A Message From Your Church Nursery
D. Michael Lindsay
Church nurseries are usually accurate snapshots of a given congregation be cause young families represent the core of most churches. But if you look into nurseries today, you might be taken back by what you see and by what you don’t see.
Revolutionizing the Demographics
The young faces in our churches today look increasingly diverse. These are the faces not only of Americans but also of children from China, Russia, and Guatemala. Where did they come from? International adoptions. They represent a trend that’s driving a demographic revolution within American Christianity. Hundreds of thousands of couples have adopted children born in other countries over the last decade, and the figures keep climbing. In 1991 the number of foreign-born children adopted by U.S. parents was fewer than 10,000, according to the U.S. Department of State. By 2001 that figure had doubled. While Americans adopt children from all over the world, three-fourths of all foreign adoptions involve children from four countries: China, Russia, South Korea, and Guatemala. The fall of the Soviet Union certainly played a role, opening up new possibilities for potential adoptive families. In 1992, 324 children were adopted from Russia, but over the next decade, that figure in creased 14-fold. Similar rates of growth can be found among children born in the Ukraine, Kazakhstan, and Belarus. Warmer relations with China have also opened new doors for American families: In 1992 the number of Chinese children adopted by American families was 206; in 2002 it was more than 6,000.
Re-Shaping the Future
Many church-related agencies assist with international adoptions, and as the number of Christian families adopting abroad continues to grow, a sea change is underway within the American church. Foreign-born young people will play significant roles in shaping its future. As they assume the n of leadership, they’ll bring with them a cosmopolitan perspective unlike any thing we’ve seen. Their presence alone will remind us of our world’s diversity, and they’ll naturally draw upon their personal connections to faraway lands. This will shape missions and outreach, forms of discipleship, and even ways of communicating within the church.
Many church leaders tell me that they know couples in their church or in their community who’ve adopted internationally or at least considered it at some time. Yet with all the advances we’ve made in ministering to different types of families in recent decades, strikingly few congregations have any kind of ministry to adoptive families. Couples adopting abroad face significant challenges, not the least of which is financial. International adoptions, which usually include hefty agency fees and charges by foreign governments-often required to be paid in cash-cost in the tens of thousands of dollars. In some cases total expenses can exceed $50,000. Why are families willing to take on these expenses? The answer relates to what you don’t see in nurseries today.
Behind the Trend
The surge in international adoptions has coincided with a steady increase in reported cases of infertility. Although it can be difficult to assess the extent of infertility, we know that a significant number of American families are affected. At least 15 percent of all women of childbearing age have received some form of services medical care, diagnostic testing, or professional counseling for their infertility. Given the stigma that some attach to it, informed observers think the condition could be even more widespread.
As American women have delayed childbearing into their 30s and early 40s, the number of births in this country has declined. Drops in childbearing have been most significant among women ages 20 to 24, and even with medical advances fertility rates have fallen among women in their 40s. The decision of women to forgo having children in their 20s has resulted in a large number of families who are childless. In 1980 the percentage of women in their 40s who had no children hovered around 10 percent. In 2000 it was at 19 percent. Within my own circle of friends, I can think of a dozen couples who’ve wanted to have children but, for one reason or another, have been unable. Among those, over half have realized their dreams of parenting through international adoptions.
In some cases the church has been supportive and encouraging, but sadly in others, the church has been shockingly silent. Support groups for those dealing with infertility are few and far between. And most of the spiritual encouragement Christian couples receive for international adoptions comes not from their local congregations, but from church-related agencies.
Trends suggest these matters will become even more significant, not less, in the years ahead. To get a glimpse of tomorrow and to chart a course for your church’s ministry today, take a look in the nursery this Sunday. You might be surprised.
D. MICHAEL LINDSAY is an assistant professor of sociology at Rice University. He and George Gallup Jr. are co-authors of The Gallup Guide: Reality Check for 21st Century Churches (Group).
Excerpted from Rev! Magazine May/June 2007
This article may not be written by an Apostolic author, but it contains many excellent principles and concepts that can be adapted to most churches. As the old saying goes, “Eat the meat. Throw away the bones.”