Family is in. Marketers know it. Employers know it. But does the
church know it?
After talking to children's ministers across the country, the
answer is a resounding yes. Whether churches have plunged into this
thing called family ministry or held back for the right timing, the
biggest trend in children's ministry today is a shift to family
"We need to treat children's ministry as a whole. Children's
ministry is family ministry," says Darrell Fraley, a children's
pastor in Mason, Ohio. "You cannot change a child over a long
period of time without impacting the parents. Families and the
church have to be partners."
You may be doing "family ministry" already and not even realize
it. You may still be in the dreaming stage of starting a family
ministry. Or you may have a full-blown ministry in place. Wherever
you are in your journey, you can be assured that you're riding one
of the biggest current sociological waves that -- if it hasn't
already -- will crash into your church.
What does that mean for your church? It means lots of things to
churches who really care about impacting this generation and
generations to come.
OUT WITH THE OLD?
Is family ministry the most important ministry in your church?
Should your church be "less concerned about building good churches
and more concerned about building strong families" as one family
ministry proponent suggests? A word of caution: Any time a new
ministry trend emerges, those of us who live in black and white
realities are quick to toss out the old and bring in the new. But
children's ministers who've moved into the realm of family ministry
advise moving slowly. Bring people on board, share your vision, and
then ease into change.
In addition, keep your eyes on the goal. What is it that God has
called your church to? What is the mandate for the church at
Many sociologists tell us that societal woes are due to the
breakdown of families. If only the family were "fixed," our world
would be a much better place. So why shouldn't your church jump on
the family bandwagon?
Well, you should, of course. But you should do it for the right
Some people say families should not be the church's focus.
William Easum in Sacred Cows Make Gourmet Burgers writes,
"Family is never a priority in Scripture. It is mentioned only six
times in the New Testament and never in relation to a congregation.
Family is always secondary to Christ's claim on us (Matthew 10:37). On several occasions Jesus
de-emphasized the importance of family. Family obligations came
behind the demands of discipleship."
Is Easum right?
Take another look. I believe with all my heart that God is not
calling the church to strengthen families for the sake of society.
Or for the sake of simply building church attendance. Or even for
the sake of the family itself. God is calling the church to
strengthen families so the Kingdom of God is strengthened.
Why is God interested in Christians growing to be more like him?
So they'll let their light shine in such a way that people will see
their good works and God will be revealed (Matthew 5:14-16). Why is God interested in the
healthy life of families? Women are encouraged to build healthy
families "so the Word of God may not be dishonored" (Titus 2:5). Overseers and deacons are
admonished to be "good managers of their children and their own
households" because if they can't take care of their own families,
how will they "take care of the church of God"? (1 Timothy 3:5). Wives and husbands are to be a
picture of Christ and the church (Ephesians 5:22-33). We in children's ministry
lament the fact that we have so little time with the children in
our churches. They're only with us a few hours a week. It's
difficult to make a lasting impact for the Kingdom of God, we
think. Therefore, and this is the crux of family ministry, we need
to multiply our ministry to children through their parents. As we
disciple and train parents, their growth will significantly impact
So, in everything we do at church, we keep our eyes on the goal
of knowing and proclaiming Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. And we
gear our programs to be most effective in accomplishing that. If we
really want to create long-term growth in children, we'll retool
our ministries to involve parents and families. We'll see our role
in children's ministry as equippers of the most effective
disciplers of children-parents. Rather than planning
"intergenerational" events that split up families, we'll plan real
intergenerational events that keep families learning, playing,
serving, and worshiping together.
Family ministry looks different in every church. The key factor
of a family ministry is not its programs, but rather its
Ben Freudenberg, a youth minister and family ministry proponent,
explains his philosophy of family ministry: "We need to change our
paradigm. How can we have the home-and not just the church-be a
center of faith? Homes have to be conscientious about sharing
faith. Parents are the primary ministers of faith."
BREAKING THE MOLD
In our well-meaning efforts to counteract the breakdown of
families, the church has dumped truckloads of hurt on families who
don't fit the traditional mold. Single parents have been blamed for
everything from declining reading scores to raging teenage
violence. Dual-income families are accused of not really caring for
their children as much as traditional single-income families do.
The forecast for blended families is that their children will never
have healthy self-esteem or succeed in school or life.
Sadly, all we've accomplished in our simplistic interpretation
of data is to speak condemnation and judgment to families. And the
truth is, there are many variables other than family style that
shape children. We need to speak about grace and God's power to
"We need to find out where families hurt and encourage and
support them...," says Diana Warden, a director of children
ministeries in Virginia. "We need to come alongside them. Share
with them. We'll have to meet the needs that come from the chaos
our culture produces. We have to fight it with spiritual
Who are these families with children that we need to support?
Take a look at these statistics:
- Between 1975 and 1993, the number of dual-earner families rose
from 42 percent to 64 percent.
- In 1975, 34 percent of mothers with children under 3 were in
the labor force; in 1995, it was 59 percent. Three-fourths of
mothers of school-age children are working mothers.
- Between 1970 and 1994, single-parent families rose from 13
percent to 31 percent. In that time, two-parent families declined
from 87 percent to 69 percent.
- 15.6 million, or 23 percent, of all American children live with
their mother only. More than 2 million children lived with only
their father in 1993. That number has tripled since 1970.
- More than 1 million children are being raised by their
- An estimated 25 million American children under age 13 live in
To meet the needs of today's varied families, family ministers
must work on their message. Freudenberg says, "The #1 thing is to
accept the home the way it is. This is not a message of law. Help
parents be the model of faith. Parents want to do it but don't know
how. We need to support, love, encourage, and resource them. I
don't know one parent who doesn't want what's best for his
children. They just don't know how to do it. Parents need
empowerment. Not guilt. They don't need another guilt trip."
And who is most suited to equip parents to raise the children
God has given them? You!
Armed with God's Word and his power, your family ministry will
impact generations to come. Now that's what I call a blueprint made
in heaven! cm
"We wanted to provide opportunities for parents to learn how to
instruct their children," says Tim Smith, a pastor to family life
at Calvary Community Church in Westlake Village, California.
To do this, Tim has regular parenting seminars and classes. His
church sponsors a dinner made by a popular restaurant and brings in
a speaker. "People love it! It's a more relaxed approach. 'Seekers'
don't feel like they're in church," Tim says.
Ongoing parenting classes are held in homes and people bring in
their neighbors. The content is targeted to life stages, such as
Baby Steps for expectant and new parents, and classes for parents
of kids ages 3 to 8, ages 8 to 12, preteens, and teenagers. The
church has two support groups for parents: Confident Kids and PARTY
(Parents of At-Risk and Troubled Youth). Tim sends out a Family
Times newsletter six times a year. The newsletter contains resource
reviews, promotion of parenting classes, and information on
A big fan of Promise Keepers, Tim tries to capitalize on the
momentum of that men's movement. "We train dads to interact with
their children. We have Father/Son and Father/Daughter retreats
where we pass on the blessing to our sons and daughters ages 10 and
up. It's kind of a bar mitzvah for Christians-a rite of
"The thing about family ministry," Tim says, "is that it's not
an "either/or" thing but a "but/and" thing. We can do it in our
structure. We don't have to throw out Sunday school. We think of
ways to add to what we're already doing."
"When I started five and a half years ago, it was my passion to
do family ministry. But I had to wait for the right time. We've
just gotten started in the last year," says Lynn Block, children's
director at Kensington Community Church in Troy, Michigan. Lynn's
philosophy is to do the same things they've always done, but to do
them as families. "Do it together," Lynn says. "Learn together. Be
together. We underestimate the value of what we learn from each
Lynn has tagged her program "Team Up"-families together building
God's Kingdom. Families work, play, and learn together. Family
small groups meet twice monthly-once with adults only and once as
"We have Friday night quarterly worship nights geared toward the
entire family. There's a worship time and an interactive time. The
music is real upbeat and there are extensive children's hand
movements. We do it on Friday because kids don't have to be in bed
Families serve together inside and outside the church. "We
encourage parents to be involved in training. Families might run
Sunday morning classes together. Older children help with puppets
"And families minister together at nursing homes and inner city
churches and missions. It teaches kids that they are ministers too.
It excites the kids to not just be spectators. This is very
important because parents want their kids to be givers, rather than
PARTNERING WITH PARENTS
"Today's society has a lot of fragmentation in the family," says
Walt Pitman, a children's pastor at Grace Church in Edina,
Minnesota. "Church is guilty of the same. Separateness is not God's
intention of how it should be all the time. We need to partner with
parents through modeling, communicating, and providing resources
Walt's church has a special family ministry section where family
activities abound. They have summer family camp, parent/child
retreats, marriage conferences, fun family activities, and open
Stand-out family ministries at Walt's church include:
*Super Saturdays Preschoolers and their dads
meet at the church for activities together. Then they separate and
dads receive parenting instruction.
*Month of the Family In February, the church
provides speakers on all aspects of the family. They have a Day at
the Dome where they rent the Metrodome and invite families to play.
Last year, 1,200 people attended.
*Sports Plus Clinic Parents help children learn
character traits in the context of learning a sport. Walt's passion
is to equip parents to train their children. "Family devotions are
a lost art," Walt says. "It starts with Mom's individual life, with
Dad's individual life. If kids don't see their parents doing
spiritual things, it will take some other significant thing in
their life to get them to do it later on."
Christine Yount Jones is executive editor of Children's
Ministry Magazine. Please keep in mind that phone numbers,
addresses, and prices are subject to change.