If a woman in your congregation faced an unplanned pregnancy, to whom could she turn for support?
I’ve been a part of the church for my whole life, but I’m not sure I could answer this question. If I don’t know the answer, then a young woman facing an unplanned pregnancy in my church probably doesn’t know either.
In the church I’ve learned about the value of pro-life candidates, fundraising for local pregnancy centers, and the national sin of abortion and God’s impending judgment. But I haven’t learned much about positive, practical efforts to cultivate a culture of life within the congregation.
And I’m not the only one.
‘In Here’ Problem, Too
The American Culture & Faith Institute recently conducted a nationwide study of spiritually active Christians, partly to discover what social issues parishioners want their pastors to cover. Ninety-one percent of respondents wanted more information from their pastor on abortion and topics related to “the beginning of life, right to life, contraception, adoption, and unwed mothers.”
No doubt, pastors often fear raising controversial issues like contraception or unwed motherhood. Yet if churches don’t actively teach on these issues, congregants will turn elsewhere for information. And all too often, the voices they encounter will point them toward life-denying decisions.
Of course, it isn’t enough to merely preach on life; how we talk about it matters greatly. Growing up, most abortion sermons I heard made abortion sound like a problem “out there” in the world, rather than within the body of Christ. Recently, Care Net inspected the relationship between abortion and the church. Once again, the results are startling.
Our research found that as many as 36 percent of women who had an abortion were attending church at least once a month at the time of their abortion. A 2014 study conducted by the pro-choice Guttmacher Institute found that 56 percent of women who obtained abortions said they were Christians. Clearly abortion is the church’s sin, not just the world’s.
Given the fact that many Christians feel like they don’t know enough about life issues, and many professing Christians are having abortion themselves, how can we create a culture of life within our congregations?
Here are three ways.
Create a Culture of Life
The first thing we can do is affirm the blessing of life, no matter the circumstances. A few weeks ago, I was speaking with some friends about children. This couple shared that several couples in their church expressed regret at having children at all. Our friends confessed that the lack of positive examples in their church made them reluctant to have children themselves.
If young men and women hear only about the struggles of childraising and not the great joys and blessings, how can we expect them to choose life? This is one of the reasons the apostle Paul enjoins churches to be places of cross-generational discipleship (Titus 2:1–8). Older couples are to mentor younger ones and help them see beyond the difficulties of the moment.
Second, we must teach our congregations how to offer compassion, hope, and help to those facing pregnancy decisions. Care Net’s Making Life Disciples curriculum trains congregations to minister to abortion-vulnerable and post-abortive women and men—through a ministry housed in the church.
Finally, we must recognize that God has specifically called the church to address this issue. When a young woman visits a pregnancy center and chooses life, her journey is just beginning. The local church is ideally situated to support her in the long term. She can access marriage and parenting education ministries, couples in the church can come alongside her, and business leaders in the church can offer her employment. What better place to provide ongoing support and discipleship than the family of God?
Ultimately, it’s my goal that anyone in my congregation facing a pregnancy decision would know where to turn for help. The church can no longer outsource the work of caring for women and men considering abortion, or wait for Roe v. Wade to be overturned. We need to create a strong culture of life in our own congregations today.
Editors’ note: A version of this article appeared at Care Net.