All in the Family

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Get the inside scoop on the top 3 family ministry
models-and discover which one is right for your
church.

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You’re convinced: It’s time to get into the family ministry game.
But where to start? Countless ministry models abound, and each one
claims it’ll reunite families, reverse the decline of
Evangelicalism, inoculate children against secular humanism, and
combat a host of ills you didn’t even know you had. You need the
savvy to see past the hype and choose a model that fits your church
to empower families to become faith-incubators. Here’s your smart
shopper’s guide.

FAMILY-INTEGRATION MODEL
The Family-Integration Model advocates it was no accident that at
the same time the American church perfected age-segmented
children’s and youth ministry models, the emerging generations
began dropping out of church as soon as they left home. These
pastors observed parents abdicating their personal investment in
their children’s spiritual development. It was just too easy to
hand off their children to the ministry “specialists.”

As a result, family-integrated churches operate free of any
age-and-stage divisions. You won’t see nurseries, children’s or
youth classrooms, singles or college groups. The church is a
“family of families.” As such, they worship together. Many of these
churches host weekly community meals immediately after worship.
These meals are learning labs where children contribute to the meal
and glean wisdom by listening to the adult conversation.

These churches place a premium on strong male leadership in the
church and family. Fathers receive extra discipleship, reading
lists, and instruction so they’re taught how to provide spiritual
leadership for the home.

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Strengths This model offers simplicity. Equip the
family to be the family, and skip the complexities of operating
children’s and youth ministries. Census data reveals our culture is
blighted with absentee fathers; so engaged fathers lack models on
how to lead their families. A training program can offer these men
direction. Two-parent families and homeschooling families will find
a supportive community with like-minded people.

Weaknesses Non-traditional families will have a
hard time finding a place in churches that adopt a
Family-Integration Model. Single moms might feel conspicuously
different in a church whose ministry strategy is built on
two-parent families. Children or youth with unchurched parents must
be taken in by a member family to find a place at church. Census
data reveals disparity on ethnic and economic lines as to whether
children are being raised in single or two-parent homes, so this
model has little hope of gaining traction in urban settings.

The Family-Integration Model also depends on theological
assumptions that aren’t universally accepted: namely, a patriarchal
view of family leadership and a conviction that today’s churches
may only organize themselves using the biblical examples found in
the New Testament. (For the family integrationist, a children’s
ministry isn’t extra-biblical, it’s unbiblical, and therefore
destructive).

Final Assessment Einstein said that an idea should
be made as simple as it can be and then no more. This model crosses
the line from being simple to being simplistic. A quick reading of
Genesis reveals that the same God who instituted and defined family
also collected fantastically dysfunctional families and gave them
key roles. Family ministers must live with the tension of upholding
the biblical standard and providing loving triage for families who
don’t fit the mold. The Family-Integration Model doesn’t embody
this tension enough to be effective.

FAMILY-FRIENDLY DEPARTMENTAL MODEL
The family integrationists make one strong point: When a church
offers high-powered children’s and youth ministries with bells,
whistles, and over-promising mission statements, it’s hard for
parents not to view these departments as their children’s spiritual
growth specialists. Many parents do make the assumption that if
they get their children to church, these programs will bear the
weight of their child’s spiritual development. Parents are
time-starved and stressed, so the myth that placing their child in
the “God-box” for an hour a week to get the job done has strong
appeal.

Children’s and youth leaders see this trend and many have adapted
by making their departments family-friendly. These ministers view
parents as the primary faith influencers of children and are
working to help families see children’s and youth ministries as
supplemental helps.

Family-Friendly Departments don’t scale back their age-specific
programs. Instead they seek to multiply the value of parents’
current efforts. Take-home pages accompany the curriculum. Special
events intended to connect parents and their children dot the
calendar. Occasional parent training classes provide help with
discipline and communication.

Strengths The Family-Friendly Departmental Model
has the potential to connect with many families. Single moms might
find an adult Sunday school class with exactly what they’re looking
for. Unchurched children can arrive at church and find a place
designed just for them. Age-segmentation allows for a learner-based
approach. After all, the developmental needs of a 3-year-old are
radically different from those of a 10-year-old, which are, in
turn, radically different from those of a 40-year-old. Churches
committed to family-friendly departments can have it both ways.
Church can be a compelling and inviting place for children, and
parents can find help to spiritually nourish their kids.

Weaknesses The Family-Friendly Departmental Model
takes steps to keep parents from a “drop-off” approach to their
child’s spiritual development. However, there are some
vulnerabilities in the model. It’s still entirely possible for
parents to treat the children’s ministry as a drop-off. Even though
this model may provide resources for giving parents options for
engaging their children, these options are invitations that can be
accepted or declined.

Providing parents with a unified vision and strategy for Christian
parenting becomes a challenge. It’s possible that a parent could
hear one parenting philosophy from the children’s pastor, a second
from the youth pastor, and two others from the preaching pastor and
the leader running the parenting class. There’s no structure in the
organizational model to ensure parents will receive a single
parenting strategy that’s grounded in biblical wisdom and able to
span from birth to graduation.

This lack of alignment creates opportunity for a decidedly
family-unfriendly situation: over-programming. Without a “central
nervous system” coordinating events and programs, it’s possible for
churches to keep families too busy. Multiple events can clog a
parent’s calendar, especially when that parent has children spread
out over departments.

Final Assessment Even with its limitations, the
Family-Friendly Departmental Model can be adapted into most
churches. Formally aligning several ministries around a common goal
is a formidable task for an inexperienced staff person or one who
hasn’t been at a church very long. If you’re in this position, the
Family-Friendly Departmental Model allows you to make advances in
your own area without having to win over your senior pastor or
other staff. Over time, you’ll create a model of ministry to
families that other departments in your church might choose to
emulate.
     

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