Church gurus today tirelessly promote strategies for attracting families.
But over the past few years, I’ve begun to wonder if their focus might be misplaced.
Simply put: As a pastor, I’ve become less and less interested in attracting families, and more and more interested in creating family.
Because facts are facts: Americans today have less family than ever before.
We’re increasingly isolated and disconnected.
And the results of this massive cultural shift have been devastating.
In his provocative essay entitled “The Nuclear Family was a Mistake,” David Brooks argues that our myopic focus on cultivating nuclear families has actually harmed our communities more than it has helped.
He writes: “The shift from bigger and interconnected extended families to smaller and detached nuclear families” has tragically resulted in “a familial system that liberates the rich and ravages the working-class and the poor."
In other words, nuclear families work well for the well off. They’re safe and stable for the comfortably resourced. But they’re limited in their ability to weather financial crises, or to care for the sick and aging, or to support mothers of young children in ways that other family structures are.
(Need more evidence? I strongly encourage you to read his argument in its entirety.)
Brooks suggests that humans flourish best in larger social networks - in communities where a greater number of people can face challenges or celebrate good news together.
It’s almost like Jesus knew that the best way to care for the poor and the marginalized, for the overlooked and the elderly, for children and for singles was to create a new kind of family - an extended family where everyone is welcome.
So Jesus launched His church. And He created a place where anyone might be extended dignity and loved unconditionally, invited to share their strengths and to find strength in their weakness.
Brooks makes a strong case for the extended family. And I can’t help but read his words as an equally compelling case for a new kind of church. A church that doesn’t just attract families, but creates family. A family in which strangers become siblings, and enemies are made friends.
That’s something I get excited about. It's what my friends and I are trying to do in Cincinnati.
It changed the world once.
Who knows? Maybe it could again.