These days, trying to define "family ministry" is as challenging
as trying to define "family." Churches all seem to have slightly
different perspectives on this ministry area. But everyone agrees
that family ministry has been growing recently -- in size and
Family ministry isn't necessarily new, but parents have "a
renewed awareness of the importance of the family unit," says
Reggie Joiner, founder and president of The reThink Group. The
church, he adds, now realizes it can't be effective alone and needs
As family ministry expands, it's also evolving. Just being
family- friendly no longer counts. The old approach of keeping
people of all ages busy with lots of family-specific programming is
missing the mark. All the "random acts of ministry" that churches
line up for families overload church and family schedules,
ultimately "competing with the very families you're trying to
help," Joiner says.
Kurt Bruner, executive director of the Strong Families
Innovation Alliance, says, "The problem is that the home is in
desperate need of fulfilling what it's called to do. So we need to
ask, 'How do we equip families?' "
Family Ministry's New Focus
"Equip" is one buzzword associated with the new-and-improved
family ministry. Others include "partnership," "intentional," and
Attentive churches move away from family ministry that's
recreational, educational, or organizational, and move toward
ministry that meets more of families' needs, says Art Murphy,
founder and president of Arrow Ministries in Orlando, Florida.
Bruner's alliance brought together some of America's leading
ministries to explore the family ministry movement. They concluded
that the goal is for churches to be catalysts for strengthening
marriages, nurturing children's faith, and keeping teenagers in the
Mike Clear, family life pastor at Discovery Church in Simi
Valley, California, reinforces the importance of intentionality.
"Family ministry needs to be about churches intentionally
influencing parents to be the spiritual leader for their kids," he
says. "No one has more potential to influence a child's
relationship with God than a parent."
While a child might be at church 50 hours per year, Clear says,
a parent has about 3,000 hours per year "to impact the heart of
their child," and that influence will be lifelong. "As good as we
might think we are as a church and as electrifying and relevant as
our ministries might be, we still don't have the potential to
influence children the way parents do," Clear says.
Make the task too difficult for parents, though, and we repel
them instead of equip them. "The very idea of spiritual leadership
can be overwhelming to many parents," Joiner says, "so it's up to
the church to define the parent's role as a spiritual leader in
practical, possible terms -- and then actually partner with them to
Family Ministry's Key Players
Coming alongside families in the spiritual upbringing of
children is a big undertaking, which might make you wonder, Who's
Some children's ministers redefine their role as ministry to the
entire family -- not just the children. Some churches rely on a
point person who's skilled at big-picture planning. And other
churches hire family ministry pastors with backgrounds in
counseling, marriage, child development, and parenting. It's
crucial to have a credible point person. Bruner says, "If everyone
owns the ministry, no one does."
Joiner agrees, saying, "Someone needs to champion the master
plan and get everyone in the same room to own the strategy. The
best way to get parents on the same page with your strategy is to
get the staff on the same page."
Family Ministry in Action
While churches may share a common goal of offering family
ministry, here are practical approaches congregations currently
Family Worship Services -- Seacoast Church in Mount Pleasant,
South Carolina, has experimented with a hybrid family service, with
children joining parents for family-style worship. Then kids and
adults split up for separate teaching times.
"The shared service isn't for all families," says Sherry
Surratt, children's pastor at Seacoast. "But we've learned that no
matter what model we use, we need to engage the whole family, keep
parents in the loop, and let them know how they can
Some churches design special weekly worship productions for
children and parents. Discovery Church presents a high-energy,
lighthearted experience between the two adult Sunday services. For
help with this, Clear turned to Joiner's reThink Group. These
interactive productions help synchronize the learning that occurs
at church with the learning that occurs at home, Joiner says.
Family-Friendly Curriculum -- Rather than
fragmenting families during Sunday school, thousands of churches
use Group's FaithWeaver curriculum so everyone in the family learns
about the same Scripture.
Sharon Stratmoen, director of children and family ministry at
Our Savior's Lutheran Church in Stillwater, Minnesota, says, "Our
goal is to equip the Christian home as the primary place where
faith formation occurs, ultimately encouraging a growing
relationship with Jesus. Our role is to partner with families in
raising kids in the faith. FaithWeaver has been the perfect partner
for us! All our families are studying the same Bible story in an
Regular Activities -- Scheduled events, as long
as they're not overdone, are important for fellowship and learning.
Murphy, who says you "need to give families time to have a life,"
recommends about five annual big events: two for children, two
about parenting, and at least one focused on marriage.
Rites of Passage -- At Kingsland Baptist Church
in Katy, Texas, Brian Haynes leads the Legacy Milestones project.
The church staff intentionally partners with families through six
key milestones in a child's life. These include parent/baby
dedication, salvation and baptism, preparing for adolescence,
purity for life, rite of passage into adulthood, and high school
graduation. Almost every milestone involves a required training
component, a church event, and a home event.
Small Groups -- These groups, which provide
accountability and consistency, can be for specific ages
(elementary children, junior highers, parents) or for entire
families. "Through small groups, we try to establish another
consistent adult voice, besides parents, in kids' lives," Clear
In addition to Bible study and prayer time, small groups provide
essential fellowship. "So many families are just trying to
survive," Murphy says. "People need opportunities to connect with
each other, without churches just adding more activities."
Counseling -- Surratt says, "All families are
looking to know that the church is concerned about their issues and
is there for biblical support and counseling in times of crisis.
They're looking for a church that won't shun their problems or
pretend that life isn't messy."
Murphy also emphasizes the importance of helping families deal
with problems. "Families are experiencing pain," he says. "A church
that focuses on meeting their needs will be a church that everyone
talks about. It won't matter what your building is like or what
bells and whistles you offer."
Churchwide Initiatives -- Bruner, who's also
the spiritual formation pastor at Lake Pointe Church near Dallas,
launched an initiative to create a "culture of intentional
families." It includes a campaign to call every church family every
four months to check how they're being intentional about growth in
marriage and parenting. Church members can go online to create a
game plan for their family's growth.
Family Ministry Strategies
Churches of all sizes can launch a family ministry -- or change
the focus of their current one. Follow this advice to ensure that
your program is effective.
Make a plan. Set goals so you know what you're trying to
achieve, plus measures for success so you know if you're getting
there. "Think about a plan from birth through adulthood, and have a
strategy for families through each stage," Surratt says. "Keep the
end goal in mind when forming your strategy."
As you plan activities, set the calendar around your goals. And
after your ministry gets underway, keep clarifying your
Re-evaluate your church's priorities. Before adding a family
ministry, "Decide what you need to stop doing so you have the
margin to start doing new initiatives for the family," Joiner
Educate yourself and your staff. Read books and explore Web
sites devoted to family ministry (see "Family Ministry Resources").
Visit other churches and talk to people with successful programs.
Attend workshops and conferences, and consider hosting one at your
Keep it simple. For the sake of families -- and your own sanity
-- start small. "It's about finding a few things and doing them
well," Murphy says. "Don't try to keep up with the church down the
road; it isn't the competition. If you meet needs, word will get
out." On the flip side, "More effective ministry isn't usually
easy," Joiner says, so you can't totally avoid difficult
Start slow. Family ministers warn against trying to start
everything at once or advertising something you can't produce. You
might end up with competing, rather than complementary, ministries.
For example, Clear's first small group efforts suffered because all
the resources went toward the weekly worship production. If he
could do it over, he says, he would've first invested properly in
Embrace all families. "Families come in all shapes and sizes,
and God has things to say to each," says Surratt. "This is where
the church can be huge in representing God's wide arms of love,
grace, and healing."
Joiner, also a co-founder of North Point Community Group in
Atlanta, says he's amazed at how many single-parent families and
grandparents have attended the church's KidsStuf experience -- a
family service. "It helps them fit into the life of the church and
partner with other parents and leaders, which keeps them from
feeling alone," he says.
Partner with parents. Invest in parents and offer assistance
with their vital role. "Parents want to be able to communicate
spiritual truths to their kids," Clear says, citing a recent Barna
Group study that 85 percent of parents say they believe they have
the primary responsibility for teaching their children about
religious beliefs and spiritual matters.
Provide resources. A lending library filled with books,
magazines, videos, and other family resources is invaluable. "Just
like we invest in curriculum for Sunday school, we need to invest
in tools that will make it easier for families to do the right
thing," Bruner says.
Nurture staff members' families. Because church staffers serve
as models for the congregation, churches must allow them to have
happy, successful families. "How you 'live' families is as
important as how you 'teach' families," Murphy says. He recommends
that churches protect staff families by sending them away for a
weekend, lining up a counselor occasionally, and being an
all-around support system.
Go beyond the church walls. Stay in touch with what families
experience. "People say, 'I wish my pastor had young children
again' because life is so different today," Murphy says. "I loved
being on the church staff, but it's important to be on the outside,
too, where people are hurting and hungry."
By applying this advice, your church can make an intentional
shift to a family ministry mind-set. You'll know that has happened,
Joiner says, when:
- You invest quality time and resources creating programs for
parents and kids, rather than just kids.
- You're consumed with answering the question, "How can we get
parents to reinforce what we're teaching their kids?" rather than
"What are we going to teach kids?"
- You focus on what you want parents to do at home rather than on
what you want parents to know about your program.
- You believe that what happens at home is as important as what
happens at church.
Family ministry boils down to committing to do less for kids and
more for the family. "When you make this sort of commitment," Clear
says, "it totally changes how your ministry looks and
And, as a result, it will totally change countless families.
Stephanie Martin is a freelance writer and editor in
Family Ministry Resources
Looking for more information about ministering to
families? Here's a sampling of what's
Arrow Ministries -- Art Murphy's conferences
include Targets for Successful Parenting. His resources include
First Things First spiritual-growth journals for children and
preteens, The Faith of a Child, and Step by Step video training for
leading children to Christ. (arrowministries.com)
FaithWeaver Bible Curriculum -- This curriculum
from Group gets the entire family learning about the same Bible
passage each Sunday. With easy discussion starters that leaders
email home or hand-deliver, faith conversations become a natural
part of a family's life. (group.com/faithweaver)
The ParentLink Newsletter -- With this
complete, ready-to-customize monthly newsletter, you can email or
hand-deliver a professional quality newsletter to equip parents.
It's from the editors of Children's Ministry Magazine. (theparentlink.com)
The reThink Group -- Reggie Joiner and Sue
Miller are leaders in this organization that exists to help
churches rethink the way they minister to kids and families.
They've designed a comprehensive curriculum plan that integrates
each age group (First Look, 252 Basics, and XP3), the Orange
Conference, and other resources. (theReThinkgroup.org)
Strong Families Innovation Alliance -- Kurt
Bruner and John Trent offer the Class 100 and Class 300 DVD series,
plus seminars on families and marriage. (strongfamilies.com)