I know many of us are part of great churches. In an ideal world, you probably feel supported and loved all the way through the process and post-placement. If you find yourself in one of these churches, your pastor has probably talked from stage on a regular basis about the value of adoption. They know how integral it is when it comes to faithfully communicating and carrying out the gospel.
If you find yourself in a church like this, I hope you know how blessed you are.
If you’re not in a church like this it can be hard to feel like you’re in the right place. Don’t jump ship just yet. If you have a leader who is sympathetic to the need, you have an advocate. Even a lay leader often has significant influence to inspire new strategies. Often people don’t know what they don’t know and unless you say something to someone with an ear to listen, things stay the same.
With that in mind, here are three shifts in perspective any church can make that will have huge payoffs down the road when it comes to creating a culture of orphancare and making space for families who adopt.
1. Accommodate vs. Prepare
This is semantics, I know but it makes a massive difference.
Imagine you’re hosting a dinner. You’ve planned for ten people and as the guests begin to arrive you realize one of your guests has brought a plus one you weren’t planning on. You have two choices, you can either send them home or find an extra chair and place setting. I’m pretty sure you’d just find a chair and make it work. This is a good thing but how does that extra guest feel? Likely they feel a little embarrassed and like they’re in a place where they don’t belong. Imagine the difference it would make if you had already planned for an extra 10-20%.
In our churches, accommodating a guest seems polite, but what it actually communicates is, “We’re not prepared.” What hurts even worse is when a church has regular families who may have unique needs and the church continues to shuffle to try and accommodate. Preparation says, “We can’t wait for you to be here. We’re ready to help meet your needs.”
This subtle shift will pay itself back exponentially. Do it.
2. Systemization vs. Personalization
When things grow (especially organizations like a church), streamlining processes makes sense to help increase efficiency. But that doesn’t always work when it comes to families who don’t fit the systemized processes your team has put in place. Probably greater than 90% of the family situations in your church fit comfortably inside the systemization. But for the minority that desperately want to call your church their home, systemization needs to take a back seat to personalization.
Pastors have a shepherd’s heart. This is actually why they agreed to systemize things in the first place; it helps them care more efficiently for more people. And while there may be some push back (“We don’t do things this way,” or “Our policy is…”), a sensitive pastor or lay leader will have the intuition to slow down and listen and figure out a personalized solution, even if it means making exceptions to systemized processes to supply you with the care you need.
This is not usually a one-and-done conversation. It may take months of conversations. Remember, you’re probably not talking with someone who has adopted. They don’t know what they don’t know. You may have to teach them. Be vulnerable with them. Do your best to be gracious and see if God will open a door for you.
3. Go Find Them vs. Come to Us
There are 170,000 people in my city. The church I serve has about 1000 seats. Most Sundays there are extra seats which prompts a conversation about how to get people to fill those seats. The thing we always come back to is, people will not come until they know they can trust us. And they won’t know they can trust us unless they see us in community caring for them, no strings attached.
If we want to practice the purest form of Christianity, we really need to kill our capitalistic view of evangelism and take care of the vulnerable and the marginalized. If evangelism only looks like a preacher on Sunday then we represent Christ incompletely to families who’ve been left to the wolves.
Every year 2.4 million children are added to a family through typical methods, while approximately 140,000 find family through adoption. This means adoptive families make up at best only 6% of families in America. That’s one family in every sixteen. But for those six percent, these shifts can mean the difference between finding security and support in a faith community or making the decision that church is irrelevant to their needs, choosing to stay home on Sunday because the church experience has taught them that it’s just not worth the effort.
The beautiful thing about these three shifts is they cost no money and they don’t require additional staff. They don’t even have to come from a senior pastor. It’s great if it does, but any lay leader or volunteer with the right amount of gumption and finesse can lead these changes successfully.
Just remind yourself, it takes time, patience, grace, and copious attempts at mutual understanding. It can be painful at times, but as we’ve learned about life, painful things often turn in to beautiful things.