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May 26, 2017

Grandfamilies...the latest findings

Grandfamily is a term for a family where the children are being raised by their grandparents. 

The latest findings show there are 5,600,000 children currently living with their grandparents.  This is 7.7% of the children in the U.S. 

What about the grandparents? 
  • 63% are under the age of 60. 
  • 58.7% are in the workforce.
  • 21% are living below the poverty line.
  • 24% have a disability.
  • 29% are unmarried.
  • Ethnicity:
    • 52% are white
    • 21% are African American
    • 20% are Hispanic
    • 3% are Asian
    • 2% are American Indian
The number of grandparents raising their grandchildren has doubled since 1970.  Why the dramatic increase?  The key reason is because grandparents don't want their grandchildren to be placed in foster care.  What is happening to the children's parents to cause this?

Drug abuse. Sometimes the parents have died of a drug overdose.  In 2015, there were over 20,000 overdose deaths linked to opioids and almost 13,000 related to heroin.  Some of these were parents who left behind at least one child.  Of course, not all parents who abuse drugs die, but continue to abuse and neglect their children.  Two-thirds of all cases of child abuse and neglect are tied to substance abuse.  In many cases, this causes the grandparents to have to step in and take custody. 

Mental illness.  Sometimes the parent is mentally ill, suffering from such problems as bipolar disorder, schizophrenia or major depression.  They may abuse drugs or alcohol in an attempt to self-medicate.  When this happens, state social services steps in, looking for family members to help.  In most cases, this is the grandparents.

Incarceration.  When parents are in jail or prison, often the grandparents step in to raise the children.

Take a closer look at your own congregation and you're likely to find grandfamilies.  They need your encouragement and support.  Think about it.  It probably has resulted in an interruption to any plans the grandparents had for their own retirement years.  It can also place demands on their health and income that they were unprepared for. 

How can we support grandparents who are parents again?
  • Be sensitive to grandparents who are in this situation.  Let them personally know you are there to support and encourage them.    
  • Have a list of programs in your area that provide day care, legal assistance, advocacy services, health care, substance abuse treatment and mental health support.
  • Start a support group for grandfamilies in your community.  Give grandparents the opportunity to encourage each other and share ideas for solving the problems they are facing.
  • Check out The Legacy Coalition founded by my friend, Larry Fowler.  They encourage authors, speakers and organizations to create resources on grandparenting.  They also encourage local churches to focus on the vital grandparent-grandchild relationship
Families today come in lots of different make ups.  Let's be prepared to minister to the growing number of grandfamilies.

May 25, 2017

Kids and Suicide

A recent report from the Pediatric Academic Society says from 2008 to 2015, the percentage of children ages 5 to 17 who were hospitalized for suicidal thoughts or actions more than doubled.  15 to 17-year-olds accounted for 50.4% of them, 12 to 14 year-olds for 36.9% of them and 5 to 11-year-olds for 12.7% of them.  Suicide is the second leading cause of death for children ages 10 to 24.  It is the 10th leading cause of death for elementary age kids.

The research also revealed there is a sharp increase at the beginning and ending of school years.  This could be due to bullying and abuse at school.  Another factor in the increase could also be coming from cyber-bullying with the rise in social media.

Much of the awareness and discussions are being spurred by Netflix's series "13 Reasons Why."  The show is centered around the fictional suicide of 17-year-old Hannah Baker, who leaves behind cassette tapes laying the blame for her suicide on various actions of different students.  The series culminates with the girl slitting her wrists.

Common warning signs for suicide include:
  • talking about suicide
  • being preoccupied with death in conversation, writing or drawing
  • giving away belongings
  • withdrawing from friends and family
  • aggressive or hostile behavior
  • neglecting personal appearance
  • running away from home
  • change in personality (such as from upbeat to quiet)

Problems that increase the chances of suicidal thoughts include:

  • depression or another mental health problem, such as bipolar disorder (manic-depressive illness) or schizophrenia
  • a friend, peer, family member or hero (such as a sports figure or musician) who recently attempted or died by suicide
  • a disruptive or abusive family life
  • a history of sexual abuse
  • a history of being bullied
Problems that may trigger a suicide attempt in children and teens include:
  • possession or purchase of a weapon, pills or other means of inflicting self-harm
  • drug or alcohol use problems
  • witnessing the suicide of a family member
  • problems at school, such as falling grades, disruptive behavior or frequent absences
  • loss of a parent or close family member through death or divorce
  • legal or discipline problems
  • stress caused by physical changes related to puberty or chronic illness
  • withdrawing from others and keeping thoughts to themselves
  • uncertainty surrounding sexual orientation
Another important thing to note is this.  Most of the younger children with mental illness who commit suicide had attention-deficit disorder, not depression.  In children ages 5 to 11, 60% had ADD or ADHD and 33% had depression.  In children ages 12 to 14, 66% had depression and 29% had ADD or ADHD.  This suggests that children who commit suicide may be more vulnerable to respond impulsively to interpersonal challenges.

As ministry leaders, it is vital that we are educated about this and know what to watch for.  It is also important that we be able to help parents who come to us with questions.  Let me be clear.  This does not mean we should try to treat kids who are struggling with suicidal thoughts or try to personally give professional counseling to them or their parents.  This must be done by a professional counselor.  But we should know what to watch for and have a list of licensed counselors we can refer families to.  And of course, we can pray with and for the child and their parents.  It is extremely important that we take all threats of suicide seriously and seek immediate treatment for the child or teenager.  

May 24, 2017

5 Deadly Viruses That Can Destroy Your Children's Ministry

The year was 2000.  If this happened to you, I'm sure you remember it.  You got an email that simply said "I love you" in the subject line.  Curious, you opened it and bam!  Your computer was attacked by malware that was downloaded on your click.  The virus overwrote your system files and spread itself over and over and over.  At the time, Guinness World Record named it the most "virulent" computer virus of all time.

Since then there have been a number of viruses that have been unleashed to destroy people's business and personal information.  Some of the most infamous ones were MyDoom in 2004 with losses of $38 billion, Storm Worm in 2006 with losses still being calculated, Slammer with losses of $1 billion and Sasser & Netsky with losses of $38 billion.

CryptoLocker is the most recent virus and is a new strand called ransomeware.  Ransomware is a virus that takes your files hostage.  Released in 2013, CryptoLocker is spread through email attachments and encrypts the user's files so they can't access them.  The hackers then send a decryption key in return for a sum of money.  If you don't pay up, you can lose all your files.  In one month, the virus had over 500,000 victims and costs over $30 million dollars in losses.

Just as there are viruses that can hijack and destroy your computer, there are viruses that can destroy your children's ministry.  It's important to watch for signs of them and know how to protect the ministry.  Let's take a look at five of the deadliest ones and how to prevent them.

DISUNITY 
The disunity virus can destroy your children's ministry if left unchecked.  It spreads through backbiting, competing visions, lack of communication, ministry silos and not following core values.

Unity doesn't happen by accident.  You have to fight for it.  Protect it.  Work for it.  This means everyone being committed to a common vision that is empowered by a set of core values that everyone embraces and lives out.  Unity doesn't mean complete agreement on everything.  But it does mean when there is a disagreement, the two parties talk it out face-to-face and stack hands before walking out of the room. 

COMPLACENCY
This virus works by lulling your ministry into a spiritual stupor.  You lose your passion for reaching kids and families for Christ.  You become comfortable with mediocrity.  The baptistry being dry for weeks on end doesn't bother you.  The status quo is okay.  Lukewarm is the temperature the ministries' thermometer is set on.  The light in the prayer closet is seldom on.  The Bible is read by duty rather than by delight.  Lack of growth is never questioned.

Complacency enters the ministry through complacent leaders.  Everything rises and falls on leadership.  Leaders must be a thermostat that set the spiritual temperature rather than a thermometer that just measures the temperature.  Refuse to rest on your laurels.  Refuse to accept the status quo.  Get with God and get a fresh vision and passion for the ministry.  Set some new goals that you'll have to go outside of your comfort zone to reach.  

HISTORY
This virus keeps you focused on the past to the point that it hinders you from moving forward.  You know it's present when you hear words like "we've never done it that way before" or "that program was started by Sister Johnson in 1968 and we can't change it" or "people might not like it if we changed that." 

The past history of a children's ministry is to be honored but it cannot set the agenda for the future.  Every year, you've got to evaluate and take a hard look at each part of your ministry.  Is it still effective?  Is it helping us reach people?  Is it still relevant? 

BUSYNESS WITHOUT PRODUCTIVITY
This virus sneaks in and fills up your ministry calendar with lots of events, programs and other ministry happenings.  It is sneaky in the fact that it makes the ministry very busy, but a closer look reveals there is not much productivity.  Countless events are held, but very few families are reached.  Volunteers, resources and program funding is stretched thin.  The ministry becomes like a merry go round.  Lots of noise and movement, but just going around in circles.

This virus can be prevented by carefully guarding your ministry calendar.  Remember, less is more.  Focus your volunteers, resources and program funding on a few things you can do well.  You can stop this virus with one little, but powerful word - NO.  Remember, what you say no to is just as important as what you say yes to.  Sometimes you have to say no to something good so something great can happen.

NEGATIVITY
You know this virus is trying to get in when you begin hearing words like "can't" or "we already tried something like that and it didn't work" or "we're too small to do that" or "that's a bad idea" or "what if we fail?"   The negativity virus is usually spread by a few Debbie Downers who see life through a negative lens and want everyone else to wallow in their misery with them.

You can combat this virus by perpetuating a "I can do all things through Christ" attitude.  Surround yourself with positive people.  Place positive people in leadership.  If you have a few people that are extremely negative, meet with them individually and let them know they are welcome to share their thoughts but they should come to you directly rather than talking sideways.  If you determine someone's negativity is starting to infect the entire team, it may mean asking them to step out of their role on the team. 

You can also combat this virus by consistently sharing the praise reports and stories of how God is at work.  When people see lives being changed and spiritual fruit happening, it will help overcome negativity. 

Are any of these viruses trying to make their way into your children's ministry?  Is disunity trying to divide the ministry?  Is complacency trying to pour cold water on your fire?  Is dwelling on the past hindering the future of the ministry?  Is the ministry busy, but not productive?  Is negativity trying to hurt the ministry? 

Expel these viruses.  Don't let them stop the ministry from fulfilling God's calling and plan.

May 23, 2017

Want to Partner with Parents? Try This Proven Tool

In the last two decades, there has been a movement to bring the church and home together in a partnership to disciple kids. 

This is a great mission since we know parents are normally the biggest influence in their child's life.  Many strategies have been tried such as take home papers, text messages, shared worship experiences, email and even apps for phones.  Even with all of these creative ways of attempting to involve parents in their kids' spiritual discipleship, the big question remains...are they effective?  Are parents actually using any of these tools?  That can be a challenging stat to measure.  We do know some parents use the discipleship tools we work hard to provide them with, but we are always looking for ways to engage more parents in this strategy. 

Recent research has revealed a proven tool that Millennial parents use with their kids.  And the good news is it is free for any children's ministry to use.  What's the tool? 

YouTube. 

Millions of Millennial parents are tuning in to YouTube for three main reasons.

1. Entertainment.

2. Educational content.

3. Watch videos with their kids.

The fact that Millennial parents are tuning in to YouTube for educational advice reveals a great opportunity for the church to partner with them spiritually.  Consider this.  70% of parents tuning in to YouTube are there looking for parental guidance help.  If the church wants to partner with parents, then creating parenting videos from a Biblical perspective and placing them on YouTube is a wide open door.  

Here's another question you may be thinking about.  How do you get parents to actually watch the videos?  We've all felt the frustration of spending time and resources on creating take home papers, only to find them scattered in the parking lot after church or spending money creating an app that is rarely opened by parents. 

One interesting thing to consider is this.  Moms are particularly open to receiving parenting tips and help from brands they know and trust.  If you want moms to watch the videos you put on YouTube, you must first earn their trust.  It takes time to build trust.  It takes providing relevant content to build trust.  It takes excellence to build trust. 

Want to find out how to come up with relevant content?  Research what parents are looking for advice about.  For example, many parents are looking for advice on subjects like what time is the best time for naps for babies, when should you give your child their first smartphone, when you should have the sex talk with your kids, etc.  Answering these type questions from a Biblical perspective is a key to get parents watching your content.  Want more topics parents are interested in?  It's just a Google search or parent survey away.  And don't leave dads out.  Recent studies show that more Millennial fathers are watching parenting-related videos on YouTube than mothers. 

40% of Millennials are now parents and the church has an unprecedented opportunity to partner with them.  These young parents have more open relationships with their children than any previous generation.  80% say their child is one of their best friends and 75% involve their child in household decisions.  They are having conversations with their children.  The church must provide them with something worth talking about and they will engage in discipling their children.