A New Focus on the Family

Growing up, Dad liked to listen to radio programs from an organization called Focus on the Family. It’s a Christian media group centered on the premise of “helping families thrive.” I always loved that goal. Anyone with a family knows how hard family life can be!

Unfortunately, Focus on the Family preaches a narrow vision of how family should look. Their focus is promoting the health of traditional married couples with children. To be clear, that’s a good vision of family, but I want to argue that it’s too narrow in 2020. We need a group promoting health of the families we have, not just the families we wish we had.

(Focus on the Family is also frequently criticized for its social and political positions. I won’t explore those criticisms since they’re not the focus of this post.)

Since the good and bad old days of the 1900s, divorce rates have risen, marriage rates have fallen, unmarried cohabitation has risen, and percent of kids being raised in 2-family households has fallen. A lot of other stuff has happened too, like falling church attendance.

It’s worth noting that these changes aren’t spread evenly in society. Traditional norms of family life have stayed relatively intact for educated and affluent Americans since the 1990s. Meanwhile, family life for less-educated working class Americans is becoming less and less recognizable (see Coming Apart by Charles Murray). A class-based split in family formation trends is visible in the charts below, taken from a New York Times infographic. Uneducated, rural, and minority folks frequently start having kids at a young age while the educated, professional class more often waits until college is finished and their careers started to have kids.

1980 2016  
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Even though much has changed, Christ has built his church on a rock, and the gates of hell will still not overcome it. Christians are still called to tend Jesus’ sheep and meet people where they are. Humans are still social animals, and we still raise kids. There’s still need for the Church to nurture families.

So I’ll conclude with open questions. How should the Church nurture families in 2020? How do we point folks toward a Biblical model of family life, but avoid bashing them over the head with it? What would a new focus on today’s families look like?

Written on September 26, 2020