Family Ministry doesn’t have to be hard—you already have the secret ingredients to powerfully impact families! Check out these 3 authors’ views.
With all the talk about children’s ministers needing to add family ministry to their repertoire, many children’s ministers are throwing up their hands in exasperation. How exactly are we supposed to do that with all our other responsibilities? (We’ve heard your lament.)
And you can put your hands down! Relax. Take a look around at all the amazing things you’re already doing to reach families. In the extensive research Children’s Ministry Magazine has conducted related to family ministry’s intersection with children’s ministry, we’ve discovered that there’s a surprisingly easy strategy hidden within all the great things you’re already doing. Find out how to double the potential of your ministry with the help of three churches that are doing it well.
Step 1: Weekly Faith Conversations
Are your families talking? Are they talking to each other? And are they talking about matters of faith?
“And you must commit yourselves wholeheartedly to these commands that I am giving you today. Repeat them again and again to your children. Talk about them when you are at home and when you are on the road, when you are going to bed and when you are getting up.” —Deuteronomy 6:6-7
This passage in Deuteronomy does more than imply that parents should be talking to their children about matters of faith; God commands parents to “talk about them at home…away…when you go to bed and when you get up.” That leaves no time when parents are not to be involved in faith talk with our children. Faith talk must be woven into the very fabric of family life.
In our church, we believe strongly that our children and family ministries must support parents in their role as primary nurturers of faith development in their children. Initially, parents may find talking about matters of faith to be awkward or uncomfortable. So how do we support and equip them to have successful faith conversations? We’ve found two things that have worked in our ministry.
Keys for Daily Living
Our church embraces the Four Keys for Daily Living to nurture faith life in the home, created by Dr. David Anderson of the Youth & Family Institute in Bloomington, Minnesota. These four keys are:
Christian values and faith are passed on to the next generation through supportive conversation. Listening and responding to the daily concerns of our children makes it easier to have meaningful conversations regarding the love of God, and is itself a way to express God’s love to others.
To pass on the Christian faith to children, adults need to learn the Christian message and biblical story as their own. Christianity shapes the whole of one’s life and therefore involves a lifetime of Christian study, reflection, and prayer. Infusing caring conversations with God-talk elevates our caring conversations into devotions. We find God in our everyday experiences. We learn God’s stories and find ourselves in them, and we share a lively awareness of the sacred in the daily.
Family rituals and traditions
Daily routines, celebrations, and other ways families choose to identify who they are and tell their family stories, speak volumes about what the family values, believes, and promotes. Here we braid God into our everyday interactions with one another. We bless one another, pray for one another, depart from one another with a litany of faithful caring. We light candles at the dinner table, remembering the Light of the world, and we say grace and have bedtime rituals that include God’s presence. Holidays and family celebrations involve God-talk.
Filled up with caring conversations, devotions, rituals, and traditions, we pour ourselves out in service to God’s world. It isn’t an obligation, but a loving and grateful response to God’s love for us. We include all the generations. We live this faith.
Weaving Faith Into Life
We also use FaithWeaver NOW curriculum in our ministry because it allows the entire family to study the same Bible story in an age-appropriate way and focus on just one Bible point each week. Because all family members have studied the same Bible story with FaithWeaver, parents don’t have to ask their kids what the lesson was about. They can simply start maximizing the lesson by asking questions from the take-home tool as they drive home.
I know, the big joke in children’s ministry is that take-home papers end up on the floorboard of the car or as paper airplanes in your facility’s hallway. That’s why Group has transformed the traditional take-home paper in FaithWeaver to an innovative “one conversation-starter” slip–no crafts, devotions, or other things to overwhelm parents. It’s called FaithWeaver Family Connect, and it’s all about simple weekly faith conversation. Designed to either be emailed home ahead of time or handed to parents when they drop off their children, it makes “in the car” or “Sunday lunch” faith conversation easy, achievable, and powerful.
So as God commanded in Deuteronomy, our families are talking-and yours can, too. As families get into their vehicles after worship, they can begin a caring faith conversation before they leave the church parking lot and continue the discussion and life application at home. That’s maximizing family time!
Sharon Stratmoen is the director of children and family ministry at Our Savior’s Lutheran Church in Stillwater, Minnesota.
Step 2: Strategic Family Events
We would all most likely agree that family devotions are a good thing. However, family devotions often turn into another “should” on the list that just doesn’t seem to fit into families’ busy lives. So what can we do?
Without changing anything except a small shift in mind-set and awareness, families in your church can have powerful and unforgettable family-centered faith experiences nearly every month or quarter of the year. Help parents realize that the events your church is already doing are actually instant and effective family faith-growth opportunities.
Many churches have discovered the secret for reaching families who aren’t yet in church: Attract their kids! If you want proof, drive around your city in early October and count the many Halloween alternative, pumpkin patch, or fall festival signs you see. If you have growing churches in your community, they likely have church-sponsored Easter egg hunts, celebrations with Christ-centered crafts, booths, or games at local festivals or holidays, vacation Bible schools that allow (okay, are desperate for) help and involvement from parents, and various performances or concerts.
This is great news for parents who want to take the lead in the spiritual growth of their children. Our church has discovered that there are three key ingredients that mix together well for an out-of-the-park family faith experience.
Make it fun.
Effective children’s and family ministry outreaches strive to make the church-based event (like a Fall Festival with jump castles loaded with candy) more attractive than the established alternative (like trick-or-treating). When your families come to an event like this, you’re communicating that Jesus isn’t lame. In fact, he’s an absolute blast! Now that’s a family devotion!
Offer spiritual content.
Tie in a gospel message or a lesson on virtues or character traits at outreach events. Families can then use the event to talk about powerful lessons from Scripture. What better time to talk about God’s warnings related to the occult than when the inevitable child in a Scream mask comes by? During your Easter egg hunt, families can discuss why exactly they’re running around looking for eggs. Is there a connection to the meaning of Easter? Challenge the family to come up with one.
Make it relevant to kids.
Churches that reach out to your community know they have no chance of reaching unchurched kids without relevance. Who had even heard of a church-sponsored sports camp 10 years ago? Many outreach-focused churches understand that kids like sports. Rather than trying to pull kids into unfamiliar events and uncharted territory, churches are using kids’ existing interests to help them grow in their faith. What a great lesson for parents who want to take the lead in faith development at home — and teach their children that church involvement matters.
Leaders who are serious about empowering families to take the spiritual lead can make a tremendous impact on families with these minor adjustments.
Karl Leuthauser is a passionate advocate for outreach and children’s ministry. He is the executive pastor at Grace Community Church in Montrose, Colorado.
Step 3: Maximized Faith Milestones
As pastors and ministry leaders, we must work hard to connect the dots practically for parents. It isn’t enough to simply insist theologically and philosophically that parents play the lead role in the faith development of children. Most parents actually desire to lead their children spiritually; they just need an achievable path to walk. When we provide a clear strategy and assist them along the way, parents find empowerment and leave exasperation behind.
This strategy is called Legacy Milestones. We constantly encourage parents to “walk the path of Legacy Milestones,” leading their children as they go. We provide a common path for spiritual formation integrating the leadership of parents at home and the discipleship process at church. It’s one simple path composed of seven milestones. We equip parents to lead family devotions and capitalize on God moments along the way to lead their child toward the next milestone. Our strategy at church focuses on a Bible study process and a series of events and experiences ushering children toward the next milestone. The family and the church walk the same path together celebrating milestones along the way.
When you think about the practice of your church, most likely events or celebrations highlighting faith milestones already exist. Do you have any type of baby dedication at church? How about baptism? Have you done anything lately to help your children prepare for adolescence? Do you host a True Love Waits event? Do you celebrate graduation with high school seniors and their families? It’s simply a matter of aligning these events along a common path to allow the church and the parents to partner effectively to equip the next generation.
Faith Milestones at Your Church
Here’s how it shakes out. We lead people toward seven legacy milestones as they walk a path of growth in Christ. With each milestone we offer parenting training, family devotion resources, campus events, and family celebration ideas to help parents lead their children along the path.
- Parent/Baby Dedication
- Salvation and Baptism
- Preparing for Adolescence
- Purity for Life
- Rite of Passage
- High School Graduation
- Life in Christ
Milestones give parents markers along the way to help them stay on course during the long journey of leading a child spiritually from infancy to adulthood. The simplicity of this approach in practice is the beauty of the strategy. Take what you’re already doing and rethink your practice with the family in mind. Then maximize milestones for a spiritual formation process that links church and family.
Brian Haynes is the lead pastor at Bay Area First Baptist Church in Houston, Texas. For more information, visit www.legacymilestones.com.
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