What We Learned About Church Based Pregnancy Services
Let’s face it, teenagers fool around and teenage girls get pregnant. They struggle with decisions about carrying the baby and then about keeping it or putting it up for adoption. If they keep their baby they need loads of support to help them succeed. If they follow the adoption trail they need help through the process and afterwards. If they take the path of abortion, there are long-term ramifications for the teenager and help will be needed over a long time.
The (grand) parents need help through all this too. They are conflicted about what path to encourage their daughter to follow and they haven’t had a lot of practice with this type of decision. The “Parent Manual” doesn’t say much and it can be a delicate subject to talk over with family and friends.
So it should be relatively easy to offer help (as a Christian ministry) and reach out to these families in a practical way. Churches have buckets of resources to offer and what other ministry has the potential to impact families in our community in such depth?
There’s a fundamental barrier that makes it incredibly hard for churches to reach these girls and their families. We even have church families quietly arranging abortions for their daughters (hush-hush style!) because they encounter the same barrier.
Worse, we created the barrier and we have extreme difficulty in tearing it down.
The barrier gets built over a long period of time and with the best possible motives. We want to please God and preach a “pure gospel” so we present a hard line on “sin.” We stress that God requires moral living and we talk about judgment for sinners. We get strong on making examples of people and pointing out their mistakes. We also use the informal network to spread the message – we gossip about people who have not met the standards we perceive.
Not surprisingly, when a family in the church faces a teenage pregnancy they desperately want to hide it and “fix it” before they are ostracized and judged. They beat themselves up over their “failure” as parents and they experience bouts of chronic guilt. Their faith takes a serious hit as they struggle with the hypocrisy of declaring they are “pro-life” while they are secretly contemplating abortion with their daughter.
Years before, others in our communities have had similar experiences and they left the church with no intention of returning. They remember that the church is not a place to turn to for help and maybe they remember their own humiliating experiences at the hands of “judgmental moralists” – there’s no way they will go through that again, so they avoid the church in their time of need. They teach their children that same lesson – keep away from churches.
Getting the picture? We want to be setting and maintaining high standards of morality, we want to be frank about sin and how it displeases God. We have trouble discerning the line between clarity and legalism. Legalism becomes the default stance and sin goes underground.
In the process, the church becomes essentially irrelevant in the eyes of the community at large and is sidelined from important areas of powerful ministry. Not so smart!
Here’s the experience of one church which wanted to launch a ministry to help pregnant teenagers and their families. A group of ladies got excited about how they would be able to help and began assembling baby clothes and support materials. They raised money to furnish a ministry space they “strongly recommended” the church board make available to them. They were amazed at the quality and quantity of resources they were able to pull together.
Their church was low on teenagers and on the parents of teenagers but they figured that having built such a good resource, it wouldn’t be long until they were all working with teenage moms. They diligently arranged training and helped each other work out effective ways to minister to these teen girls they would soon have.
Time passed and the ministry continued to prepare and wait for the influx of teenage moms. They even trained a couple of the guys in the church so they could work with the teenage dads / boyfriends. They trained on mentoring skills so they would all be ready.
Then someone thought about ways to help the parents of the teenagers. Obviously they would need support and maybe classes. So they developed a curriculum for effective parenting courses and trained class facilitators. They were building a great ministry!
Time passed and someone thought about approaching the local high schools to create awareness of their ministry. Nothing doing there, the school counsellors wouldn’t touch anything religious and refused to coöperate in any way.
What about groups like YFC and Campus Crusade – they must know of kids who need help! Even going citywide the leaders were cooperative but no girls could be found.
Eventually even the most ardent supporters of the ministry began to feel discouraged. Perhaps teenage pregnancy rates were overstated? Maybe no one needed help? Maybe this was not a problem in their community? Gradually the ministry began to lose steam and finally the ministry room was locked and everyone drifted off to other activities. They didn’t talk much about teenage pregnancies after that and they shifted their focus back to activities that served their own interests more. The ministry was quietly put to rest and other things took its place.
Only months later, Planned Parenthood opened a branch clinic a few blocks from the church – apparently they hadn’t learnt there were no pregnant teenage girls in the area!
Tip of the Iceberg.
The experience of this church could be repeated in church after church across this country. It’s a graphic reminder that we are failing to connect on the most important levels with our communities and demonstrates that the years of “program based” ministry have cost us dearly. Reaching people for Christ is a relational exercise and building relationships is something we find hard to do – we are so busy building and running programs that we don’t have time and energy for building relationships as well. Unfortunately we need the relationships to guide the programs. In fact, we wouldn’t need so many programs if we could find more effective ways to build relationships in our community.
Offering the best pregnancy support services in the world won’t achieve anything if we can’t connect with the people who need those services. It’s more than a marketing problem, it’s not only about image and perceptions. It is that we’ve become disconnected from the people in our communities, neglecting to build vital relationships to reach people who are outside the churches we run. Salt doesn’t achieve anything sitting in the bottle with more salt. It has to be spread around to become effective.
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Posted on February 5, 2012, in Active faith, vision and tagged abortion alternatives, Adolescence, Christian ministry to families, church, community outreach, Family, legalism, pregnancy services, relationship building, Teenage pregnancy. Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.