Why you aren’t reaching young adults and families with children

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.

Kelly Mahler

“Young Adults” image courtesy of photostock / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

35 thoughts on “Why you aren’t reaching young adults and families with children

  1. Right on! My teen years were happily spent in LRY, the Hollis Unitarian Church (NY) as well as 5 awesome summers working at Homestead– the UU youth camp/community. Your readers might find this film project interesting too: http://homesteadthemovie.org/

  2. Just shared this with my church. Many of your points are things I’ve heard discussed, as in “how can we do this better’, we still seem to be stuck in our traditional (read old fashioned) ways – heck, we have people who get mad because we use email! I can’t even imagine discussion texts with them!
    Anyway, Kelly, this is great.

  3. A super good article, Kelly – thank you! One of the big things any Millenial could do for one of us “Boomers” (who generally use e-mail and often are heading the planning committees lol) would be to spend a half hour or an hour getting us up to speed on some of the technologies you mention (I’m not familiar with Meetup; sounds great, though). I don’t mind texting, but is there an easy way to set up “groups” within our phones to make it easier to write one text to multiple people? Those little tidbits of info would help me transition better into the kinds of communications that would work for younger folks like you. Thanks again for some great ideas and thoughts!!

  4. All of these suggestions sound appropriate and useful for the younger group we are trying to attract. If the Church “communicators” can use both the “oldfashoned” (read e-mail or text),methods, I can keep up. If everything moves as fast as the millenials can use, I fear that some of us oldsters might give up trying. It would be helpful if our computer whizzes of any age could offer a few classes in the newer methods. Anyway, great article with many useful suggestions.

  5. Kelly – You say you want to be asked to help on occasion, “especially if it’s a good fit.” If I were an involved leader at your congregation, I would have no idea how to implement the texting and other ideas you say you want. So, it seems like a “good fit” for you to volunteer to set up those things you want the congregation to start doing. If you don’t do it, who will? It won’t be the same folks who, like me, think email is the greatest “new thing.” (P.S. My wife’s surname at birth was Mahler.)

  6. This comment is shared on behalf of Dan Harper ~ http://www.danielharper.org

    Kelly, as a minister of religious education, I definitely see the things that you describe. Yes on competent child care workers (which, by the way, means excellent pay and annual training) — yes on older people learning how to integrate kids into other activities — yes to congregations continuing to keep parents of young children in the loop — yes on finding multiple ways to communicate depending on the preferences of the recipient. Yes, yes, yes.

    And what I also see is that there’s a lot of variation from family to family about how this all works.

    For example, regarding service time — it depends on the family, esp. the children in that family We have two services with Sunday school only at the 9:30 service — but we have families asking for Sunday school at the 11:00 service because their family does not get up early (hard to get the kids out of the house, etc.). In addition to the personalities of the kids involved (some kids are just not morning people), it also depends on the age(s) of the kids in a family — a toddler is going to require a very different schedule than a tween. Of course, your underlying point still remains — congregations have to be sensitive to how families with kids actually live their lives, and come up with something that serves the maximum number of families, while shutting out as few families as possible.

    I also want to add that while I’m a big fan of planning digitally as much as possible, there is still something to be said for face-to-face meetings — *if* meetings are reasonably kid-friendly, and *if* meetings are as much social events as to get committee work done. Our religious education committee has met in people’s homes, with dinner, and a kid-friendly activity in the next room — maybe we don’t get as much “work” done, but we’re learning and modeling how to create a kid-friendly congregation.

    But basically I agree with everything you say. And not only do you Millennials have to speak up, but Baby Boomers and Gen Xers have to be willing to listen, and make adjustments.

  7. I am a 26 year-old pastor of a UCC church, and while I thought a lot of Kelly’s comments were great, they are much easier said than done. Here are my thoughts, from a young clergy person on the other side of the fence, the one usually held responsible for implementing all your ideas…

    11am service is too late? Well, 10am is way too early for the teenagers and young adults without children, so you just can’t win. Our service is at 10:30 and seems to work well. Scheduling child-friendly events is a great idea. I think that intergenerational activities and worship are the future of the church, after all, it’s called “Faith Formation” now rather than Sunday School. The newsletter and email are not enough to keep you in the loop? We also have a weekly email that goes out and an active Facebook page. What else can we add? Daily text updates? Oh, and while I am on the subject, email is not outdated at all. I can think of very, very few emails that I whittle down to a text message, without losing most of the content. Also because of smart phones, many people now get emails immediately on their phones, akin to a text message, but the sender has a lot more flexibility as to how the message is sent (either from a computer or another cell phone), and how much content there is. We should ask our young parents to do more. Maybe you aren’t being asked because you “hardly ever respond” to email, phone and snail mail. Expecting attendance for planning purposes, yes, we can get more creative about this, but the bottom line is that you cannot replace the efficient, accurate exchange of information that happens in-person. Also, many older folks don’t use anything you mentioned, so how can we have an intergenerational meeting? Seems like including one demographic inadvertently excludes another. I say bring the kids to the meeting! We have many kids at our meetings and we are glad they’re there, and they get that good adult role modeling that you mentioned. Other communities doing it better? Do you worship, sing, praise, pray, read scripture and feel the presence of the divine with your mom group? The church is not a social club, and worship should not have to compete with commercialized gimmicks. If being part of a faith community isn’t a priority for you, then it never will be, even if we added funflatables.

    1. Great reply to the article, I loved it. While we try to be flexible, we can’t be all things to all people. We’d lose focus, and being all over the place benefits no one if the infrastructure isn’t there. If Kelly is dissatisfied, time to roll up her sleeves and create the change she’s seeking. Otherwise, coffee klatches may be her next best option.

      1. Hmm… Kind of have to take exception to this. Isn’t being a UU partly to be “all welcoming?” If you’re saying there’s no room for different walks of life, then you’re not being true to UU principles. I would actually argue that UU congregations haven’t done enough to promote themselves as a progressive religious option. Where’s the outreach? Where’s the new blood? If you only welcome those who are middle-age/seniors because they can make the sermon or can attend a knitting circle at 10AM on a Tuesday, you will not build an affinity with a more complex, attention-limited generation. It’ll be like the Republican Party only on the other side.

  8. I write as some one who has climbed through the ranks from parent of a first grader to church president.

    When I brought my five year old through the doors of the RE building in the Fall of ’76, my only intention was to leave him there and trundle off the the grown-up church. I was greeted by the resolute face of our DRE, who asked, “What are you going to do?” meaning what will you volunteer for? Many of we parents had very good reasons for not volunteering for anything, but our DRE was so resourceful that she could find anyone an excuse-proof job.

    So, we parents soon found ourselves working in common cause. Some of us were reluctant at first, but eventually we all came to love community and the church school. We didn’t even mind attending planning meetings because we knew that someone would bring something good to eat and we would all have a good time.

    Once I was in the RE program, I didn’t mind being pushed up through the ranks, eventually graduating from RE, and entering church leadership.

    I resonate to all of the comments in this piece. I think the solution to engaging parents is a commitment to finding a way that every single one of them can contribute to the program and the community. If a church can do that, it will soon find itself with a solid community of dedicated parents.

  9. Who would have thought a quick visit to the FB Lab and a quick comment over there would lead to a blog entry here. Plus, now all of these wonderful discussions are taking place.

    Now that the kiddo is in bed, I wanted to try and jump in for more conversation on this topic.

    I think the hardest thing about this topic, at least for me- is how do you approach it without falling into the “special snowflake” syndrome? That was something I was particularly cautious about when I sent a version of the above to my own church board, because the fact of the matter is: church isn’t filled with just Millennials, or just parents, or any sort of “just” anything. It’s such a wide mix of people. It’s a difficult job balancing everyone’s needs- one I can’t imagine taking on as a minister (a taste of it while serving on the board was quite a large enough helping for me at the time). So I hope the above can be read with that in mind- that I, and others sharing my predicament, certainly don’t expect the church to start solely catering to our needs and our needs alone.

    That said, however, I think any congregation can fall into the trap of thinking that if you ARE catering to one group, it can only be done at the expense of another group. It actually reminds me of a favorite college professor of mine and his lecture on the scarcity mentality- the tendency of humans to think that there is only so much success and happiness to go around, and that if things are going well for someone else, then it can only happen at the expense of your own happiness and success. So I think we need to shy away from the thought that “if we do that for that generation, the other generations will have to suffer.” Of course that’s easier said than done, but I honestly believe it’s possible.

    For example, just because some of us don’t do well with email and would prefer text communications from our church doesn’t mean that email communications will suddenly stop for those that prefer that. Just because some church events may be “kid-i-fied” doesn’t mean all events have to be. It’s all about inclusion. It’s an addition problem, not a subtraction problem. We should think about what we can add to our churches in order to attract growth, and shy away from the trap of thinking that we must sacrifice in one area in order to accommodate growth in a new subcategory.

    Jan and Shirley:

    I think this is a great idea. It’s something I’ve actually mulled for a time. I was thinking about doing a Pinterest event, but your comment makes me think that perhaps I’m putting the cart before the horse. It’s easy to forget that for some, email and texting can be challenging enough (heck, you’d think I’d have realized this by now from the questions my Mom asks me about technology!) I think this would be a great way to “bridge the gap” for anyone, young or old, who might be interested.


    You are so right. I do already have some involvement at church, but I have been trying to think of ways I can “step up my game,” so-to-speak, in a way that doesn’t take too much time away from my family. I’m going to do a bit of research and see how hard it would be to implement opt-in mass texting as a way to keep more of our congregants informed. Oh, and glad to find some more “Mahler” love out there. There’s not a lot of us around, it seems. Unless you count all the taxis in Munich, hehe.


    It is definitely difficult to find a way to make it work for everyone regarding service time. I’m not going to lie, I’m often secretly jealous of the many Christian churches I pass that have a 9am time, and a later 10 or 11am time. I wish our membership was big enough to support that, but at this time I just don’t think it would work for our church. For a time, I ran an 18-35 year old Wednesday night group, and that did work for a while, but with our small membership, it only took a handful of this group moving away for other pursuits before the Wednesday night discussions dissipated. Evenings, though, as I said earlier, can also be problematic for many families- so even having Sunday and Wednesday, it wasn’t always the best fit for people.

    It’s impossible to make everyone happy, of course. One alternative that I wish my church WOULD return to, was having different service times for different parts of the year. Summer was one time, and the rest of the year was another. I thought that was as nice compromise, but for some reason long ago, soon after I joined, it was stopped.

    As far as meeting face-to-face vs digitally- I think it depends on the type of meeting. I guess I sat through so many 2-3 hour meetings that I just lost my taste for doing any of the “business” of church in person- especially since it seems that the larger the group, the longer it takes. Perhaps a good compromise would be to do as much of the “business” as possible before the meeting-using digital resources- and then later finish things up in person.

    As far as bringing kids, if I had felt that my child was welcome at more meetings (maybe she is, but I’ve just never felt the vibe that it would be okay to bring her), I probably would attend more of them.



    Thanks for sharing your perspective. I have no experience doing any kind of ministerial work, so I always enjoy hearing things from that side of the fence.

    — “The newsletter and email are not enough to keep you in the loop?” —

    Yes, I really do feel this way. Something is missing. Perhaps that “something” can only be gathered by actually attending, but it seems that only major events and developments are captured and passed along in these communications. If I could make it a perfect world, I’d love an update every week, or every month on these things. If there was a committee meeting within that time frame, I’d read about how it went. If there was something of note that took place during a coffee hour, it would be reported. Not a perfect world, though, right? 🙂 One can hope, though.

    — “Oh, and while I am on the subject, email is not outdated at all.” —

    Depends who you ask, though, and I hope this doesn’t come off as judgmental or snarky, but for some, for many, it really is fading. There have been numerous blog posts on this very subject in the tech sphere, so I won’t elaborate much more here, but I really do feel that email is fading fast. If you don’t believe me, ask the next pre-teen you meet. Who needs email when you can text, Skype, share files via Google docs, you can plan your schedules with another person easily either through phone apps, or websites like WhenisGood.net. Why bother with funny forwards or chain emails when you can get your laughs from Youtube, 9gag, and the like. You can host your event through FB events, Google+, Evite, or Meetup. You don’t need email newsletters when all of the good deals and promotions can be found on their FB page, or via Groupon. You don’t have to tell your friends where you are going or where to find you- they can see where you are just by checking out Foursquare. Sure, you can get your email instantly on your smartphone, but you can do all those other things just as fast and easy on your smartphone, too… so the competition is pretty stiff, and email is losing. Honestly, the biggest reason I use email is because I get emails from other people who haven’t moved on to these other technologies… which is fine- but the fact remains, that people are moving away from email, especially the younger crowd. Here I go off on a tangent, though, so I’ll try and get back on track. 😉

    “Expecting attendance for planning purposes, yes, we can get more creative about this, but the bottom line is that you cannot replace the efficient, accurate exchange of information that happens in-person.”

    We’ll have to agree to disagree on this one, I think. I’ve actually found the opposite. When you get a bunch of people together in a group, it takes SOO much longer to get stuff done. Ever heard of “stop sign design by committee?” Lol. People get distracted. People start talking about stuff that doesn’t matter. There are interruptions. Somebody’s always asking for something to be repeated. Somebody else is losing focus and missing out on what’s being discussed. Somebody’s talking just because they want some attention. I actually find in-person conversation to be highly inefficient and less permanent, and more details are lost. At least with online tools, things are usually recorded and no details are lost- whether that be a recorded Google Hangout or a spreadsheet, etc. If someone spaced out, they can refer back to these permanent copies. There’s less distraction when it’s just a document you are reading or a video you are watching.

    — “Also, many older folks don’t use anything you mentioned, so how can we have an intergenerational meeting?” —

    THIS, however, IS still the challenge. I think it would take some thought and discussion to come up with creative solutions to this.

    — “Other communities doing it better? Do you worship, sing, praise, pray, read scripture and feel the presence of the divine with your mom group? The church is not a social club, and worship should not have to compete with commercialized gimmicks. If being part of a faith community isn’t a priority for you, then it never will be, even if we added funflatables.” —

    Well, my husband and I are Atheists, so I can’t speak to any kind of desire to feel a divine presence, or some kind of spirituality, but what I do look for in community is for a sense of belonging. An outlet for doing good in the world. A place for my child to learn good values. A community that is welcoming and inclusive and tolerant. A place that searches for truth and meaning. I do get much of that at my church, but also through other things in life- like Moms groups, gym memberships, family relationships, and more. Church does not, cannot, and should not have a monopoly on this, in my opinion. I think what a UU church SHOULD be offering, though, that is unique (and this is solely my opinion) is a platform for change in the world. As much as I love my Moms group, I can’t say that we are shaking that many foundations or ruffling that many feathers.

    I don’t think we have to rule out fun, or socializing, or “gimmicks” in the process of doing the above, though. Sure, we have sermons, and rummage sales, and people volunteer, and protest, and travel to third world countries, and I could go on and on, but why does our aim as a church have to preclude fun? Church and fun CAN exist in the same sentence. Now I know that was not the intent of your comment- to suggest that church can’t be fun, but it does seem like you are a bit hesitant to appeal to the commercial or “gimmicky” side of things. These things can have a time and place, though.

    In fact, I think we should be having more fun, and not just within our own communities, but why not share fun and laughter with the wider world, with parents, and children, and grandparents, with members, and non members alike? This whole topic is about growth… well, what better way to promote growth than through fun? How many new members could we attract with fun? Yes, even crazy Funflatables. The great thing about fun and gimmicks and all that jazz is it’s so easy to tailor it to different generations. Many people in my church like Bridge. How about a Bridge night? Maybe the pre-teens would enjoy a concert. Perhaps the parents would like a play-date for all the kids to hang out. I could go on and on. We need to realize that not EVERY activity sponsored by the church HAS to be strictly “on mission.” Sometimes having events and activities that are just there to be there, and have nothing to do with the seven principles, or the latest political justice concerns can be the best ways to bring new faces into the conversation. You might even get a few who stick around for some Sunday services. Even if they don’t, at least you know you put a smile on their face for a day, and that’s worth something, too, in my book.



    “I think the solution to engaging parents is a commitment to finding a way that every single one of them can contribute to the program and the community. If a church can do that, it will soon find itself with a solid community of dedicated parents.”

    Definitely agree with you on this statement!


    Whew… didn’t mean for that to get so long-winded, but there it is. Time for this tired momma to go relax for the night! Take care, everyone!

  10. The “email” discussion is really interesting. One of the reasons non-millennials have found email so useful is because it’s a single source for information. Everyone can have an email address, and reading email can be done using lots of various systems that are tailored to your personal tastes, so it’s really an extremely efficient form of communication – and it still has the “nigh instant” advantage of other modern methods. Naming off 9 different ways of handling various forms of highly tailored pieces of communication seems needlessly complex by comparison – plus, every time you add another form of communication, that adds another layer of effort both in time to learn how to use, time to figure out what others are using currently, time to distribute, and time to make sure that communication is duplicated. If people are already receiving newsletters and mail and email, that’s actually a great deal of effort that is already being expended to make sure people hear about things. The response of “well I don’t use those” just adds more pressure to already overwhelmed resources to cater to whatever the latest form of communication is in style – which will quickly be replaced by the next form anyway. Duplication of all that effort is quite tedious, AND you have to deal with the fact that only a small fraction of your audience will be receiving information in any given way. Some people may have one app, but others use something else. It’s all so distributed that it’s actually quite a nightmare to indulge every single one of those disparate cases, especially when everyone could be using a standardized form of communication that is embraced already. All of the backlash seems to comes from a perspective that doesn’t consider the effort involved in distributing information.

    On the other hand, this is absolutely the way the world is heading. Modern companies catering to younger audiences actually do have a wild array of PR sources spread all over the internet that spend massive amounts of time and effort distributing information redundantly through dozens of channels because that’s the only way they know they’ll reach all their audiences. Part of it is really a self-perpetuation: younger people are part of these companies and also they understand the tech better so it takes them less time to distribute the information, and they have more time on their hands to do it. But this is what’s happening. The younger audience really is inundated with a constant fire hose-sized stream of information every second of every day and they expect if you want their attention you will spoon-feed your information to them in the method of their ever-changing choice.

    The good thing is that this is a problem that can be solved – in an chicken-and-egg sort of way, and unfortunately it will take even more of what are already scare resources. As others have mentioned, the best way to make sure that an audience is catered to / communicated with is to have members of that audience volunteer and take over that task. You need millennials to reach millennials, because others just don’t have that kind of time and/or understanding. That means getting more millennials involved in the first place, and getting them into positions where they can help distribute information in constructive ways. Which really brings us back to the beginning of the article. 🙂

    As for communication via online vs. face-to-face, that’s absolutely a generational thing, and there is no right answer. Millennials complain that face-to-face is distracting and inefficient, but older generations would say the exact same thing about online communication! It’s all about what you’re used to and how you work best. I don’t see massive changes happening in what people feel comfortable doing, so this is just something where compromise on both parts should be expected.

  11. As a 30-something SAHM to 5,3&2 yr olds AND a board member in my 4th year at UUCCH, I can say our leadership is very aware of these challenges. We are in a trial-run of implementing an app that manages our long-range goals and is collaborative. We hope to have it fully integrated into church membership in the next year. We hope to roll out online chat meetings where the some decisions are made online in the app and others are made in person. We see having iPads outside our sanctuary where people can read meeting minutes, our growth plan and long-range plans. It is part of our effort to reach out to millennials and increase our reach.

    1. Charlotte, as you move forward I’d love to hear more about this app. People ask me about UU apps, but I have few success stories to share.

  12. Sure thing Peter! I am hopeful that this app will help UUCCH keep pace with the efficient ways that our younger members meet & communicate, thus making leadership positions more desirable to the young adult population.
    Much of my personal awareness on this evolved at a retreat put together by CERG on generational habits around work and leadership, hosted by Media, PA’s congregation in Fall ’12. Fascinating differences that I clearly saw being acted out at our congregation. Boomers tend to prepare to plan for the plan…and then think on it some more. This is in strong contrast to GenXers and Millennials who prefer to act, observe, adjust–quickly! It’s all about pace. Not all of the young adults are prepared or willing to deal with “church time.”

  13. It is interesting to hear about email being outmoded for younger folks. It puts us in a bit of a bind since some of the elder members haven’t totally caught up with email yet. It just shows that communicating in as many forms as possible is needed to reach as many people as possible. Still, we have had special congregational meetings where members have told me “I would have liked to be there but I didn’t know about it”, despite announcements which went out in emails, newsletters, order of service and from the pulpit. I doubt that texts would have helped.

  14. I just must say that many churches in the UU movement are not Kid friendly. have been to a few and Joined UUCY. Many feel the kids are an afterthought. I do think all parts of the congregation should be involved. If a parent wants to bring a child Ok bring the child. If one faction of the church does not like the children there deal with it. They are the future of anything that is done or going to be done. Why limit what they hear, Get them involved early. Have events ON THE GROUNDS that include physical activity so we nourish this part of our family.

    If your church has beautiful grounds use them not just for the adults but all of the church. Everybody must feel part of the church no matter how long they have been there or how old they are.

  15. Many good points! But: “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.” Come on, that’s a bit much, don’t you think? How can you expect to meaningfully contribute to a committee or other activity if you don’t have the attention span for something more than a text or Facebook tag/post?

    1. James, I know many people today who no longer use email other than for work and newsletters and spam. An increasing number of people I know use Facebook as a primary mail channel. My close friends now almost exclusively message me. It is a challenge, but it is a very real shift we need to be tuned in to. Also opportunities if we have permission to contact people via direct and instant messaging.

      1. Peter, I appreciate your point that many people use Facebook as a primary mail channel and even the main way they communicate with friends and even coworkers. I have experienced the same thing — some friends FB message be. Others almost exclusively text. And when I’m communicating with clients or colleagues about work projects, email is primary. But I don’t insist to anyone that this or that channel must be the way they get in touch with me. I’m flexible, and I think we all need to be somewhat flexible in this regard. I think it can be asking too much of the church staff and/or volunteers to tailor communication to each church member — to email one, text another and post on Facebook for someone else. I think we should all be open to exploring new ways of communicating and collaborating, and I also think email remains one of the most reliable common denominators for sharing important information in groups.

  16. This is important! Thank you, kelly. one thing that concerns me is that some of us don’t have Iphones, not because of being older, but because of finances. It can become an issue of economic class, with low income folks being left out.

  17. Outdated RE materials that are mainly ‘busywork’ or an excuse for playtime (“it’s Montessori”) and don’t address the interests or needs of kids are a reason also. At least for us. We also felt left out because we homeschool and there are a lot of school teachers and school board members in the congregation and none of these wanted to acknowledge our existence or dialogue with us because of the non-traditional educational choices we had made for our kids. I think that the assumption was that we were misplaced evangelical Christians, anti-science and anti-evolution, which could not be further from the truth. We are also a one income family, and fairly low income at that, which is another issue with the church.

  18. Does no one else take personal responsibility to stay informed on what is taking place within their churches or other organizations? I don’t expect my church, city, workplaces, or professional organizations to spoon-feed me. I go to the communication portals they have the time, talent, and finances to utilize.

  19. As a parent to a ten year old and having gone through all of this as a parent of a young child recently, I totally agree with all of what you have written! However, since I now attend church with my parents, who are 75, some of what seems totally obvious and simple to us (such as planning events over the internet) is really not accessible for them. How do we include both groups? What is the middle way? Who’s needs get me and who’s do not? I used to be all about transforming churches to be more welcoming to young families, and I still am, but until I lived with seniors, I did not realize how much my pushing for my own inclusion was pushing them out.

    1. It is definitely a challenge, and one we have faced as well, and a concern that has often been brought up. I continue to encourage layering, and of thinking of things as an addition problem. If you look at how companies handle marketing, they do not pick just one medium to send out their message. They try to hit every medium they can. I think this same mentality can work for a church. Figure out what systems you want to utilize, and duplicate that message across platforms. You can have the same or similar blurb then sent out as snail mail, email, Facebook, website, text message, (insert your preferred mediums here), etc. That way you are covering as many bases as possible and you are capturing multiple generations of people. The trickier part is getting this set up in the first place so that things can run as smoothly as possible. Goodness knows, you don’t want to waste any time if you can streamline it into as easy a copy/paste solution as possible.

  20. Hey, fellow youngish mother of a six year old, attending a UU church. We actually stopped going for about three years from the birth of my son until the time that he was old enough for RE. I just recently threw a tantrum on behalf of our babies about the sad state of our nursery. It had not been updated in 20 years. It was dirty, the toys were old and broken, and we did not have a crib or changing table. I got so frustrated trying to get people to understand how important these things are for the youngest members of our congregation. Out of sight out of mind right. However many in our congregation also make their displeasure quite clear if a family keeps the baby with them during the service and the baby should *gasp* cry or otherwise make a noise. What happened to the inherent worth and dignity of every person? Guess it does not apply to the under 12 set. I mean after all, it’ not like they can make a pledge. 🙂

    After six months of campaigning for donations to make a spruce up possible, I had just about given up. However, something happened and we got a group of boy scouts looking for a service project to paint the room, we got donations of furniture for the nursery, and someone donated the materials and labor to put in a new laminate floor. The transformation is amazing.

    It also resonates with me your point about kid friendly events. My general sense is that UU parents want their kids to experience diverse groups of people and what better venue to do that in than attending a UU fellowship event. However, many of our fellowship events were scheduled at 7pm. That is pretty close to little man’s bedtime. It felt exclusionary.

    And I actually heard an older member of our congregation go on and on during a discussion of remodeling our parish house that there should be a separate floor where kids meet and that they should not be allowed to have access to other parts of the building lest they tear down a poster or leave a mess. I was mortified, and glad that this was a conversation with limited participants. What a damaging idea for young parents to hear.

    Great post. Cannot wait to share with my minister.

    1. You are certainly not alone in your frustrations. I think many congregations have struggled with this. Right before I became a member, our church went through similar struggles (so I’m told, since I wasn’t there) and eventually decided to implement “whole worship” whereby children were incorporated into the service instead of marched out. From what I’m told, this was not a cut and dry, black and white process- it had its share of bumps and bruises along the way, but it has been this way since I’ve been there, so to me, it seems normal. I forget sometimes that this isn’t always the case in every congregation.

      It sounds to me like there needs to be some discussion on the issue- involving the board and the minister, possibly worship committee, and others… It is a cultural change that needs to happen, and that can be difficult to change without coordinated effort, minister and board support, and patience. I would definitely encourage you to contact your board president or another board member and bring it to their attention. Bring your concerns to a board meeting, too, and that would be a great start to getting some discussion happening!

  21. Great insight and suggestions. I would also add that when certain generations don’t see activities or ministries occurring within their respective fellowships that would otherwise appeal to them, it would be great if they would offer to lead those initiatives to inspire others in their demographic in addition to offering suggestions to the leadership. This would definitely be a win/win for church and congregant.

    As a pastor’s wife and now ordained clergy I too have gone through many of the stages alluded to in the article. However, in each congregation where I have served I decided to launch new initiatives to address my concerns and in so doing was able to draw others in my same dilemma along. However, it required intentional outreach on my part to get others involved because people today don’t generally respond to general announcements in bulletins or newsletters.

  22. Just catching up with this conversation… Thank you so much, Kelly and Peter, for posting and keeping the discussion going. I have experienced this issue in a few ways: from my son’s birth to 18 months, I was a minister serving a congregation. My son’s naptime was right smack in the middle of the service, so I wouldn’t have been able to go to church if it wasn’t my job to be there on Sunday. I recognized as a minister and organizer of events that it was extremely hard to find times that worked for families with children under three. After church interferes with naps and short attention spans. Evenings interfere with bedtime. Daytimes interfere with work for many. And within daytimes, naptimes and routines really vary among families and ages.

    But there are special ministries I know congregations have created. At my most recent church we created a 20 minute Family Worship from 10 am-10:20 am on Sundays. It was a complete service designed for families with kids under 10, led by the DRE and minister. It didn’t replace the children’s elements of our regular service. The two services drew different crowds. Lots of toddlers and babies at the Family Worship and many newcomers. A 20 minute experience is so much more approachable for toddler parents. At another church I served, the DRE started a Parents of Young Children group that met once a month from 3-5 p.m. on Sundays, with kids present. There was a potluck with everyone together, and fun activity based childcare for a portion when parents could connect and talk. The minister and DRE would be there helping lead. Both provide ways for parents of young children to engage with church meaningfully.

    Personally, I’m now a church-goer, since I’m doing community ministry now. I have visited four or five congregations with my son, who’s now 2 1/2. Some of the best practices I’ve seen: nurseries with great, classic and recognizable toys that make the kid want to stay and play. A congregation with a sofa and toys in the back of the sanctuary, where he played with blocks and a boat and ran around during the service. A “cry room” stocked with toys, books, a changing table, and comfortable chairs from which parents could watch the service through a big window. I really like the chance to worship with my son and teach him what it means to be in church. I like congregations where it’s OK to do that, even if my kid makes a little noise now and then.

  23. All great ideas! I actually “found” our UU church when I had small children. Part of the draw was actually the idea that I could have some peace for one hour a week. One wonderful thing our UU church does is that it takes these tasks seriously enough that it pays the people who run them. Thus, the nursery is run by paid staff, not a team of clueless volunteers. The RE director is likewise a paid position, although individual RE teachers are not. I think this makes a big difference.

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