When you hear the words “family ministry” what comes to mind? What did you picture in your head as you heard those words? Many people tell me that when they think of family ministry, the first thing they picture is, well, a family—dad, mom, kids… you get the idea.
But if I were to ask them (and you) to picture your family, what comes to mind? For some, that original picture doesn’t change much, but for the majority (at least according to the research and data) it looks a lot different.
For some there is only one parent in the picture; for others, stepparents and siblings enter the scene. Some have grandparents acting as caregivers or grandparents living in the home. Some have adopted family members and include people that are in no way related by blood, but considered family members nonetheless.
You see, language matters. If the term “family ministry” feels limiting, it is—but only to the extent that we limit it. Our understanding of family has been and is being shaped by how our experience is informing it. It can be a difficult translation when it is only defined by images of “traditional” family units. As a result, those who “come alone” or those who don’t fit the image can often feel unwelcomed or disenfranchised by the idea of family ministry.
So what can we do? I think there are a few things we can all do that would go a long way in helping the Church more effectively minister to the families in our faith community and surrounding community.
Recognize that the term “family” is fluid. When planning your events and creating your context for serving families, be intentional about ensuring that your programming is flexible to reach a wide range of families. If you are prepared to minister to parents who come alone, parents who come with different children each week due to shared custody, multi-ethnic families, and multi-generation families, news will spread that your ministry truly is to families, not just one type of family.
Language matters. I’m not necessarily against using the term “family” because all of those groups, no matter how different they look from the traditional image of family, would still describe themselves as a family. But by adding in terms like “parent/caregiver” and expressly inviting participation from grandparents or single parents, the door is swung open wider so more feel welcomed to participate.
Image matters. If every piece of promotional material shows a traditional family then that is who it appears the ministry is targeting. But if the materials and programming show a variety of different family groups gathering or participating in your events, then again, the welcome becomes a little wider.
The church is a family. Yes, we say this often, but does our family ministry embrace this concept? Are there ways for generations to connect in worship, relationship, and community that extends past Sundays and Wednesdays and into homes and community? Family ministry should embrace the whole church in its scope of ministry.
Recognizing all that family ministry can and should be for our church and our community takes time and effort. There’s no curriculum in the world that can correctly assess the unique dynamic and needs presented by your ministry context.
Begin by simply taking a look at where you are and think about where you’d like to be. If family ministry for your church is limited due to language or imagery or by lack of available options for those outside the traditional mold, then begin to take steps to remedy it. Expand your focus and embrace the wider vision of what family ministry can be!
While I am in no way a proponent of a “cookie-cutter” model for any ministry area, including children and family ministry, I do think there are some key markers of family ministry that we should seek to incorporate in our context, whatever the unique needs of our community are. For a full discussion on this click here, but for a snapshot, here are the five markers of family ministry all effective family ministries exhibit.
- Focus – The focus of the church becomes centered on the home rather than the organization and the entire congregation joins in celebrating parents/caregivers as shepherds to the next generation.
- Function – Rather than being program-focused, family ministry “represents a fundamentally different way of doing church” ( Timothy Paul Jones, editor of Perspectives on Family Ministry: Three Views). Every area of the church participates and is involved in family ministry regardless of age, ministry, or worship service.
- Family as foundation – While this characteristic might seem obvious, it becomes less so when we pose the question, “What makes family family?” Family ministry consistently recognizes the family, no matter what it looks like, as the normative place for discipleship of children and supports and resources as needed.
- Formational – Family ministry has as its heart a commitment to passing the faith from one generation to another through the platform of the home supported by the church.
- Fun – That’s right, fun! This is my own thing. I don’t have research and studies to back me up on this but I’m just putting it out there that if family ministry is not fun, if it is a chore for the church, a duty for the parents, and a drudgery for the kids, then it has failed in its role. Family ministry should bring inspiration and joy to the entire church, and life and health to the home.