3 Essentials + 4 Really Nice-to-Have’s
Let me start by saying the title of this article bugs me, and I wrote it.
I’m a Christian Millennial parent. I’m not one of those Millennials who left the church only to return after having a child. I’ve been here and engaged the whole time.
But having a child did change my point of view more than I expected it would—and it ultimately sent us church-hunting.
I have a list of things I’m looking for in a church now, and the essentials aren’t really negotiable. I realize how much that sounds like something a “consumer Christian”—or maybe even an “entitled Millennial”— would say. But that’s really not the heart behind it.
Those wants, in a lot of ways, are actually needs… because my life is organized around another little human, and it will be for quite a while.
And beyond my wanting/needing these things, my Millennial friends who don’t follow Jesus are also having kids. They don’t have any qualms about being a “consumer.” They just want/need what they want/need.
And really, that’s important thing to note. As a Millennial parent, I am committed to being a part of a church that is outwardly focused.
If a church is stretching me to my limit as a parent on the points you’ll read below, it’s unlikely I will be comfortable inviting other parents who don’t yet follow Jesus.
Do you remember what it was like to have a tiny person whose needs and routines and mobility and capabilities changed from week to week?
What’s different is how Millennial parents react to the ever-changing landscape of parenthood.
We find options that help us cope and help us thrive. That’s one of our generation’s unique survival skills. We didn’t ask for it; it’s just the world we belong to. (Deciding to order groceries online and have them delivered to our house was one of the best investments my husband and I made as new parents.)If you want Millennial parents to be engaged members of your community (and you should—Millennials parent 50% of all the children in the US today), you probably need to know these are the essential things they want in a church: Click To Tweet
If you want us to be engaged members of your community (and you should—Millennials parent 50% of all the children in the United States today), consider these things we look for in a church. And note, this is a practical list; I’m assuming sound theology and outward focus as the baseline.
1. Options for Engaging
That could look like…
Multiple identical services times.
My child’s nap and feeding schedules change like the wind. And any parent knows some mornings just don’t go as planned. If we missed our usual 9:15am service, and you have an 11:15am service just like it (Note: same service style as the one we typically attend), we’ll be there.
In the really early months, online streaming kept us engaged in church as a family. My husband and I could participate while we were still completely sleep deprived, or when the baby was sick and didn’t need to be around more germs.
And on the days when we couldn’t even make the live stream, a good podcast meant we didn’t miss out. We could catch up later in the week and discuss over dinner.
2. Safe & Thoughtful Childcare
That must look like…
Whether you’re in a permanent or portable facility, you can make your children’s spaces bright and clean. I can’t over-emphasize the importance of lighting. A dim space makes me feel like my kid could slip out without your notice, or like you’re disguising a rarely mopped floor (and I’m not a germaphobe).
The best experiences we’ve come across have classes broken out by developmental stage rather than age. For instance, different classes for newborns, crawlers, early walkers, toddlers, and on and on. It takes an excellent volunteer strategy to make it work. I realize it’s difficult. But some churches are excelling, and those are the ones we’re gravitating towards.
Two churches we went to had great child check-in systems and signage indicating only parents with children were authorized beyond a certain point. But arriving late once or twice and taking a quick look after the service had started, there were no people manning the halls at all. There wasn’t actually anyone to enforce the stated rules.
When our consulting team does the “secret shopper” part of a Ministry Health Assessment, they routinely find children’s hallways with unlocked doors to the outside, and open dark rooms off the main halls. I shouldn’t have to explain why this is a problem, but churches are missing this all the time.
- Why Mid-Size Churches Get Stuck: Not Prioritizing Children’s Ministry
- The Unstuck Church Assessment
- The Unstuck Church: Equipping Churches to Experience Sustained Health
3. Facilities That Keep Parents in Mind
That should probably look like…
A practical Sunday morning child check-in experience.
One of our consultants has five kids. He visited one church where the children’s building was completely separate from the main auditorium. The kids rooms were also spread out. It would’ve taken him 45 minutes to check his kids in before service. Not ideal.
A comfortable room for nursing mothers.
These days, doctors recommend new moms breastfeed for one year. Every young mom I know is at least attempting to do that, which means a Millennial mom just starting a family could reasonably need access to a nursing room for the next several years, if she ends up having multiple kids.
One church we went to had a softly lit room in the children’s wing, with gliders, a changing table and a TV streaming the service. Another sent me to a dark, empty theater room where I kept feeling like someone was spying from the camera box window.
There was really no comparison in terms of how comfortable I was going to church with a new baby. I realize this is a challenge in portable locations, but it’s one worth addressing. If you have a permanent facility, and you don’t have a great space for nursing moms, it doesn’t take a big investment to create a standout experience.
A Few Really Nice-to-Have’s
- Coffee. It doesn’t have to be fancy. It creates a welcoming environment and helps sleep-deprived parents feel awake and engaged during the service.
- Help finding community and serving opportunities. Parents of babies or younger children can feel isolated, and they may not have the energy (or time) to invest in attending a lot of classes, groups or events. How can you creatively offer them connection or ways to serve that work for their limited amount of time? I’d suggest starting that brainstorming session with the young parents you already have.
- Serving opportunities for kids. Beyond our own desire to serve, we also want our kids to learn that value from a young age. But many churches leave serving only to adults or teenagers and don’t create easy on-ramps for 8, 9 and 10 year olds. Some examples we’ve seen include kid-led worship teams, opportunities to help restock the nursery, and opportunities for families to serve in some way all together.
- Clearly marked family parking is really helpful. Especially if you have a big campus, make it clear how to park near the children’s wing so a new mom doesn’t have to lug a bucket seat halfway around the world and back. Encourage church members who don’t have kiddos to park in another area.
One other note, we followed every church we’re checking out on Instagram weeks before we showed up for the first time. Seriously. It gives us a feel for who they are beyond the Sunday service. The images and videos give us so much more insight than the websites alone. If you’re not investing time and energy into Instagram, let me encourage you start. Millennials generally are more engaged on Instagram than Facebook or Twitter.
Lastly, this is my and my husband’s list. We did vet it with several other young parents, but it’s still our bias. And in no way am I suggesting we feel “entitled” to these things. I hope you’ll simply let this be a window into what young parents are hoping to find.
If you are trying to reach Millennial parents, I believe these are some surefire ways you can connect—and ensure that we feel confident inviting other parents to church, as well.