I was recently invited to speak to the parents of recently-baptized babies at a local parish. The faith formation director had advertised the event to “Everyone who wants to know more about how to pass on their faith to the next generation.” I was rather surprised to find that half of the participants were grandparents! The workshop I had planned for young parents still gave them ideas to take home to their children and grandchildren.
When we seek to reach out to families in our parishes, we need to think bigger than married parents and small children. Of course, we want to encourage and empower traditional families, but many people in our parishes do not see themselves as having a family. These parishioners may not consider themselves invited to a parish “Family Night.” If people perceive that they must be the parents of young children, our event will only attract that group. (And there will be times that we want that targeted focus, such as a marriage enrichment evening.)
However, everyone belongs to a family. Not everyone is a parent, but everyone has a parent, living or deceased. One may be a sister or brother, aunt or uncle. Someone who lives alone may have friends who are family to her. Single parents, spouses whose partner doesn’t come to church, single adults who care for aging parents, single people discerning their life’s vocation, divorced and remarried couples, couples experiencing infertility, grandparents whose children have stopped practicing the faith: all these folks belong to families. We believe they come to Church to seek God’s help with their family situations.
Consider billing a parish event for strengthening family life: “Sharing Your Faith with the Ones You Love.” Think of how many more people might consider themselves invited and attend. Everyone who loves his or her family – however it is structured -- can benefit from a mission that assists them with skills, knowledge, and inspiration for sharing their faith more effectively.
Think even bigger! If we reach out to all family members whatever their age, home life, or situation, we could reach even more people through the people who love them. We hope that all the participants in our mission will become the missionaries to their family members we do not see in church.