Enable families to take a larger role in church.

Churches and pastoral staffs need to face the fact that two-thirds of all families today have two breadwinners, not one. These families face special problems as they juggle the demands of jobs, family life, and commitments to the church. They simply do not have the flexibility of other families.

Tight schedules allow them little time for dealing with their children’s school problems, sibling altercations, or even a child’s illness. In addition, although they want to serve the church, sometimes such people are too drained by their own concerns to do so. These two-paycheck families, who often feel isolated by the problems peculiar to their lifestyle, need the support and encouragement of the church. Here are some ways the church might help them.

Promote awareness of the two-paycheck family’s time and energy stresses. We are all busy and must make constant choices about priorities, but time and energy for two-paycheck families are constantly at a greater premium. The relentless focus on two paying jobs contributes to this. So does the fact that most of the same work still has to be done at home. As a result, adults from two-paycheck families may consistently arrive at church or committee meetings feeling drained. They need to know that the church understands the level and quality of involvement they can contribute.

Encourage flexibility of meeting times. The worship committee in one church used to meet at noon; new people on the committee have different schedules, so it now meets in the evening. Noon may be a good time for Bible studies and support or prayer groups to meet. A meeting over a sack lunch after church on Sunday or for breakfast on a weekday sometimes works well. Such flexibility means easier involvement for many people.

Work out some short-term commitments. A small support group program in my home church asks those who wish to join a group to make an initial commitment of six meetings. Group members may then decide if they wish to continue and for how long. A Lenten Bible study series is another possibility. The idea of short-term commitments may be popular with other members as well.

Provide good children’s programs and child care during meetings. Parents who must leave their children every day are reluctant to abandon them to a sitter on evenings and weekends. They can more easily become involved in church activities if the children enjoy their church programs.

Good programs usually require a time investment by volunteers, or else funds to provide proper nursery care for young children if capable volunteers are unavailable. Sometimes only a little effort and adaptability is needed. For instance, young children clad in pajamas and robes might attend a home Bible study with their parents. Following a half-hour of songs and a story with the families gathered in the living room, the children are put to bed all over the house while their parents concentrate on Bible study.

Find ways to allow children to remain with parents in worship services or at committee meetings. Being able on rare occasions to take my young daughter along to committee meetings enabled me to be involved in the church at an otherwise impossible level. Working parents sometimes also need the freedom to take a child into the worship service—even though the church has a nursery. A child may be tired of being left, or the parents may especially need to have him nearby. The congregation can learn to accept the rustlings of a reasonably quiet child.

Plan quality family activities. These people appreciate times they can enjoy as a family unit since so much of their lives pulls them apart. One good idea is a family night where the evening meal (perhaps from a fast-food chain) is shared along with a program of interest to everyone.

My family has enjoyed puppet and mime shows, skits, and musical programs at family nights. A picnic with games for all ages is another possibility. So are an intergenerational Sunday school class with time for families to work on crafts, or a summer family choir. These programs work best if they do not require major schedule changes or extensive preparation.

Provide specific support programs dealing with the problems of their lifestyle. Two-paycheck families need a support group where they can air their problems with others who understand and talk about priorities from a Christian perspective. A sharing group might be formed of working couples, or a program planned presenting professional input on various aspects of the two-paycheck lifestyle.

In their book, Making It Together As a Career Couple, Marjorie and Morton Shaevitz say many couples in a two-paycheck marriage think there is something wrong with them or their marriage because they have so much difficulty working things out. While we would put it in a spiritual light, the Shaevitzes say most problems of this lifestyle are predictable, and do not of themselves indicate anything about the marriage or marriage partners.

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A support group involving others who have similar problems could alleviate the stress. Couples could also gain ideas from one another on how to handle specific problems, and priorities could be discussed. Some couples might even be led to give up the second paycheck. Others could receive the practical support they need.

A ministry to two-paycheck families can help them face and assess their values and lifestyle from a Christian perspective. While the secular world focuses on individual growth and rights, often at the cost of relationships, the church can help couples achieve a more biblical balance. In return, the church with such a ministry will enable these families themselves to minister more effectively. Some who might otherwise leave the church will be drawn into its life as the Christian community provides needed support. Furthermore, a ministry to two-paycheck families can provide outreach to other such families in the community.

Formerly a missionary to Brazil, Mrs. Schrage is currently a free-lance writer living in Pasadena, California.

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