In a counterintuitive way, the goal of your church is not to make foster care and adoption a special thing; it’s to make it a normal thing. It’s relatively easy to make caring for orphaned and vulnerable kids special because in many ways it is special - it’s a uniquely difficult yet rewarding place to engage a broken world with the heart of God.
Yet for as special as it is, we don't want it to be a peripheral side-show in our church - something special people do through a special ministry in our church that we recognize at special times at the year. Instead, we want it to be a normal thing that normal people do in our church that is a normal, regular, consistent part of the culture of our church – any time and all the time. That's a bit more challenging and requires a more thoughtful, strategic approach.
Here's three primary principles to consider in your efforts to move orphan care, foster care and adoption out of the peripheral spaces of what your church does and into the normal rhythms of who your church is:
1. Use the EXISTING
First, begin by using ministry mechanisms in your church people are already familiar with. For example, if your church is a small groups based church, then it wouldn’t be too strange for a new small group to start for those who are interested in foster care or adoption. Small groups are normal at your church, and it’s normal for people to hear of new ones starting. So it wouldn’t be too difficult for people to understand why a small group for those interested in foster care or adoption is starting. It would be normal. Why? Because, small groups – that’s just what our church does. They do them for families, singles, young adults, men, women and students – and now they have one for potential foster and adoptive parents. That makes sense. It’s not a peripheral thing from the norm. It’s not a side-show to what’s really central at the church. It's not introducing something that's inconsistent with the rest of the church. It’s normal. It’s at the core of what you as a church have already established as an essential value. As a result, it’s not necessarily that you’re starting a new ministry as much as it is that you’re expanding the outworking of an existing one that people are already familiar with.
Maybe it isn’t small groups but it is Sunday School or equipping classes or mid-week training events. Whatever it is, use that which is already normal in your church to help bring some normalcy to your adoption, foster care and orphan care efforts.
The principle is this: You likely already have many of the components you need in your church to operate an effective and sustainable foster care, adoption and orphan care ministry. It's not a matter of starting a lot of new as much as it is about identifying what's already existing and finding ways to leverage it in new ways. How can this be funneled through children's ministry, small groups, students, etc.?
The same principle applies to your communication. What are the normal communication portals in your church? Website? Stage announcement? Bulletin? Info in the lobby? Understand how things are communicated church-wide, who is in charge of that process and what you would need to do to get a communication piece about the ministry into that pipeline. If people are in your church are used to being told to check the website for more info about what’s going on at the church, then try to have a presence there. If they’re used to hearing announcements on Sundays, then try to have a presence there. If your church leverages some type of info or resource table in the lobby to highlight ministries, then try to have a presence there. Do whatever you can to be a part of the normal communication outlets within the church. Let it be said by people in your church over time that it’s normal to hear about orphan care, foster care and adoption on a consistent basis around the church. Learn more here.
2. Develop a “Drip Strategy”
Second, develop a strategy for how you are going to consistently communicate God’s heart for the orphaned and vulnerable and opportunities for your people to get involved throughout the year. Big events like Orphan Sunday or a sermon are like fire hydrants – a lot of information and emotion all at once for our people to swallow. These “fire hydrant” events are not bad; they can act as significant catalyzers to movement by sharing a strong vision with a wide audience. However, it would be counterproductive to host one or two special “fire hydrant” events during the year with little to no mention of adoption, foster care and orphan care in between. That rhythm does not provide opportunities for people to process what they’ve heard, what they’re feeling and what perhaps their next steps are. It leaves them overwhelmed with a lot of information and nowhere to take it.
This pattern can also inadvertently reinforce the "special" mentality - our church cares about this at special times of the year or when we do a special event. This, of course, is not what we intend to do, but in fact what inevitably happens when we isolate our involvement to a "fire hydrant" only rhythm.
Rather than a once-a-year flood, we want to consistently “drip” the care of the orphaned and vulnerable on our people throughout the year in smaller, easier to absorb ways. This gives them the opportunity to process through what they are hearing and feeling and discern how God may perhaps be calling them to respond. It also provides a pattern of normalcy. It's normal to hear about this in our church - sometimes in "big" ways and sometimes in "small" ways - but either way it is a consistent part of the rhythm and flow of our church.
Consider outlining a “drip strategy” for the year that helps keep the issue in front of your people in a strategic, balanced way. Maybe your ministry is just getting started, so working with your leadership to plot two or three things on the calendar would be a significant step forward in your ministry. That would be fantastic! Or perhaps your ministry is at a place where you're able to map out a comprehensive annual plan. Either way, the ultimate goal is for the care of the orphaned and vulnerable to be consistently incorporated into the overall messaging of the church to the extent that your people come to understand it not just as a “special” thing the church does sometimes but as “just what our church does” any time and all the time.
Here's a few examples of some opportunities you may have to “drip” orphan care on your church:
Stories | Share stories of foster or adoptive families in the church through video, live on-stage interviews or some sort of testimony posted online or in print form for maximum exposure to the church body. Read more about sharing stories here.
Parent Dedications | When a new child is placed in a home pray over the parents during service just as you would during a more traditional parent/child dedication ceremony. That family feels overwhelming supported while at the same time everyone in the audience gets “dripped” on in a big way.
Big Events | At the beginning of the year plan your larger special event opportunities you will invite the church to participate in (i.e. Backpack drive, Christmas Angel Tree, Orphan Sunday, 5k race, etc) as well as your "fire hydrant" events (sermon, conference, etc.) and keep them evenly spaced out throughout the year. For example, a backpack drive in late summer can be followed up with some small “drip” components in the fall (stories, dedications, info meeting, etc.) before a sermon series or larger special Christmas service project event is introduced towards the end of the year.
Sermons | As a pastor or church leader, use sermons to preach on God's heart for the orphaned and vulnerable, or at a minimum be strategic in how you use it as an illustration to a particular points within yours sermons. With so much reference to God as our Father, we as His sons and daughters and the Church being described as the family of God, it’s relatively simple to incorporate it into your preaching. It can be a simple, subtle and even unexpected way to consistently “drip” on your church through the very normal and familiar medium of the sermon.
Leverage Recurring Opportunities | Churches often have recurring times of the year when they kick off new small groups, classes and other ministry opportunities that are perhaps seasonal in emphasis and focus. It could be something like the “back to school fall kick-off” after summer. Take advantage of any times throughout the year your church normally highlights new opportunities for people to get connected into discipleship, community and ministry and work to incorporate this into it.
In your efforts to normalize the care of vulnerable and orphaned kids into the culture of your church the goal is to know what you’re going to do, when you’re going to do it and why you’re going to do it by structuring the ebb and flow of "fire hydrant" events and "drip" opportunities in a balanced and strategic way throughout the year.
3. COMMUNICATE AN "EVERYONE CAN DO SOMETHING" MESSAGE
I recently met a man in Nebraska. Mid-60's, retired. He spends most of his time at a local equestrian center re-shoeing and caring for the horses there because many are used in equine therapy for kids who have experienced trauma, abuse and neglect. He told me that while he may not be able to bring a child into his home he can certainly take care of these horses if it means it helps those kids who need them. I couldn't agree more.
I recently met a couple in Kansas City. Empty-nesters. He told me he makes the best BBQ in the state (a bold claim!) and LOVES to cater any orphan care ministry related event at their church including respite nights for couples, info meetings for those considering getting involved and even taking meals over to families homes who have had a new child placed with them. Here's a couple that has said, "We know what we can't do, and we know what we can do, so we're going to do what we can do well." They told me that while they may not be in a position to bring a child into their home right now they can certainly do their best to bless those who are. I couldn't agree more.
I know of lawyers that will donate legal services for adoptions pro bono. Mechanics who one Saturday a month offer free oil changes to single moms and foster parents. Counselors who offer their services for free to foster and adoptive families. The list could go on. Normal people doing normal things. Everyone...every.one. can do something.
The opportunities to get involved are as unique and diverse as each individual (and normal) person in your church. This ministry is not reserved only for the most "special" people in your church, but instead is designed for every normal person in your church to do something uniquely and specifically special. Everyone has something to offer - whether it's BBQ, babysitting, a gift card or even a new forever family. While we are not all called to do the same thing, we are all certainly capable of doing something. Perhaps it could be said this way: You're either called to bring children into your home or you're capable of serving and supporting those who do - so find your "something"!
Maybe the consistent "script" at your church can simply be this: "At _______ ________ Church, some of us are going to bring children into our homes, the rest of us are going to find ways to serve and support them."
Here's a visual to help us see some simple, unique, diverse and normal ways that a community of people can wrap around and tangibly serve foster and adoptive families - and in so doing participate in their calling and responsibility to care for kids by serving and supporting the families who have brought them into their homes. Read more here.
To explore the idea of making it "normal" further, and to discover practical ways to implement the "everyone can do something" model in your church or ministry, download my FREE eBook, "Everyone Can Do Something: Building a Foundational Culture of Orphan Care in Your Church".
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