchildren are missing out on church as well – a community that bears the trials of life with each other and gathers to know of a God who bears life alongside all people.
One day I was listening to these laments of one of my congregants when I simply blurted out, “What if you brought your grandsons to church?”
I was initially met with silence, but over the course of the last year, this woman – well into her 70s – has been doing just that: bringing her grandsons to worship with her on Sundays. While she is unsure if they will stay interested in church as they grow up, she has expressed that at least she knows they have been exposed to the church and to the good news about God in Jesus Christ, and that it is enough to hope and trust in that. However, I’ve seen the transformation happening: her boys slowly but surely becoming interested in the church on their own terms and seeing it for what it is.
The AARP has conducted studies that show more than 2.5 million grandparents are taking on the responsibility of raising their grandchildren. Furthermore, certain cultural realities are enabling grandparents to pick up and relocate closer to their grandchildren. The reality is that this generation of grandparents are often more committed to matters of Christian faith and church than their children are. In my own experience, working with parents has been the most challenging part of Children, Youth, and Family (CYF) ministry. Their opinion (with exceptions, of course) is to leave matters of faith to the “experts”: youth ministers and youth pastors. Yet studies show that children who are interested in religion and faith have parents who are invested in the same. Such findings are nothing new; those working in CYF ministry have known them for years now.
Yet, if grandparents are taking on more a caregiver role in the lives of children and youth, and if they are more committed and interested in matters of church and faith overall, shouldn’t those of us working in CYF ministry should be asking, “Are grandparents the key to successful CYF ministry?”
In other words, “Get the grandparents to do it.”
This doesn’t mean we stop working on and working with parents of the youth we minister to. But perhaps we empower grandparents in their lament about their grandchildren by challenging them to take an active role in their grandchildren’s faith formation. Like my 70-something congregant, maybe it starts by bringing their grandchildren to church, and see what the Holy Spirit might do from there!