How can you build a family-friendly parish?
The common life of husband and wife, the entire network of relations that they build with their children and the world around them, will be steeped in and strengthened by the grace of the sacrament. For the sacrament of marriage flows from the incarnation and the paschal mystery, whereby God showed the fullness of his love for humanity by becoming one with us.
Christ calls families to be agents of the New Evangelization. As St. John Paul II taught us, “salvation passes through the family.” Many families have not heard this call. Others feel ill equipped to carry it out. This is why our evangelization efforts should focus on calling and equipping families to live and proclaim the gospel.
To be a “family-friendly” parish requires giving special priority to the family. As Pope Francis explains, the Church is a “family of families.” Every member of the parish is part of a family. Families come in different sizes, ages, abilities, and temperaments, and all families experience their own challenges.
This emphasis on the family doesn’t detract from other parish groups and communities, but rather enhances the whole life of the parish.
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Where should you focus your attention?
The goal of a family-friendly parish is to welcome, evangelize, form, and equip families to go out, share their faith with others, and invite them to the parish. This mission can seem overwhelming. It calls for your parish leadership team to take time to pray and reflect on how parish priorities and goals support this mission. As a start, we recommend that you identify and implement three initiatives.
Consider taking steps to build family-friendly:
Buildings and Facilities
Programs and Events
These categories are not exhaustive. They are suggestions to help your leadership team discern the next steps.
The following questions will aid you in your reflection and discussion. They are meant to help identify the strengths and growth areas for family ministry. It is also important to keep in mind the demographics of your parish and your local “mission territory.”*
Prayer to the Holy Family
Jesus, Mary and Joseph, in you we contemplate the splendor of true love; to you we turn with trust.
Holy Family of Nazareth, grant that our families too may be places of communion and prayer, authentic schools of the Gospel and small domestic churches. Holy Family of Nazareth, may families never again experience violence, rejection and division; may all who have been hurt or scandalized find ready comfort and healing. Holy Family of Nazareth, make us once more mindful of the sacredness and inviolability of the family, and its beauty in God’s plan. Jesus, Mary and Joseph, graciously hear our prayer. Amen.
From Pope Francis’ Letter, Amoris Laetitia
*Demographic data is available through the Office of Marriage and Family Life or the Office of Pastoral Planning*
Looking for suggestions? Learn what other parishes/pastorates are doing in our podcast, Minivans to Mass.
Family-Friendly Buildings and Facilities
Look at your buildings and facilities with fresh eyes – the eyes of a young family.
Are there drop-off sites for families, elderly persons, and persons with disabilities? Are there covered areas in the event of bad weather? Are they easily accessible?
Are there parking ministers helping families find parking spots? Are there well-formed ministers welcoming families?
Is someone available to welcome Mass attendees and open doors, especially if they are heavy and difficult to maneuver?
Are ushers trained to welcome families, find them seats at the end of the pews, and -graciously open doors? Are they attentive, patient, and well-informed?
Are all parish restrooms fully accessible? Are they easily accessible for a family with small children, an elderly person, or a person with disabilities?
Are they clean? Are all of the materials that families, women, and the elderly might need well stocked?
Is there a changing table in the women’s and men’s restrooms? Are extra wipes and diapers available for parents?
Do the sinks have stools? Is the height of toilets accessible to small children?
Is there a place, other than the restroom, that is private and comfortable for nursing mothers?
Are there indoor spaces where children can move more freely? Are there safe outdoor spaces where children can run and play? (e.g., picnic tables, fields, etc.)
Does the parish look out for the safety of toddlers by covering electrical outlets, etc.?
Are highchairs available for toddlers?
Ideas for Narthex or Family-Friendly Space during Mass
Glass windows or doors for visibility
Adequate sound system
Television screens to stream the Mass
Religious children’s books, Magnifikids, or children’s bulletins in the narthex
Seats or pews in the narthex
Visibility and Participation
Are families able to see the sanctuary and altar? Are there sections in the Church for families and persons with disabilities, so they can see and actively participate in the liturgy?
If parents need to step outside with a baby or toddler, is there space where the parent and child can still see and participate in the liturgy?
How is space prioritized for families? Is there a nursery or a space available every week for Children’s Liturgy of the Word (CLOW)?
Family-Friendly Programs and Events
Times and Days of the Week
When are parish events offered? Do they conflict with bedtime, sports, school, or work? If they do, are there alternate options?
Children’s Liturgy of the Word
Is Children’s Liturgy of the Word offered every week?
Is it consistently engaging for children?
Are children encouraged to encounter the Word through different media? Hearing it? Seeing it? Touching it?
Sacramental and Religious Formation
How are parents engaged as the “primary educators” of their children?
Does the parish suggest (by email, in the bulletin, by announcement) a way to connect the faith formation of each family member at home during the week?
Do catechists share what is being taught with parents? Are suggestions offered to help families live “liturgically” at home? (E.g., celebrating feast days and solemnities or incorporating liturgical colors)
Does the baptismal preparation engage couples who have been away from the Church since their marriage or before? Does it invite and support them to engage more fully in the parish community? Does it support them in a holistic way during the pregnancy and the first years of their child’s life?
To explore creative ways to engage families in religious education and sacramental formation contact the Division of Catechetical and Pastoral Formation at 410-547-5405.
Do you offer babysitting during all parish events?
When you are offering a formational event, does the childcare involve a formational component consistent with what the parents are learning and age appropriate?
Does every parish event offer something age appropriate for each member of the family?
Does the parish offer some form of hospitality every week? Every Mass?
Do formational events address families as families or as a grouping of individuals? For example, teens, men, women, couples, children, etc.
Are small groups available for families (e.g., moms and tots, homeschoolers, dads and sons, on Saturday mornings, etc)
Do you encourage parents of small children to minister at your parish by offering childcare for volunteers?
Safety should be a primary consideration for outreach to young families. If families don’t feel safe and that their children are safe and cared for, all other evangelization efforts can’t bear fruit.
Do you ensure to that all programs and activities comply with policies of the Archdiocese of Baltimore for child and youth protection? To learn more contact the Office of Child and Youth Protection.
Do you ensure all babysitting complies with the polices of the Office of Risk Management? For example, are the proper ratios of adults to children met?
Musical style, preferences, and instrumentation aside, is the music singable for the whole parish community?
Are there helpful options for parents during liturgical celebrations? For example, spaces to go to, option for Children’s Liturgy of the Word (CLOW), and childcare for young children?
Are children from the parish youth ministry engaged as greeters, readers, servers, etc? Is there a periodic call for parish ministers that includes roles for young people and volunteer opportunities for families (baking for an event, campus clean up, etc)
Are there coloring pages for children that correspond to the liturgical year and weekly readings that are age appropriate?
Are there Mass guides in the pews for children to follow?
Are there simple “how to” guides for children and families on the website, Facebook and in narthex?
Is the Sacrament of Reconciliation and Eucharistic Adoration offered at times conducive to family schedules? Are families encouraged to attend Eucharistic Adoration even with “restless” children?
Is it clear from parish communications and programs that families are welcome and encouraged to participate in the sacraments? (E.g., a moms and tots Holy Hour, a monthly children’s Mass on Saturday morning followed by Confession, etc.)
Is there an examination of conscience for children and teens near the confessionals?
Family-Friendly Parish Culture
What trends do you observe in your parish? For example, are infant baptisms increasing or decreasing? Are marriages increasing or decreasing? Is religious education enrollment going up or down?
What common practices demonstrate to families that you are a welcoming, family-friendly parish? For example, are there pew cards, signs, or an information table informing families of services available during and outside of the Mass?
Does the priest celebrant periodically welcome families during the liturgy (where appropriate)? Do priests, deacons, and lay ministers remind parishioners that children and families are a part of the Church community and the future of the Church? Especially in the midst of louder or “hectic” liturgies?
How does the parish support and welcome different types of families? For example, single parents, grandparents raising children, and so on.
Do married couples encourage and support young adults who are dating, engaged, or single?
Do families support and care for the elderly of the parish community? For example, plan visits to nursing homes within parish boundaries
Are clergy familiar with Natural Family Planning? Do they have a basic knowledge of the methods and challenges young couples might experience practicing Natural Family Planning? (E.g., infertility, subfertility, hyperfertility, miscarriages, etc.) Learn more at www.archbalt.org/marriage-family-life/natural-family-planning
Here are a few good places to start:
Ensure that bathrooms are accessible to children (e.g., stools) and that there is a place to change diapers
Offer coffee and donuts after one Mass every week
Offer a dynamic Children’s Liturgy of the Word at one Mass every week
Offer babysitting at one Mass every week
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