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A family participating in a family ministry event.
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Developing a Family Ministry in Church

Here are the other steps you need to take to go from no ministry to a thriving family ministry. 

“These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the door frames of your houses and on your gates”-Deuteronomy 6:6-9.

Notice the absence of Sunday school teachers in this passage. I’m not saying Sunday school is unbiblical; I’m saying it’s supplemental to what happens in the Christian home. Too often, Christian parents defer their responsibility to the volunteers at church to “bring them up in the training and the instruction of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:4).

God, however, is calling the church to give that responsibility back to parents-where it belongs. Scripture is full of examples of family ministry. Before you begin your family ministry, study the biblical model. You’ll discover that the primary responsibility for Christian growth and formation lies with the parents. This realization is the first step in developing your family ministry.

The second step is developing ways to help parents. What do parents need? They need the four I’s.

1. Information

Parents want useful and current information about parenting. Invite a group of parents for dessert and ask them, “What would be the best forum for providing you with information?” and “What are some issues you’d like to know more about?”

In an informal survey, Tim Kurth, a Christian education director in Illinois, discovered that parents in his church needed help balancing family, work, and church; healing for troubled marriages; and resources to study God’s Word outside of church services.

After you’ve collected parents’ feedback, design your parent education vehicle. Through teaching, training, retreats, newsletters, audio tapes, videotapes, small groups, events, and personal interaction, you can help parents. Don’t try to do all these. Just choose one format to inform and inspire parents.

Many churches have introduced their family ministry emphasis with a parenting seminar. If you do the same, make it visitor-friendly and invite parents from the community. Receiving support and information is a felt-need for all parents.

Network with other children’s ministers to find great resources for parent-training. Or, if you really like a parenting book, call the book’s publisher. The company’s publicist can connect you with the author. Authors are often willing to lead a parenting seminar.

2. Introduction

Information alone won’t meet parents’ needs. Most parents want to develop relationships with other parents. We offer a dinner for parents prior to our parenting seminars. This allows people to relax and get to know other parents. It also provides built-in discussion groups for the seminar. Several parents have started small groups with the people they’ve gotten to know at their tables.

At Hope Wirta’s church in Milwaukee, small groups of families, such as “The Young and Restless” group, meet regularly. Some weeks, parents may meet with their children and play games, or other weeks, they may get a baby sitter and go to a play. Lifelong relationships are formed in accountability support groups such as these.

3. Integration

There are three great ways to integrate your family ministry.

Fit it in.

Design your family ministry to fit into what you’re already doing in children’s ministry. Children’s minister Sharyn Spradlin in Washington state brings parents and kids together for teaching, worship, and communion on Sundays. Then parents and children go to classrooms together for Bible lessons.

If you’re restricted by space, time, or finances, be courageous enough to ask, “Is there an ineffective program that we can cut?” Pruning promotes new growth. When it comes to planning children’s ministry, sometimes your best tool may be your eraser.

Pass it on.

Encourage parents to integrate their spiritual training and instruction into their normal activities. Notice in the passage from Deuteronomy that the parents are using natural teachable moments to pass on spiritual truths. Give parents resources to help them talk about God’s truths at home. They could take a walk and relate God’s Word to what they see. Encourage parents to read the Bible or pray with their children every day. Have them place reminders around their homes so they can remember God and his promises. This is family ministry at its most effective and basic level.

Add it on.

Design events that involve children with their parents. Invite parents to participate in a parent-child game night after your weekly club meeting. If space is limited, divide the group by grade levels and offer it on two different nights.

Have an overnight retreat that focuses on the parent-child relationship. Design age-appropriate activities that children and parents will enjoy. Emphasize cooperation more than competition. Include a craft that parents and children can work on together to keep as treasured mementos.

We have a parents orientation meeting to help parents understand our children’s dedication celebration. This might be the first intergenerational event for parents and infants. We offer it during our worship service so child care isn’t a problem. Many parents bring their babies to the orientation. We serve refreshments and encourage parents to develop relationships with each other.

At another spiritual milestone in our church, we have a Baptism Pizza Party for families. Parents, siblings, and baptized children meet for a quick party after church. After dinner, each child is called to the stage and affirmed for his or her spiritual growth. Children receive public recognition, a baptism certificate, and a Bible signed by their teacher and the children’s pastor.

Whatever you do to integrate parents with children, keep it simple and fun.

4. Inclusion

As you strategize and develop your family ministry, don’t do it alone. Some children’s ministers fail at establishing family ministry because they try it by themselves.

Genuine Christian community is intergenerational so include all ages. Older children’s input could increase your impact. For example, you could ask fourth- and fifth-graders for fun game ideas or suggestions for a parent-child campout. Some children’s workers and teachers may not have the time, but others will see how they can maximize their ministries by establishing a partnership with parents and children. Invite parents to give their input, but assure them that they won’t be manipulated into working.

Design a Partnership Meeting that includes all of these people. Serve refreshments, explain your vision, and brainstorm ideas. Some people may be so excited about the ideas that they may offer to work on them some more. Your goal is to explain the vision and generate enthusiasm for it. Be willing to give it time to develop. Have three or four Partnership Meetings before you commit to an event or program.

Family ministry is more than a trendy buzz word. It’s meeting real needs of real people to demonstrate Christ’s love. It’s gratifying and effective to impact two generations for Christ at the same time. If you pioneer a family ministry in your church, you’re setting out on a great adventure. There will be plenty of risk, but it’ll never be boring.

Tim Smith is a pastor to family life and the author of The Relaxed Parent: Helping Your Child Do More as You Do Less.

Family Ministry Styles

The church’s approach to family ministry fits three basic styles. Take a look at these styles to determine which fits your church.

Delegation Model

Parents delegate responsibility to the church for discipling their children and hold the church accountable for the results. Church leaders are the experts. Primary family ministry vehicles:

  • Church-based ministries to children, such as Sunday school, midweek clubs, and vacation Bible school.
  • Send-home parent newsletters.
  • Families at church at the same time but in separate rooms (not really intergenerational).

Partnership Model

Church leaders and parents work together to spiritually train their children. Church leaders are co-laborers. Primary family ministry vehicles:

  • Parents recruited as teachers and chaperones.
  • Vision-sharing meetings to bring parents on board philosophically.
  • Parent resource library.
  • Father/son or mother/daughter events.
  • Truly intergenerational events where people of all ages interact.
  • Family Fun Nights at the church.
  • Divorce recovery groups for kids.

Apprentice Model

Parents are trained to have the primary responsibility of discipling their children in the home. Church leaders are resources. Primary family ministry vehicles:

  • Family service projects.
  • Family devotional resources provided for families to use at home.
  • Parent-training seminars.
  • Family retreats with a goal of teaching families how to grow together at home.
  • Family classes or family youth groups (see the “Family Connection” sidebar).
  • Mentoring programs.
  • Senior adults adopt families to provide support and training for parents.

Family Connection

Instead of sending family members to all corners of the church, keep them together with a Family Youth Group. Identify three sets of families-those with children in kindergarten and younger, those with children in elementary school, and those with children in both age groups. Form groups of five or six families within each set. Then enlist a facilitator for each group. Encourage groups to determine a time to meet each month. Group time can begin with recreation such as volleyball or kickball. Choose activities that everyone will enjoy. Serve light refreshments. Then have an active devotion. Add things to reflect your church’s style. Let each group shape its personality. Encourage families to take turns hosting the group. The host family can provide refreshments and choose the activity that families will do, such as swimming, skating, going to a park, having a scavenger hunt, or playing board games.

Debbie Gravell
Wallingford, Connecticut

Looking for more ideas for families? Check out these articles!

2 thoughts on “Developing a Family Ministry in Church

  1. yehuda stephanus so


    My name is Yehuda Stephanus Solaiman from BCS (Bethany Church Singapore).

    I am writing to ask you some questions for my thesis requirements in STTBI(one of theological university in Jakarta). I really hope that you have time to answer the questions. Here’s I attached the questions and my curriculum vitae.

    Thank you for your attention.

    Best Regards,

  2. Ezekiel Joseph

    I love so much, Children Ministry. And I need to learn more about it. Bless you!

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Developing a Family Ministry in Church

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