The family is one of civilization’s most important and foundational institutions. Unfortunately, the traditional concept of family is under attack, the implications of which are far reaching. According to author and blogger Tim Challies, “We know that a distinctly Christian notion of family is crucial to raising children in the discipline and instruction of the Lord. But there’s more at stake than raising the next generation of Christians. Family is crucial in at least two other ways: It teaches us fundamental truths of the Christian faith and it serves as an important kind of ministry.”
Equipping and strengthening families is vital to the life of the church and the faith and should be of great importance to the Christian retail marketplace.
ISSUES AND NEEDS
In 2006, LifeWay Christian Resources published a list of the issues Christian families wrestle with. Near the top was divorce, a finding Moody Publisher’s John Hinkley, associate publisher of the Gary Chapman Publishing Team, agrees with. “The absence of a nuclear family works against raising children in a stable and healthy environment.”
Bill Sharp runs Living Room Christian Books & Gift in Bastrop, Texas, with his daughter Kim Burns. They believe “the traditional family structure is being assaulted by society, social media, and entertainment. The family is bombarded from all directions, and our youth are being told that traditional values are not relevant.”
Benjamin Thocher, director of sales at Crossway, says other important issues affecting families include “discussions surrounding human sexuality, the implications of religious pluralism, and technology’s impact on our relationships.”
Just being a family can be a challenge. Marj Pon, associate publisher and editor of teaching and learning at Abingdon Press, notes that family schedules are “so packed that families have little time to be together as a family and often the overload leads to less time in learning about our faith together.”
Cultivating an abiding relationship with God is an important aspect of Christian family life. David C Cook VP of Sales and Marketing Learning Resources Chriscynethia Floyd says cultural influences “being experienced by families—and especially youth—are blurring the fundamentals of our faith. The shifts are subtle in some ways and others not so much, but in the end they’ll have a lasting impact on the church and how the church is viewed in history.”
With pressures coming at them from all sides, Christian families need supportive resources “that build a lifetime of faith. There needs to be greater diligence in building the faith foundation, not only for defending one’s faith but in order to understand, as Christians, we are called to ‘be in the world but not of the world.’ When you talk about building a foundation, you must start with the Bible, and instilling the love for the Word of God in your family is critical,” says Floyd.
Abingdon Press Associate Publisher of Christian Living Books Susan Salley says, “So many things are changing for modern families—schedules, proximity to family, and a lessening of time and support. We see more parents looking for help in building a steady foundation of faith and confidence for their family.”
GAPS AND OPPORTUNITIES
While a wealth of resources to help families fill Christian stores, gaps remain. “We’re hearing from our partners [about] the need for reaching a generation of youth that aren’t ‘into doing church.’ This means being innovative about how content is created and ultimately delivered,” says Floyd.
Thocher agrees: “Teenagers are a somewhat underserved demographic. Given current cultural trends, it’s important for them to have resources—devotionals, study Bibles, biographies, etc.—that connect their daily lives to the realities of the Gospel and prepare them to speak cogently and winsomely about their faith.”
Storeowners Sharp and Burns note they need more materials for this age group. “We need help to address this population better, but [we’re] not sure what that looks like.” The duo says they would love to stock more hands-on or activity-based products for youth between elementary grades and early adulthood.
Pon considers these gaps to be opportunities for resources that “help teach both adults and children about God, Jesus, and the Christian faith in accessible and understandable ways, as well as assistance with how to incorporate faith practices and spiritual disciplines into their everyday lives.”
“Parents need other parents to walk together through the challenges of raising families in today’s world. Small group studies that will stimulate camaraderie and transparent discussions will help parents feel both understood and supported. These resources may also provide an element of accountability,” says Hinkley. “They need to hear other parents who have overcome the obstacles of raising kids at every phase of development.”
Christian storeowners could consider hosting a multigenerational get-together at which parents can share ideas or war stories and get tips and advice. Pon sees the value in parents supporting one another in a safe environment. “[It gives them the chance to say] my kid asked this, my kid said this. Have you heard this before? How did you handle this? what should I say and do?”
She suggests additional helps come in the form of family devotions, apps, and emails; Sunday school lessons for parents; and small group resources that provide new ideas and concepts for parenting, using stories of real parent-child issues.
Thocher suspects that an increasing number of resources related to family life—such as those dealing with parenting, sexuality, and technology—and the spiritual disciplines of prayer and Bible reading will represent the next wave of publishing.
Hinkley has an innovative idea for retailers and suppliers to equip moms and dads.
“For many of today’s parents, the first place they go to discover, learn, and grow is the internet. Publisher- and retailersponsored websites that provide both time-tested and up-to-date parenting instruction and resources will meet these men and women where they are and guide them toward becoming more effective parents,” he says.
THE ROLE OF THE CHURCH
“It’s important to keep the church—its leadership, worship, and mission—central to the rhythms and structures of our family life. Pastors and elders, not publishers, are the spiritual authorities that God has placed in the lives of His people,” he says. “We should try as much as possible to equip and encourage these church leaders to shepherd families well.”Christian families. While the church isn’t the only way to serve families, it should certainly be the primary way, says Thocher.
Salley agrees: “Church communities are also finding effective ways to support parents, moms particularly, offering multigenerational mentoring, relationships, and support, whether the families are church members or not. That kind of community building, especially for young parents far from their own parents and grandparents, fills a void.”
“The church is in the best position to meet these needs, although it may not involve using the church building. Addressing parenting and family needs can be an effective outreach strategy for churches—to be Christ and meet needs where people are,” says Hinkley. “The best environment for this may be in homes, where a family invites other families/ parents from their neighborhood to a discussion group in their home once a week. Over time these couples may be drawn to Christianity and ultimately the church.”
He sees value in helping the church sponsor seminars, classes, or small group experiences where parents come to learn and share together. “Publishers and retailers can partner together with a church to both resource and promote these learning experiences. Publisher- and retailer-hosted parenting events and partnering with local churches has the potential of attracting both Christians and non-Christians. This can be done at a civic center to make it more natural and nonthreatening to those who feel less comfortable attending church.”
The goal remains keeping families together and developing a strong foundation of faith.
“The top issue for parents is and has always been raising children who love God and love others,” says Thocher, “while ultimately entrusting that outcome to God alone.”
— Lora Schrock