Mark Schultz, Mission Resourcing Team Leader, recently wrote and led a workshop for local churches about Family Ministry Resources. The workshop notes have been adapted for this post by Melissa Neumann.

When and what made you first realise that your family was a Christian family – either when you were a child or a parent? When did you first feel like your family was an integral part of your church family?

What’s the why of family ministry? Why would you or your church be involved in family ministry?

  • To love families
  • To bring families to faith as disciples of Christ
  • To grow with families for the sake of the gospel
  • To be salt and light to one another and into the world.

The one thing that has only become more and more clear to me is that reaching out to children, youth and families with the primary purpose being so that your church will survive and have a future is pointless. Christ is the one who builds the church. What does He tell us to do in Matthew 28:18-20? Go into the world and make disciples and baptise them in the knowledge that Christ is with us as we go. Not just evangelise, not just to fill church pews – to make disciples and baptise them into His church.

So, where do you begin to create a Family Ministry?

Outside of church

Some of you may be thinking, “I don’t know why I’m here reading this, we haven’t seen a child in our church since….”

Fair enough, but if you are aiming for it or if you really deeply desire it, there are probably families who would come to the right opportunity. NCLS did a survey of people from across Australian society[1]. They found that 1/3 of the people would come to church if asked while a further nearly 20% were unsure so they would probably at least consider it. That’s a little over half! This is even more likely if friends, trusted contacts or family make the invitation. Over HALF!!

So to start, you need to show a genuine interest, become a friend. And don’t think you are too old!

If in time, there are a few families in the local community who are happy to come to church, see if they would attend something: a shared, traditional picnic, a movie night, or a local quiz night.

And even better if they ask to contribute – accept their offer. We in the church welcome for too long. Then have conversations and see if they would like to take a next step.

Within the church

Some of you might have a family or two or even more loitering around the edges (either moving closer or moving away). How do you put together a families ministry when you are already stretched?

There is a subtle fallacy which often is raised when congregations start looking into families ministry. We need lots of resources!!! Volunteers, energy, new songs, and of course, lots of young leaders!!

Fortunately, firstly, it isn’t possible to keep up with all of the entertainment and stuff that kids get on media. And secondly, it is pretty unlikely that it is what they want or need from a church community. I have seen a 75 year-old sit down and tell a story and still hold a child’s attention more than a cartoon.

If you want to know where to start, ASK THEM!!

The key ingredients are:

  • Love
  • Knowledge of the family, including adults and children
  • A passion for Jesus
  • Something that you love that they can learn
  • Connect with the adults/parents/carers, not just focus on the children

 

Making your congregation family-ready

This may require some conversations with everyone, of all ages, to consider what the needs of younger generations and families are today. It can be helpful to remind our congregations to be people of grace and hospitality. What does it mean to make space for and welcome those who are not like you – based on age or family demographic? And if we want children and families present in our churches so they experience the love of God and are encouraged as followers of Jesus then we need to offer the love of God and model being followers of Jesus – through our actions. Remember we are God’s family in this particular church and community. Like with any family there are people of all ages and personalities so how do we, because of God’s love and our common family tie as God’s children, live into being a “family” in and across a church community?

Some beginning points might be:

  • Welcome all of the family
  • Be ready for a little bit of noise
  • Give them a place to be (not a cry room!)
  • Get them involved (with sensitivity)
  • Ask families to be involved in service development
  • Be prepared to change

Family ministry activities

There are some simple things churches could do to assist in creating a place that makes families feel at home.

  • Family dinners
  • Playgroups
  • Mentoring
  • Prayer groups for parents
  • Parenting groups
  • Family services
  • Children led services
  • Movie nights
  • Talent nights
  • Church picnic
  • Children’s chat
  • Having child and family friendly information about faith in common areas
  • Craft workshops
  • Men’s shed

But most importantly, build relationships with families, the adults and children, so they know they are loved and welcomed and that they have a place to belong.

Growing faith at home

Churches also should be encouraging and equipping families for growing faith at home.

If we look at the First Passover in Exodus 12:24-27, it tells us that the story of Israel’s salvation was not to be told to children by the priest, or the elders or even Moses himself. It was shared through faith centred conversation in the home. It is parents and grandparents who have the first responsibility. The most church ministry leaders are to do is assist them in the task, not to do it all for them.

So how can we do that? Encourage families with:

  • Faith chat – as you share time together – walking, playing, eating, driving – initiate a conversation about things of faith.
  • Faith 5 – a simple, daily practice of 5 steps to share, read, talk, pray, bless that enables families to connect with each other, the Bible and God. This resource is available from Faith Inkubators offered in Australia through the Lutheran Church (faithink.com.au or www.growministries.org.au).

This doesn’t have to be between parents and children. It can be between children and grandparents, aunts and uncles, cousins etc. It takes 6 non-parent adult contacts to raise a child in faith.

Being God’s family

Family is made up of generations and in our churches let’s encourage relationships between and across different generations. Relationships where we share, celebrate, pray, learn and grow together as equals, no matter our age. That can be between an 80 year-old and a 55 year-old or someone younger. A lot of the time, families are not looking for people to tell them how to do things. Even in my time, parenting has changed. It is about listening to each other, learning (and as we age we have so much to learn from those who are younger than us – don’t we?) and growing in Christ together to bring light and salvation into this world.

 

[1] NCLS Research News, December 2018 http://ncls.org.au/news/would-you-go-to-church Accessed 24 Sept, 2020