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The “Family” in Family Ministry

Who is your family? 

It’s amazing the answers you will get for this.  The definition of family has been changing rapidly in today’s society.  Sometimes family is defined by structure (blood relatives, parents and children). Sometimes family is defined by function like close friends who are like family, caregivers who act as parents, “aunts” and “uncles” who are family friends. My daughter once called the latter our “family of the heart.”

On the whole, family structures and functions vary widely, but usually these main characteristics remain:

  • there are caregivers and care receivers
  • there are resource providers and resource consumers 
  • there are mutual functions of attachment, bonding, and affection met within the family unit.

Traditionally, the primary caregivers, resource providers and emotional stabilizers are the parents and the receivers, users, and reciprocators are the children.

wearefamilyWhen we are looking at ministry to children, we tend to think of age-specific children or youth ministry where the focus tends to be primarily on the child. In family ministry there is a shift in the focus to the parents or caregivers, who, studies show, will have the greatest physical and spiritual impact upon their children in their growing years.

This focus on parents is not a new concept.

In his sermon On Family Religion,” John Wesley (1872) puts the responsibility for spiritual discipleship squarely on the shoulders of the parents in the home saying, “The wickedness of the children is generally owing to the fault or neglect of their parents”.  As early this time, Wesley recognized the need for parental instruction to prepare parents to carry out the command to “train up a child in the way he should go” (Pr. 22:6).

Over the years, parents and caregivers have shared that at times the church has been inadequate in training parents for this task of of discipleship at home. They don’t feel equipped to transmit their faith in words or model it in deeds. And frankly, without that equipping and support, the idea of discipleship at home can sound a little scary!

There is a great need to provide Parents with the support and opportunities to put their faith into action at home. 

Jim Merhaut of the Center for Ministry Development shares that “the most effective way to help a child is to help the parent of that child” and encourages the church to “become a trusted resource, a go-to person with good ideas”.

Regardless of “how” a family looks, an effective local church ministry must equip the parents/caregivers and provide space for families to practice their faith together.

The focus of family ministry shouldn’t be so narrow that it excludes families that are structured in a less-traditional format or function in less-traditional ways or so broad that it doesn’t effectively resource or support the leaders in the home.  To be most effective, a church must

  1. Know its families – How are they structured?  Who functions as caregiver?  Who is identified as “family”?
  2. Know their needs – What role does faith play?  Where are caregivers resourced?
  3. Know the community.  – What do families “look like” in the surrounding community? What needs are present?

There’s no “cookie cutter” answer for family ministry because the answers to these questions are different in each context. However, the one similarity that exists and the reason I am so passionate about the heart behind family ministry is this: Parents are the single greatest influence in the faith of their children…period. So if we can join arms with parents; support, equip and encourage parents; we will in fact be reaching the children in the best way possible.

For more information about the importance of equipping parents/caregivers, check out these articles and resources.

Join the conversation on Facebook at ReFocus Family and Intergen Ministry.

For more information about practical discipleship in the home or transitioning to a more home-focused, intergenerational ministry at your church, go to ReFocus Ministry or “like” our Facebook page.

About the author

familyChristina Embree is wife to Pastor Luke, mom to three wonderful kids, and family minister at Nicholasville UMC. She is passionate about seeing churches partneringsmallbadge with families to encourage faith formation at home and equipping parents to disciple their kids in the faith. Currently studying Family, Youth and Children’s Ministry at Wesley Seminary, she also blogs at and is a contributing blogger at, Seedbed, and D6 Family.

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