Recently I was sitting at a set of traffic lights waiting for them to turn green when I casually glanced at a set of shops. Adjacent to the lights was a hair salon with a brand new sign over the door that announced to the world that this was the ‘Style Boutique’.

But when I looked through the window I saw two very old ladies, sitting in what can only be charitably described as a salon that had seen better days. In fact, if I am honest, ‘salon’ is too grand a word. This was a female barbershop. Everything about it, from the brown and cream tiled walls to the ancient ‘beehive’ hairdryers screamed “No style here!”

Grandiose claims

And that image set me thinking about how we can sometimes make grandiose claims about our faith and our church. We put up a new sign that is meant to cover up the same ol’, same ol’ stuff that goes on inside. Here’s a radical thought: if we need to advertise that we’re ‘the friendly church’, then perhaps we aren’t doing too good a job at being friendly. Surely things like that should be self-evident.

I thought of some of the words we like to use to describe our churches, words such as ‘community’ and ‘family’. How often we want to be seen like this, and yet if people looked through our windows, would our actions prove or disprove our claim?

If we claim to be a family church, we have to think about how family friendly we really are. By that I don’t mean child friendly, although that obviously has to be part of it…

Do we think about how fathers would regard us were they to choose to come to church? Many of the churches I visit are very keen to attract more men into the church, but don’t do anything to make them feel welcome. The pressing needs of their lives are ignored. Addressing issues such as: How can I be a better dad? How can I maintain or improve the quality of life for my kids? How can I succeed at work?

Do we consider the needs of single parents, who are fast becoming the new poor in our society? Do we think about supporting them, providing baby sitters and other practical help? Do we recognise how isolating church can be when you don’t have a partner? Of course, this isn’t only true for single parents – making single people feel they are part of a family is vital.

Or what about stepfamilies – women and men who are marrying for the second or third time? This is the fastest-growing group marrying in the UK. What are we doing to be a family church for them?

A chance to be the difference

In raising these issues my intention isn’t to be full of gloom and doom. If we think about these issues and try to respond to them, we have a great chance of making a real difference and drawing people back into the family of the church.

My plea is that we give further thought to how we can do that. I love the series of adverts that Ronseal produced a few years ago. The ones where they claimed that their products did precisely what they said on the tin. Isn’t it time we did the same in church?

Where family issues are concerned, Care for the Family exists to help you do just that. We want to help you strengthen family life and support those who are struggling because of family breakdown. Together we can make a difference.

Richard Hardy, 2007