In our research work with churches across the country, we’ve “discovered” an obvious truth all over again—listening to people is a crucial spiritual discipline.
In our Fourth-Soil Parenting Project, an expedition into fueling parent’s spiritual impact in their kids’ lives, we asked our 20 participating churches to launch this four-year adventure with “dinner listening parties.” We gave them three sets of “listening post” questions—one parents answered prior to a dinner gathering, one they answered during dinner, and one they used to guide a “focus group” after dinner. As the results of these dinner listening parties flow back to us, we’re hearing similar feedback, over and over: These listening exercises were a huge hit, and we’ve learned so much—why don’t we do more of this?
Leaning Into Listening
When we interview families about their background, family, faith practices, and hopes for their children we gain a deeper understanding and appreciation of their journeys. And we lay the groundwork for a conversation about lifelong faith, what it means to be the church, and how households can live their faith every day, everywhere, with everyone. Here are a few ideas to fuel your own family-focused listening parties…
1 | Learn about the family.
• Tell me about your family (members/ages/distinctives).
• What are some things that you do together as a family?
• What are some things you consider important to your family?
• What are some of the challenges you currently face as a family?
2 | Ask about their spiritual life and faith journey.
• How long have you been a member of this congregation?
• What are your hopes regarding your family’s growth and maturity in their relationship with Jesus? What expectations do you have for our ministries to come alongside these hopes?
• In what ways would you like to see your children grow in their faith between now and the time they graduate from high school?
• What do you hope your children learn or experience as a result of your influence in their life of faith? As a result of the church’s influence?
• What are your own plans for continuing to grow in your relationship with God this year?
• What role do grandparents, sponsors, friends, and relatives play in helping you and your children grow in your relationship with jesus? What role would you like them to play?
• What are your common faith practices at home throughout the week (prayers, devotions, etc.)?
• What do you need from me/our congregation to continue to grow as followers of Christ?
3 | Share your understanding of how faith is formed on a daily basis.
• “At ____, we view parents as the key faith-shapers in the lives of their children— we’re here to support households in that process.”
• “Research shows that a growing faith is practiced daily. We encourage and support all families as they find ways to pray, learn, serve, and celebrate on a daily basis.”
• “We offer a variety of ways to support parents in their calling to encourage their kids in their faith journey (describe). Are there any specific programs/ministries you could envision your family participating in?
• “Research shows the importance of worshipping together as a family. Is that a realistic expectation for you?”
• “We believe that everyone has a story to tell and a gift to share. What are some ways you’ve used (or could use) your gifts to love and serve others?”
• “Our passion is to partner with parents in your primary role as faith-influencers in your kids’ lives—how can we help?”
4 | Suggest a few “next steps” for growing in faith beyond the church.
• Invite kids/parents to consider upcoming events, classes, trips, and retreats.
• As you wrap up the conversation, thank family members for their time. Give them faith-forming resources to “try on” if they’re willing to do so. Offer a closing prayer.
If you would like help as you explore what it means to come alongside parents and families as you lean into listening, reach to connect with a Vibrant Faith Ministry Leadership Coach. Just CLICK HERE for more information. Coaching is an intentional process that moves you forward into the future you long for.
Jim LaDoux is the longtime Director of Coaching Services for Vibrant Faith. Jim lives in Minneapolis, Minnesota with his wife—he has two adult sons. He’s been a coach since 1992, and has a Master of Management Arts and is a certified PCC (Professional Certified Coach).