One greeting I’ve never heard.

By definition, an orphan is a child whose parents are dead. A family is a group consisting of parents and children living together in a household, related to one another by blood or marriage, treated with a special loyalty or intimacy. An orphanage is a residential institution for the care and education of orphans, while a home or household is regarded as a family unit.

So which of these two best describe your church? Is it a home where one lives vitally as the member of a spiritual family or household? Or is it an institution cared for by religious professionals because the spiritual parents are dead and there’s no one else to care for the ‘children?’ The answer, “Home, of course! What were you thinking?” Maybe, but not so fast.

Remember the song, “I’m so glad I’m a part of the family of God…?” Or the oft repeated, “Welcome to the family of God,” or “Welcome to the First Church family?” I’ve used them many times as a pastor, and as a guest in many churches. And while I’ve never heard a worship hour begin with a hearty, “Welcome. Your parents are (spiritually) dead. Glad you could make it to The Orphanage this morning,” there have been times I’ve thought it might be appropriate.

I should have asked more questions.

Some years ago while teaching as an adjunct seminary professor in Singapore, I was invited by a student to speak at his church the next Sunday. I asked if he had any preference as to what the topic might be, to which he replied, “Something about family relationships would be ideal.” When I arrived at a church located in a large rented room above an auto repair shop, I quickly realized I should have asked more questions.

I was prepared to share how they might reach the young parents of Singapore and their children. Only the room was already filled with young parents and their children. And the big question was not what I had anticipated it to be at all. It was, “Tell us how to reach the older generations in our families, our parents and grandparents, to tell them about Jesus! They are Buddhists or Hindus or unbelievers altogether. Our culture is accustomed to honoring the older members of our families and their beliefs, but we want them to know Jesus, too.” I found myself confronted with the flip side of American Christian concerns, in which parents and grandparents are most often the ones seeking help to reach their younger generations.

Deep-rooted by 13.

We are told that fundamental spiritual beliefs, commitments and relationship patterns are typically deep-rooted by the age of thirteen. How we reach and teach youngsters before they arrive at high school age determines much of who they become for life.

Most of us would say that we are responsible for raising our children and guiding their growth. But is what we say true? In reality we depend heavily on professional outsiders to do the job for us: The church for religious training, schools for social, intellectual and athletic skills, and the media for keeping them entertained. According to George Barna, research shows that, “parents have shifted from the role of primary caregivers to that of child development managers.”[1]

Which brings us back to the question. Are the older generations in your church making a transformational impact on the rest of the church family? Or are the young elders (50-69) and master elders (70+) spiritually alive and well or dead and dying? Do the generations interact in healthy ways? Is there intentionality in the way your older members are connecting with the church family? Are the ‘family stories’ beliefs and faith traditions being passed along or passed up? Are all the members of your church family valued and involved?

What do you do in your church to ensure that the family stories (heritage), beliefs and faith traditions are being passed from elders to the young generations?

What do you say makes your church a “family?” Or an “orphanage?”



[1] George Barna, The Seven Faith Tribes. Tyndale House Publishers, 2009.