Sunday Morning Strategies – Dealing with Parents [The Absent Parents]

absent parentWelcome back as we continue our “Sunday Morning Strategies” series designed to help you to accommodate children of divorce and children from single parent homes in your Sunday morning children’s ministry. Last week we started a series on issues related to dealing with parents and we identified three different types of divorced parents you are likely to deal with:

  • The Warring Parents
  • The Absent Parents
  • The Other Parent

This week we continue our series by looking at the Absent Parents.

2. The Absent Parent

Even worse than warring parents can be absent parents following a divorce. Divorce is commonly a precursor to adults leaving the church. Whether they are just too busy dealing with the issues related to the divorce or they feel condemned by the congregation or out-of-place, far too many people run from the church following a divorce. If a couple was attending your church as a family prior to the divorce, it is likely that you will lose at least one of the parents and quite possible that both will leave the church. We find that many children of divorce try to continue going to church following the divorce of their parents. Eventually though, without your intervention, they too will stop when their parents refuse to drive them or they begin to feel left out of the rest of congregational life.

As the children’s pastor or children’s ministry director, you are likely to end up with “Children’s Ministry Orphans” – kids coming to your church without their parents. As a church, you have to proactive in engaging these kids in the life of the church and ensuring that they will have the desire and the opportunity to return.

When you start to think about the events and activities at your church, ask yourself some key questions:

  • Would a child without parents who attend this church feel comfortable coming to this event?
  • Would parents who don’t attend our church feel comfortable letting their child come to this event?
  • How can we make sure that kids who do want to come to this even have a means of getting there and getting home?
  • What sort of adult supervision is required for kids who come without their parents, and are you equipped to offer that type of supervision?
  • Do we have any events or activities just for kids/teens, so these kids will not feel somehow singled out for being there without parents?
  • How can we work through friends and other relatives to reach these kids?
  • Are we following up on the kids we already have to make sure that they are not falling through the cracks because their parents have left the church?
  • Is there someone in our church who has a strong enough relationship with these kids that they can talk to them and minister to them in an organic way?

There are specific things that you can do to tackle some of the issues these children of absent parents have in getting to church and building relationships at church. Bus ministries have long been an effective form of outreach, particularly in troubled neighborhoods. In this type of ministry, the church bus is available to pick up any child in the area who does not have another means to get to church and bring them to the church for Sunday service, Wednesday night activities, Vacation Bible School or whatever else is going on. Perhaps more churches, and particularly suburban churches where people might not expect a bus ministry, should begin looking into offering this type of service. Perhaps you can recruit families in your church to serve as transportation volunteers. If you find out that a child wants to get to church but doesn’t have a way, these pre-approved screened volunteers/families would be available and willing to go pick them up. After all, they’re already coming to church anyhow. If there is an extra seat in the mini-van, why not fill it?

Getting kids to church who don’t have transportation is half the battle. Getting them to feel like this is their church home and they are a key part of the congregation is the other. Too often, we treat all kids as if they are not really part of the congregation or church but just some sort of extension of their parents who are part of the church. So, we offer children’s ministry services, not to serve kids but to serve parents in helping them to disciple their kids. Ask yourself, does our church serve kids because they are made in the image of God and we are called to serve one another, or do we serve kids because by doing so we are serving their parents? Unfortunately, I believe it is often the latter which leaves kids feeling as though they are not “true” members of the church. When children continue to come to our church, they may eventually feel like full-fledged members, but for children of divorce, this idea of belonging by associate with adults fall by the wayside and they eventually end up feeling like outsiders in the very place where they should feel most welcome. The onus is on us then to find ways to make these kids part of the congregation both before and after their parents’ divorce.

This means:

  • Finding ways for kids and teens to engage in intergenerational worship and Bible study. Not only will the kids learn from the adults, and vice versa, they will form bonds through their mutual relationship with Christ.
  • Families “adopting” kids who may not come with their parents. This adopted church family can keep an eye on the spiritual development of the child and provide practical help like transportation and someone to talk to.
  • A system for kids who don’t have the opportunity to go home and review your take home card with mom and dad or do weekly devotionals at the dinner table. The home may be God’s primary vessel for discipleship, but what are you doing for the kids who are not being discipled there?
  • Treating kids like members of the church in their own right. This can be scary for adults because it means allowing children to **gasp** have a voice in the life of the church. I’m not suggesting you let the six-year-olds plan your next building fund, but let’s start teaching them what it is like to be a member of Christ’s church.
  • Offering services to kids and teens. Set up a Divorce Care 4 Kids or The Big D for teens class in your church. Those curricula essentially create a small group of hurting kids and caring facilitators who learn from one another and learn to rely on one another. If that is not the definition of fellowship, I’m not sure what is.

Come back next week when we will complete our series on dealing with parents by looking at the “Other Parent.”

This article is updated and adapted from an article originally published on Divorce Ministry 4 Kids on September 09, 2013.

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Written by Wayne Stocks

Wayne is the founder and executive director of Hope 4 Hurting Kids. He is a happily married father of four kids with a passion for helping young people who are going through rough times. In addition to Hope 4 Hurting Kids, Wayne previously started I Am A Child of Divorce and Divorce Ministry 4 Kids to help kids who are dealing with the disruption of their parents’ relationship. These are now part of Hope 4 Hurting Kids. Wayne speaks frequently at conferences and churches on issues related to helping kids learn to deal with difficult emotions and life in modern families.

Wayne lives with his wife, three youngest kids, three dogs and an insane collection of his kids’ other pets outside of Columbus, Ohio. In addition to his work with Hope 4 Hurting Kids, Wayne is a partner in a local consulting firm, an avid reader, coaches his son’s soccer team and is a proud supporter of Leicester City Football Club (and yes, for those in know, his affinity for the club does predate the 2016 championship).

You can reach Wayne at wayne@hope4hurtingkids.com.