It's estimated that over 408,000 children are in the United States foster care system today. Some of these children will be adopted into new permanent families, most will return to their own families and an estimated 30,000 of them will "age out"of the system this year at 18 years old with no familial support, little resources and in most cases a basic education. This is the unacceptable reality of what's going on around us everyday right in our own backyards.
The stories are often horrific, the statistics are daunting and the problem so massive that it's often hard to know what to do or where to begin. Yet, at the core of who we are as the Church, we believe that even in midst of the overwhelming there is a hope that is far more compelling. That is the gospel - the capacity of Jesus to bring great beauty out of tragic brokenness. It's in light of this gospel that the Church has both the duty and privilege to speak on behalf of and stand for the sake of those who cannot speak and stand for themselves - because that is exactly what God has done for us through Jesus.
So, as your church explores what to do and where to begin with foster care, here's ten unique ways it can practically get involved by mobilizing its people to not only care for kids but also support those who do:
1. Preach About It
Spend a Sunday (or a series of Sundays) preaching about the gospel and God's heart for the orphaned and vulnerable. Make the call clear and broad - that in light of God's work on our behalf, we're all not called to do the same thing but we're all certainly capable of doing something.
2. Host an Informational Meeting
Provide an opportunity for people in your church to gather and learn more about how to get involved with foster care - all the way from bringing children into their homes to serving and supporting those who do.
3. "Dedicate" Foster PARENTS in Your Church
Most churches celebrate Parent/Child Dedication ceremonies during the year. Do the same for foster parents! Bring them in front of the church and have the body pray over them and dedicate their support to them! (NOTE: Don't bring the kids on stage, it can feel exploitive. Just bring the foster parents up.)
4. Organize Serve Teams
Ask local agencies if there are any specific needs they know of that families have - i.e. general home maintenance, lawn care, car repair, etc. - and mobilize serve teams to take care of those needs around your community.
5. Host a Date Night for Foster Families in Your Area
Your church can hire (or recruit volunteers) certified babysitters for a Friday or Saturday night and allow foster families from the church and community (hint: outreach!) the chance to go on a date!
6. Honor Local Social Workers
Social workers are often overworked, underpaid and severely under appreciated. Find ways to honor, encourage, love and pray for them this month. Click HERE to learn some easy and practical ways your church can rally around the workers in your community
7. Throw a Party!
Throw a big party for foster families in your church and around your community. Maybe it's a BBQ picnic at the park, bounce-houses and games at the church or even a nice appreciation dinner that shows them they are seen, appreciated, loved and supported.
8. Serve at a Local Child Welfare Office
Child welfare agency offices often double as waiting rooms at all hours of the night for kids waiting to be placed and parent/child visitation spaces. Ask if there are rooms that need makeovers and provide the materials and labor to create more welcoming and comfortable environments for the kids.
9. Assemble Care Packages
Children are often removed from their homes and placed in foster care with little to none of their own personal clothes or possessions. Find out from your local agencies what items kids that are being placed need most and organize a volunteer team to assemble them together.
Pray for kids in foster care, the families they come from and the families that are caring for them now. There is a spiritual battle stirring over the lives of vulnerable children and families and everyone involved is in the path of the Enemy's attacks.
The Church is uniquely equipped with a variety of giftings, callings and passions to effectively address the foster care crisis in our country. The opportunities to get involved are endless and full of possibilities - as unique and diverse as each individual member of your church. No list can be exhaustive, and this one certainly is not. It's just a starting place to be creative!
Also be sure to check out Ten Simple Ways Your Church Can Serve Foster Families and Wrapping Around Foster and Adoptive Families to discover some creative ways you can serve and support families in your church and around your community.