We’re in the throes of summer, and you might notice some of the kids are missing from your congregation. Some may be visiting grandparents. Others might be at sports camps.
But there are a few who might be spending their time off from school with a parent who lives in another city, or even another state.
These kids are members of a blended family—a family formed when one or both of the adults in the marriage have children from a previous relationship. If you don’t currently have one of these families in your congregation, you likely will in the near future.
The married couples and children who make up blended families bring the same giftedness and value to a congregation as anyone else. But there are a few things to keep in mind when welcoming such a family into your congregation or trying to more deeply connect with them.
The kids need to be pursued more intentionally.
Because the dynamic in many blended families is hinged on a shared custody situation, the children and teens in your church in these families won’t be consistent in their attendance and involvement. On average, the stepchildren in your congregation will be engaged in ministry-related activities around the half the time, since most of them alternate weeks between their divorced parents, or spend every other weekend with the non-primary parent.
Unfortunately, these scenarios often mean kids in stepfamilies fall through the cracks. I saw it happen with my own stepsons. They are now young adults, but when they were children and teens, they were often left out of the loop when it came to kids ministry or youth group. This resulted in difficulty establishing roots and deepening friendships within the church.
Be intentional about keeping them engaged. One way to do this may be texting them (with parents’ approval)—if they have a cell phone—during the weeks they are in the other home. Give them updates on what went on during the last youth group meeting they missed. Make sure they know about things coming up. This lets them know you value them as a part of the ministry and that they are worth engaging.
If the child is younger, consider mailing them the occasional simple note to the home of the parent in your congregation, telling them they were missed, and that you look forward to having them in Sunday school again. Plan to have special activities the weeks you know they will be around.
Don’t let the old adage, out of sight, out of mind, become a reality for the stepchildren in your congregation.
Their lives have extra layers of complexity.
Modern family life is complex, regardless of your dynamic. Parents have careers to maintain, homes to manage, and various other adult responsibilities. Kids have sports, music lessons, and schoolwork.
The adults and children who make up stepfamilies have all these to juggle, along with added layers of complexity. Children have to constantly adjust to going back and forth between two homes—which often have different values, rules, and expectations. This is a battle for some couples in blended families; they feel as though they spend much of their time “undoing” some of what they believe is a negative influence on the child in the other home.
Holidays and birthdays can be particularly stressful for blended families. There are other factors to consider, like the other home’s schedule and grandparents’ availability. Sometimes, this means the blended family couple in your church is without their children on their birthday or on certain holidays.
One way to minister to these families is to be mindful if a couple is alone on a major holiday. This is an opportunity to engage that couple by inviting them into your home or enlisting others in your congregation to do so. Oftentimes, blended families feel ignored because they simply aren’t understood. By seeking to understand their complexities—and meet them where they are—blended family couples can feel cared for and engaged in the life of a congregation.
The parents—and stepparents—feel inadequate.
In situations when the parent of the child in a blended family is divorced from the other parent, they carry a sense of guilt—regardless of whether they were the “responsible party” in breaking up the marriage. This makes them feel as though they have failed their child.
Stepparents often feel inadequate. Most stepparents want the best for their stepchildren, and understand what a weighty task stepparenting can be. For me, personally, being a stepmom is the hardest thing I’ve ever done. In many cases, stepparents carry the responsibilities of a mom or a dad: meals, homework, carpooling, and finances. But we don’t get the “return on investment”—the loyalty, love and appreciation—that a parent gets.
For these reasons, blended families in your congregation need extra encouragement. It’s important for church leaders to come alongside these families and equip them—just like they would traditional families—but at the same time, give them the special encouragement most people don’t realize they need.
Regardless of the season, or how long the blended family has been a part of your congregation, considering and embracing their unique challenges can position your church to care for them more effectively—and in doing so, better engage them in Kingdom work.
Joy Allmond is managing editor of Lifeway’s Facts & Trends magazine.