Everyone experiences change in their lives, but change is stressful—and it can actually harm our health if we don’t manage it well! Studies show that life’s most stressful changes (like marriage and divorce, job loss, and moving) can contribute to illness and put strain on relationships.
That’s why faith, church, and a relationship with God are so important for people experiencing stressful life change. Connection to Jesus through a local church can be the anchor that offers steadiness, hope, security and community in times of uncertainty. The church can offer a biblical and effective way to cope. One study even found that “church membership was the only type of social involvement that predicted greater life satisfaction and happiness.”
As a church, we need to reach and serve people going through these struggles. Here are six stressful life events almost everyone experiences and ideas for how your church can connect with the people in your area who are going through them.
More than 2 million marriages begin each year. And many don’t take place in a church. If you happen to have an awesome, wedding-worthy building or some beautiful land on the church property, one way to connect with young couples is to set up a wedding ministry – offering your facility or use the services of your pastor. Offer the services of a wedding coordinator to assist with on-site details, and then list your church as a wedding venue in local wedding guides.
Another option is to offer premarital counseling, marriage counseling, or even a ministry for newlyweds just learning how marriage works – promote your classes in the community and on local wedding sites as a way of reaching young couples. You can do that even if you don’t routinely hold weddings for non-church members in your building.
Unfortunately, separation and divorce are also realities. Don’t ignore the needs of people experiencing those events. One option is to offer a support group ministry called DivorceCare, which can be helpful and can benefit the unchurched as well as church members. It’s also a great way to introduce the unchurched to the healing found in Christ and in a church-based community. And it’s meant for those going through both separation and divorce.
Birth or Adoption of Children
The addition of a child to a family, whether through birth or adoption, is one of the most simultaneously exciting and exhausting times in a parent’s life. These times are prime outreach opportunities, because often families find themselves needing their community in ways they never have before.
- The first and most obvious thing you can do as a church is to make sure you offer a safe, welcoming ministry for kids each Sunday. Parents need a break, and the peace of mind you give them that their babies and kids are loved while they’re worshiping God is a huge gift.
- Mother’s of Preschoolers (MOPS) is another great mid-week program designed to give Mom’s a break and offer peer and spiritual support during the exhausting stage of life.
- If you know of a new mom in your congregation, or even one in the community who doesn’t attend your church, reach out and ask the family if you can set up a meal train for them as they adjust to life with a new child, or if you can join one already set up.
- Dawson Memorial Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama, maintains what they call a Cradle Care ministry, where expectant families in the church and larger community are assigned a caregiver to support them through pregnancy and the first three months with their new baby. It’s a great example of a church fully embracing ministry to families in this stage of life, but it takes time and commitment, as it’s meant to build an ongoing relationship.
- Need something impactful but don’t have the resources to fully commit to something like a Cradle Care ministry? Visit your local hospital and perhaps the local office of an adoption agency to ask if they would accept gift baskets for new moms on behalf of your church. If they are, visit your local dollar store and shop for inexpensive necessities every new parent needs: small packs of diapers and wipes, a onesie or two, toiletries, mints, a bag of coffee, a small Bible. Include a note of congratulations from your church, and wrap it all in a cute tub or basket with cellophane and a ribbon. Since many young adults who had previously stopped attending church return when they begin having children, this is a great way to connect with parents who perhaps are planning a return in the near future but aren’t sure where to go.
Loss of a Loved One
Whether someone loses a spouse, child, parent, grandparent, or someone else they loved, it can be difficult to learn to adjust to life without them. And though grief is natural, no one wants to navigate it alone. Churches nationwide maintain a GriefShare support group, and if you don’t already offer one, it might be a great ministry to start.
And just like you set up meal trains for new parents, ask a newly bereaved family if you can bring them food, because the last thing they probably feel like doing is cooking and washing dishes. Offer to mow their lawn or tidy up their house. Think of the burdens you can bear for them while they take time to heal their hearts.
Becoming Empty Nesters
You might not think of sending the last child off into the world as a major life change, but for empty-nester parents, it’s huge—and churches can often forget about their unique needs. Consider their change: They’ve invested the last two to three decades of their lives raising children. It’s been their primary focus and has possibly dictated many of their other major decisions: where to live, where to work, how to spend their time. And just like that, as the last child waves goodbye, they find themselves with just each other. It’s both lonely and freeing.
Here’s where church comes into the picture: If their kids were their primary reason for attending, they might find themselves attending less. Plus, they’re really between two common groups the church often reaches intentionally: families and seniors. They don’t fit the family mold, but they’re not seniors yet, either. If you aren’t offering ministries or small groups specifically for these folks, you might not be reaching them as well as you could. Offer a group that meets weekday evenings or Sunday afternoons to give them an alternative to Sunday mornings. Set discussions on topics that are relevant to their lives, like caring for aging parents or parenting adult children.
Make them a valuable part of your community. Offer a mentorship program where you pair empty nester couples with newlyweds or young couples just starting their families. The older generation has valuable decades of experience to offer to those just starting out, and those younger ones would be grateful to have it. It connects the generations, builds community, serves, and gives purpose.
Buying a Home and Moving
About 35.5 million people move each year. And with moving often comes the need for a new church — whether someone is just too far away from their old church to continue attending, or the loneliness of being in a new place has an unchurched newcomer longing for community. You need a way to reach these people, and the Outreach New Mover Plus program is a great way to do it. It’s easy: Just select the geographic area you’re targeting, and the program automatically sends postcard invitations to people who have recently moved into that area. It’s automatic, budget friendly, personalized to recipients, trackable with monthly online reports, and targeted to the postal carrier routes you choose. Though any time of the year is a great time to start, summer is the most common season for moving, so it’s your best chance to reach the most people in the middle of this big life change.
For better or worse, many people define themselves by their jobs. In fact, 70 percent of college graduates get a sense of identity from their work, and 45 percent of non-degreed workers say the same. So when someone loses or quits a job, it can be a blow not just to the daily rhythms of life but to their sense of self, too. There are lots of ways a church can help those stuck between jobs, and most of these double as great outreach tools to the community when they’re advertised as community-wide or planned in partnership with local businesses or organizations.
Form a job network where you not only connect people looking for work with those hiring, but where a group can meet to practice interview techniques, polish resumes, and encourage one another. If someone in your church works in HR, recruiting, or a similar field, ask them to give a workshop on entrepreneurship, interview advice, or other related topics.
Offer to host a job fair, perhaps with your local chamber of commerce or for the businesses represented by members of your church. Have some positions to fill on your own staff? Consider hiring someone you know needs work if they seem like the right fit, or give them an internship or volunteer role as they search for new work to bridge gaps in their resume and keep their skills fresh.
Life change can be challenging, and no one should have to go it alone if they’re struggling. Whether you’re looking to start new ministries or looking for ways to incorporate new strategies into existing ministries, keep outreach to these people a priority as your church seeks to integrate itself more deeply into your community.