Imagine that you’ve become sick with some rare disease. No
doctor seems to understand your symptoms — or their cause. You
spend months — and even years — going from doctor to doctor,
trying to find a remedy for your maladies. A dermatologist treats
your rash; an endocrinologist treats your hormones; and an
internist treats your organs.
If only these physicians would communicate with one another and
treat your entire being, they’d discover that you have a rare
allergy to doctors!
Odd story, but hopefully it makes a point for children’s
ministers when it comes to treating what ails families today. We
have children’s ministers who treat children, youth ministers who
treat teenagers, and pastors who treat adults. Does anyone ever
stop to take a look at the entire body that we call the family? We
need to care for the entire family as one organism rather than
focusing on individual parts alone.
The predominant mind-set in Christian education concerning
families has long been that to “strengthen the whole you must
strengthen the parts.” But families need more from church life than
segregated programs and the occasional all-church activity. Many of
our church activities actually pull family members apart from each
other. We know something’s wrong with this picture, but sorting out
a solution seems complicated.
Most children’s ministries focus almost exclusively on
individuals. Parents are an afterthought to many children’s
ministers. Yes, we sincerely want to make a difference in the lives
of our children’s families. We want to help parents teach their
children about God, but our response to that desire is to tack on
one more program that doesn’t really involve parents interacting
with their children. Instead of this add-on approach, we need to
create a biblically solid, “family-friendly church” orientation. If
we want to truly partner with parents, we need a new way of
Think about what happens with most families on Sunday mornings.
Families drive to church together, but once they arrive, they
scatter to separate classes. They worship in different rooms — the
children in one place and the adults in another. Family members
don’t even see each other again until it’s time to leave. When are
parents and children supposed to be involved in family discipleship
activities? It’s hard to admit, but we Christian educators may be
our own worst enemies!
To effectively partner with parents when families attend our
church programs, we need to balance age-level and intergenerational
ministry times. Here are ways to establish a healthy balance in
your children’s ministry and church programming to meet parents’,
children’s, and families’ needs.
Welcome parents into your children’s programs.
The preschool program was abuzz with the gossip about the mother
who asked to sit in on a class to see what her kids were learning.
“It’s as though she thinks we’re going to do something to her
children!” “She’s such a control freak!”
Ever heard comments like these about parents who want to come to
their children’s classes? Rather than being threatened by such
parents, we need to embrace them. Parents shouldn’t be perceived as
strangers or intruders when visiting their children’s Sunday school
classes. No parent should feel guilty for wanting to worship with
his or her children.
Establish a family-friendly church culture by inviting parents
into your classrooms and programs. Welcome them as the primary
partners in their children’s faith development. (Who knows? You may
even find your most amazing future teachers from this vibrant pool
of hands-on folks!)
Welcome children into adult programs. Can you
imagine children in your worship services? in your adult education
classes? in your small groups? If parents want to keep their
children with them, how would you react? Would you welcome those
children — or not?
A family-friendly church welcomes the children. Granted, you
need to educate your leaders — and your parents — as to what is
and isn’t expected of children in these adult arenas. You could
also equip the parents with snack ideas and child-appropriate
activities that supplement the content for the class (that is, not
just coloring pages!).
Concerned about the noise levels? Ever notice how a parent’s
tolerance for noise increases after having children? It’s the same
with a family-friendly church. When children are welcomed into the
entire arena of the church, the quiet hum of their presence is
hardly even noticed.
Offer ministry programs for all generations.
This can’t always happen, but make it common practice to include
those who want to be included. When churches offer adult-only
worship services and exclude children, the message is loud and
clear: The church doesn’t value children.
Instead, work to create programming that’s intergenerational and
integrated, not isolated. And if you invite parents to come to a
children’s ministry program, give them something significant to do.
Have them learn right beside their children.
Some programming easily lends itself to integrating the family
and home. In your training programs, how about having units on
family communication or safety issues for the home? Have you
considered small group family Bible studies? Or intergenerational
Sunday school or VBS?
Minister to families as a unit — not solely as a
collection of individuals. Develop simple, user-friendly
welcome materials that include children’s ministry, youth ministry,
and “grown-up” information. Train greeters to be child-friendly —
engaging and welcoming to children so they feel at home in your
Keep families together whenever possible, but remember that
age-specific classes and programs have their place as well. You
have to balance children’s educational and age-appropriate needs
with families’ needs. Age-specific classes are important so
children are able to learn at their pace and on their level. But
children can also grow by leaps and bounds as they learn about,
serve, and worship God with their parents.
TEAMING WITH PARENTS
For too long, we Christian educators have communicated to
parents that we’re the only people who are equipped to pump faith
into kids. Parents have gotten our message: Drop off your kids on
Sunday mornings — and we’ll take it from there.
We must change that message if we’re to significantly impact
children’s faith. Parents are meant to have the primary role in
teaching and discipling their children. Our job is to support
parents in their efforts. If parents refuse to do their job, then
the church, by default, takes the primary role. But that’s supposed
to be the exception rather than the norm. The following are
practical ways to partner with parents to help them train their
children to love and follow God.
Encourage parents to lead. Re-educate parents
about their role as their children’s primary faith-shapers. Many
parents lack the confidence and skills to comfortably take a
leadership role. So give parents a boost of confidence by helping
them see God’s perspective of their role. Share with them
Scriptures such as Deuteronomy 11:18-20: “Fix these words of mine
in your hearts and minds; tie them as symbols on your hands and
bind them on your foreheads. Teach them to your children, talking
about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road,
when you lie down and when you get up. Write them on the doorframes
of your houses and on your gates.”
As we assign the responsibility for children’s spiritual nurture
back to parents, we must equip them with the tools to nurture their
Build family-friendly churches. We need to set
and support realistic parent-partnering expectations. While it’s
true that parents are to be the primary teachers and disciplers of
their children, it’s equally true that the church plays a role,
too. It’s unlikely that parents will want us to partner with them
if they don’t feel fully embraced and supported by the church as a
There are many things your church can do to become
family-friendly. A church with a family-friendly orientation will
embody these 5 elements.
1. Families worship, learn, and serve together.
In addition to worshiping and learning together, families can serve
together as well. It’s a powerful thing to see families working
together to do God’s work. In every issue of Children’s Ministry
Magazine, you’ll find practical ideas to help families serve
together. In this issue alone are ideas for families to clean the
church together, conduct church services at a resort, go on a
mission vacation, or adopt a family.
2. The church values families. You can tell
what a church values by looking at its mission statement. A church
with a family-friendly orientation will intentionally state the
importance of families. Some family-friendly mission statements
contain phrases such as “to partner with parents,” “to come
alongside parents,” or “to support parents.”
3. There are signs of follow-through. A mission
statement that mentions families is fine, but if it’s in print and
not reflected in programming and lifestyle, so what? To determine
if your church’s mission statement is adequately implemented, ask
parents themselves. Use a scale response system to survey parents
so you can create a benchmark from which to grow. For example, ask
“On a scale of 1 to 10 (with 1 being dismal and 10 being angelic),
how would you rate the family-friendliness of our church?” Include
four or five questions. Allow the responses to inform any changes
you need to make. Then check back in six months with the same
survey to see how families’ perceptions of your church have
4. Lessons for kids are prepared with families in
mind. Instead of just thinking about how children will
relate to the lesson, teachers think about how the children can
apply what’s learned in the context of family relationships. A
great tool for parents is a family-friendly curriculum that
includes take-home papers to connect the lesson to home. Choose a
curriculum that provides information about lessons and includes
activities for families to do together to reinforce lessons. If
you’re really ambitious, you can even create your own.
5. The church staff is family-friendly. Talk
with your senior pastor and other staff. Find out where they stand
on ministry to parents and families. Then take a look at your
church calendar. How many activities segregate family members? How
many activities bring families together? Evaluate the quality of
the programs that are offered for families. Are all parts of the
family considered in the planning — or are certain parts central
while other parts are afterthoughts? You can tell a lot about your
church by looking at your calendar. If you find that
family-friendly programs are add-ons or once-a-year events, it’s
time to visit with your church staff about what can be changed.
One last thought. Creating a family-friendly church begins with
you. If you want to bring about change, start with yourself. If you
have children, let others see you partner with your children’s
Sunday school teachers and other adults who work with your kids at
church. Be intentional about sharing the impact those partnerships
are making in your family. Use whatever soapbox you can find or
create to tell parents that God rejoices when parents lead family
time with God, pray with their children, and worship with their
kids inside and outside of church.
Remember, the goal isn’t just to have kids spend time with their
parents. Rather, the goal is to equip and motivate parents to be
their kids’ teachers, shepherds, and heroes!
Mike Sciarra is the pastor of adults and families at
Voyagers Bible Church in Irvine, California.
HELPING PARENTS SUCCEED
There are two primary ways you can help parents succeed in
their role as their children’s faith developers.
1. Encourage parents to do these simple faith-building
activities with their children.
- Pray daily with and for your children.
- Memorize one verse together as a family each week.
- Review Sunday school take-home papers. Do the activities
together. Talk through the recommended discussion questions.
- Be with your children daily — talking, listening, and applying
Bible truths to your lives and theirs.
- Read Scripture together. It doesn’t have to be much, but it has
to be clear that God’s Word is an important resource and part of
2. Provide faith-building connections between homes and
- Give a copy of your curriculum’s scope and sequence to each
family so parents know what Bible personalities and stories
children are studying in Sunday school.
- Create a prayer room at your church where entire families can
go and pray together.
- Organize family outings such as day trips, outreach
opportunities, and service projects.