Three Reasons You Might Be Having Trouble Engaging Churches in Foster Care

One of the most common comments I’ve heard over the years from people trying to get their church or other churches engaged in foster care is that a certain church or church leader doesn’t “get it.” We as foster care advocates feel thwarted in our genuine efforts to find foster and adoptive families for kids. We sincerely want to make a difference but response sometimes feels more like a trickle than a raging river.

There could be lots of reasons for this but here are 3 common themes that may help you identify the sticking point for you.

One:  You may not be talking to the right person

Our natural first tendency when talking to a church is to go directly to the person in charge – the head pastor. While it is true that if you get the pastor on board, things could get bigger much faster. However, you may find that there are others in a church that would be a better first point of contact. The difficulty with pastors is that they are faced with multiple decisions each week about addressing real areas of human need. Pastors would like to be able to address all of them, but simply can’t. However, if you can identify a key lay leader or another member of church staff with a particular passion or experience with kids in care, you may find an ally with the bandwidth and influence to make something happen.

Two:  You’re asking them to join your mission instead of you asking how you can join theirs

Often when organizations and agencies approach churches they come to the church talking about things in this order:

  1. There is a need
  2. We have a program to meet that need
  3. We want your people to join our program in order to meet the need

Instead, we need to remember that every church leader has planted themselves in a community in order to make a difference in their community. They have a mission that easily could include kids in foster care, you just have to be willing to listen to their vision for their community and figure out how you can help them. So instead, the three steps might look like this:

  1. Church, what is your vision for this community?
  2. How would you imagine that children who need temporary and permanent families could fit into that overall vision?
  3. What can we do to help you accomplish that vision?

Three: Directions to the on-ramps are not entirely clear

Have you ever been driving and can clearly see the road you need to be on but due to construction or some other reason, you simply cannot find an on-ramp to get where you know you need to go?

Foster care is very much like that for the church. The route seems encumbered by a number of obstacles and barriers and we as advocates have not always done the best job of providing extremely simple and clear directions about how to get on in the right place. Often, we point out an entry point that is too lofty (come adopt a 14-year-old) or an entry point that is too low and never actually leads to a long-term journey in the foster care system. (This Foster Care Funnel PDF can help give some direction here).

So if you’ve been discouraged about the level of engagement of your church or other churches in your community, get a couple of like-minded folks together and ask a few questions:

  1. What church or churches are we trying to engage?
  2. Who are all the possible people at a given church that we could approach? Which one of these people might be the most strategic to talk to first?
  3. What do we know about that church’s mission and vision and how could our gifts, skills, and experiences help them achieve their mission to love their community well?

This post originally appeared in our Foster Roster e-newsletter which is delivered each Friday. We try to keep it short and sweet and fill it with practical articles, videos, blog posts and other tools for leaders like you working to help kids and families in foster care.  To sign up, go to