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 www.refocusministry.org and is a contributing blogger at ChildrensMinistryBlog.com, Seedbed, and D6 Family.

7 Reasons WHY Family Ministry Matters

Have you ever had to convince a child that something is important?  Let’s say, for instance, your tween asks you why it was so important that they keep their room clean because, “Seriously, Mom, it’s my stuff not yours.  Why should you care that it’s not perfect? No one else has to keep their room this clean!”

Have you ever just sat there thinking, “I’ve got to say something more than ‘Because I said so!’” but the words just fail you in that moment so you end up saying… “Because I told you to clean it, that’s why!”

Yeah, so… maybe that happened the other day in our house.  Sometimes as parents it’s hard to remember that these kids of ours don’t put the same value on room cleanliness as we do.

Sometimes the same thing happens at church.

If you are like most of the family ministers I know, you are passionate about what God says in His Word about families.  You read Deuteronomy 6:4-9 and all kinds of “Amens” and “That’s rights!” rise up in your heart.  You see how God repeatedly puts spiritual instruction into the hands of parents and encourages the home to a place of active faith.  So when you walk into your church and say, “Let’s do Family Ministry!” it can be hard to understand why the reactions are more quizzical than celebratory.

So, why should a church “do” family ministry? 

1. Because the Bible tells us so. Brian Haynes, pastor of Bay Area First Baptist Church in Houston, TX and author of the book Shift, says that it is of utmost importance to base every action and proposed action of your ministry in theology, in the Word of God.  For a list of Bible verses referring to God’s plan for the family as the place of discipleship click here.

2. Because studies tell us so. The Sticky Faith group at Fuller Youth Institute have studied the reasons young people walk away from the church, looking for a “silver bullet” for churches and parents to use to keep that from happening.  Their top finding was that time spent talking and living faith in the home was the biggest indicator of a faith that sticks in kids.  According to Jim Burns at HomeWord ministries, kids that talk about their faith at home with mom and dad have a 80% chance of remaining in church once they leave the home.

3. Because the kingdom of God grows from the ground up. Did you know that by the age of 9 a child has already formed his or her basic moral foundation and by age 13 they’ve come to an understanding about God, His love, and eternity?  Did you also know that according to Barna research group, over half of people who come to accept Christ do so before age 12 and only 13% make commitments after the age of 21?  So while kids are still at home, they are making the most important eternal choices of their life.  The church needs to equip the home for these discussions and decisions.

4. Because time says we need to. Studies show that on average, kids will spend about 24-40 hours a year at church.  Contrast that with the estimated 2,000-3,000 hours they will spend at home or with their parents (For more on this, click here).  If we want faith to be a significant part of their lives, it needs to take place where they spend most of their time.

5. Because parents need us to. Most parents of elementary-aged kids today grew up in churches that hafamilyatcrossd age-segregated, traditional models.  Many times faith was compartmentalized and not talked about at home.  Because of that, parents don’t know how to talk about their faith or worship with their children.  They need help.  They need supported.  They need ministry.

6. Because the kids need us to. An average child will be engaged in some kind of media (television, video games, social network, etc.) for 40 hours a week. Remember that statistic about church?  At most, 40 hours a YEAR at church.  The messages they receive all week long cannot be addressed in one hour on a Sunday morning.  Kids need families engaged in their faith walk at home so that faith is not a “Sunday thing” but a life thing.

7. Because God calls us to. The final commission left to the church by Jesus was to “Go and make disciples.” Discipleship goes beyond church membership, service attendance, or biblical assent.  Being a disciple means being a follower and imitator of Christ and making disciples means leading others to do the same.  As Paul says, “Follow me as I follow Christ.”  Our first mentors in life are our parents/caregivers, so if we are to make disciples, it starts at home.

Sharing these truths with members of your church won’t suddenly make implementing transition towards family ministry easier, but it will help begin to smooth the way as others begin to understand your heart and God’s heart towards families.


For more information about practical discipleship in the home or transitioning to a more family-focused 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 www.refocusministry.org and is a contributing blogger at ChildrensMinistryBlog.com.

Grown Ups: Your Words Matter, Your Actions Matter More

Yesterday, I told my oldest daughter that one of the moms from church was going to teach her how to knit a scarf this afternoon. Her eyes lit up.  “Are you serious?” she said in surprise.  “Yes,” I replied, “She told you she would on Sunday.”  Her reply struck deep into my heart, “Yeah, but grown ups say that kind of stuff all the time but they never actually do it.  They’re too busy.”

I’ve heard the saying, “The road to hell is paved with good intentions” all my life but never did it carry more weight than in the brief exchange with my daughter.  I always assumed the person who had the good intentions was paving their own road, but what if it was broader than that?  What if our good intentions with no follow through is actually paving a road for another person?  And what if that person is a child?

It is widely recognized that parents/caregivers have the greatest influence on their children.  But what about other influences?  I attended a seminar with Dr. Kara Powell, author of Sticky Faith and Executive Director of Fuller Youth Institute.  She asked all of us to write down three people other than our parents who were influential in forming us into the people we were that day.  Once we were done, she asked us to raise our hands if we had written down a teacher? a Sunday school teacher?  a grandparent? another adult?  Lots of hands. Then she asked, “How many of you wrote down your high school best friend?  How about your middle school classmates?”  Not one hand went up for those.  She used that moment to illustrate what their research had found: Adults have a far greater lasting influence on us than our peers.

This flies in the face of the messages we get from media and even our own kids at times where peers are portrayed as theadultchild most important influence in kids lives but the truth is, that influence is fleeting, while the influence of adults sticks; it endures past awkward middle school clumsiness and past high school “coolness” and past college independence.  The influence of adults, especially involved adults, lasts for a lifetime.

So, what do you think happens if we, as adults, tell our kids, “Yes, I’ll do that, teach that, play that, build that, go there, eat there, and read that with you” and then we fail to follow through?  If in a moment of good intention, we say we will do something and then we repeatedly and consistently fail to do that thing, what message are we sending to our kids?  That our job is more important?  Our social media too demanding?  Or own lives too consuming to follow through with what we said?

I wonder if our very words, our good intentions, are paving a path for the next generation that does not lead to lasting faith, strong commitments, and kept promises.  Rather it leaves to a life where whatever is best in the moment, whatever feels good, whatever we have “time” for is precedent.  I am worried that we adults don’t take seriously the incredible gift we have been given to influence and shape the generations to follow us.  Our words carry much weight.  Our actions carry even more. 

If we say it, we NEED to do it.  

All the good intentions in the world will only make a stronger road away from truth and commitment.  I’ve been just as guilty of this as the next person.  But hearing and seeing my daughter’s genuine shock over a simple kept promise has convicted me deeply.  I don’t want to pave a road.  I want to build character, model love, and display commitment.  I want to be the right kind of influence on generations that follow.

For me, today, that means setting up a movie date with a teen girl I promised I’d watch a movie with – putting it on the calendar, making it a priority.  What does it mean for you today?  Your words matter – your actions matter more.


If you want to read more about Practical Discipleship or the importance of modeling faith at home, check out ReFocus Ministry or “like” us on Facebook!

5 Markers of Family Ministry

So, what are the defining characteristics of “family ministry” that take it from a label to a true ministry between the church and the home? It’s actually pretty hard to define.  Chap Clark of Fuller Youth Institute has said “there is not now, nor is there every likely to be, an identifiable programmatic animal know as family ministry.”  He may be right but there are some things that we can look for as we consider family ministry in the church. After talking to some fellow ministers, these 5 things stood out as markers of family ministry in a church.

  1. Focus – The fundamental theology of family ministry is that the home is intended by God to be the primary place of discipleship (Deut. 6:4-9) and that the church should partner with parents/caregivers to equip and support them as they raise their children in the faith. The focus of the church becomes centered on the home rather than the organization and the entire congregation joins in celebrating parents/caregivers as pastors to the next generation.
  2. Function – Unlike other church ministries, family ministry is not intended to be in its own “silo” with its own activities, programs and location within the church. Rather than being program-focused, family ministry “represents a fundamentally different way of doing church” (Dr. Timothy Paul Jones, editor of Perspectives on Family Ministry: Three Views). In other words, it’s more of a new way of approaching church as whole rather than adding something to the way things already are.  Every area of the church participates and is involved in family ministry regardless of age, ministry, or worship service.
  3. Family as foundation– While this characteristic might seem obvious, it becomes less so when we pose the question, “What makes family family?” In modern society, less than 30% of homes house what we would call a traditional family (Dad, Mom, 2.5 kids, dog, minivan, white picket fence).  Families today include single parent home, blended/divorced families, adoptive/foster families, and grandparents-as-parents.  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. To read more on this, check out Pastor Matt Norman’s blog “Why HOME?
  4. 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. Therefore, everything done in the context of family ministry will spring from that desire. Family activities, caregiver seminars, media resources, church programs and ministry to kids and youth will have at its root a role in growing that spiritually-formational home.
  5. 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 body and life and health to the home.  Family ministry that works should have kids excited about talking to Mom and Dad about God, parents not dreading the life questions their kids will ask, and church members actively involved as mentors, cheerleaders, and supporters of the home.  Celebration of spiritual growth should be normal and expected.  Talking about seeing God throughout the day should be anticipated and encouraged.  And the entire congregation should be involved in an ongoing conversation.

    For more information about practical discipleship in the home or transitioning to a more family-focused 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 www.refocusministry.org and is a contributing blogger at ChildrensMinistryBlog.com.

    rsation about God.

What if Family Ministry Doesn’t Work?

So, you are ready to start Family Ministry at your church.  You’ve read the books, been to the conferences, watched the videos and studied the Scriptures and you are convinced; family ministry is the way to go.

So… now what?

In the past few years, I have sat with many of ministry friend who can probably relate with the sentiment expressed above.  They are totally sold out to the idea of family ministry.  They can see the merits of championing the home and they want to engage and equip parents for discipleship and formation.  But… when it comes down to actually moving forward with family ministry in their church, they suddenly feel stuck.  How in the world do you even start?

  • Some begin with programming.  If it’s parental engagement we need, then parental engagement we shall have.  Parents begin getting invited to events.  More newsletters and emails are created.  Special training events are planned.  And yet, nothing substantial seems to change.  Attendance is still lackluster, communication still sketchy, and parents still disengaged.
  • Some begin with the curriculum.  If we can find a curriculum that creates a partnership between the home and the church and begin teaching our Sunday school lessons from that, then surely family ministry will blossom at our church.  And yet, the same volunteers still teach in the same format and the new parent letters still end up on the floor in the hallway and the kids still don’t remember the main idea from the week before.
  • Others begin with Children’s Ministry department.  After all, these are the staff members most familiar with the kids and most in touch with parents, especially because many of them are parents themselves.  The Children’s Ministry adopts the values and focus of family ministry but soon finds itself in competition with the youth group, adult Sunday School, the worship band, the outreach team, and the Tuesday night quilting bee.

And over and over and over again, I have heard the same sentiment expressed:

Family Ministry just doesn’t work at my church.

But…

What if it does?  What if the strategy is a little different, a little longer, and little more unique to your situation?  What if it means taking baby steps for a while and what if it means change is slow in coming?  What if family ministry is exactly what your church needs but maybe not the way you envisioned it or the way the church down the street does it?

All those “what ifs” is what this blog and this ministry are all about.  Because we have read the books, been to the conferences, watched the videos and studied the Scriptures and we are convinced; family ministry is the way to go.  But we are also convinced that one size does not fit all, that not everyone in your church has heard the Scriptures, and that His time is needed to make all things beautiful.

The next few blogs will explore the world of family ministry.  What is it?  Why do we need it?  What does it look like?  And finally, how can we transition our church into it?  We hope that you find the resources, ideas and articles here an encouragement to you as you serve within your local church.  We want to partner with you to engage the family and the home in faith formation and help you refocus your church towards family ministry.

It’s Time to Refocus

I’ve always been drawn to those pictures that focus in on one thing and make everything else in the picture fuzzy.  It’s the mystery of it that draws me in.  Yes, I can see that flower, but what’s in the background?  What’s hiding in the shadows?  What’s beyond the focus?

For a photographer, a quick twist of the wrist can instantly change the focus of their lens.  What was once the primary focus of their snapshot soon becomes a blurred part of the landscape in lieu of a new subject.  There is nothing to really say one is better than another, rather, the photographer has to decide which best fits the needs of the moment; the lighting, the mood, the overall flow of the picture.

The idea of refocusing, of moving from one primary area of focus to another, is one that many ministries find themselves exploring in this world of rapidly changing trends and technology.  The most notable difference however is that it takes much more than the flick of a wrist to bring about that kind of change in organizations.  While we may be able to see where we’d like to take our focus, the journey to get there is often wrought with resistance that we don’t foresee or are not prepared to encounter.

Recently, there has been a move throughout churches and ministries towards a new focus, a focus that turns our eye towards the home and champions a partnership between the church and family supporting parents/caregivers as the primary means to disciple the next generation.  Practically this plays out in a church focused on equipping and resourcing the home and taking a more intergenerational, mentoring approach to ministry rather than an age-segregated “silo” avenue.  The need for this shift in focus has been widely assessed by researchers and ministers who point to Scripture, studies and statistics as basis for re-envisioning church as a place of partnership rather than competition for spiritual formation and discipleship.

I have sat through many a children’s ministry conference where this vision is shared and embraced with great enthusiasm and support.  Sadly, I have also watched on Facebook as many of my fellow ministers face obstacles of tradition and misunderstanding upon their return home and grow discouraged in their desire to bring about that change in focus.

Thus springs the idea for this blog, and hopefully in the future, a ministry dedicated to the process of bringing about that transition and delving into the mystery of the fuzzy background by bringing it into focus.  Each church, each ministry has different needs, different families, different cultures that have to be considered and invited into the process of bringing about that change.  My heart is to provide a place that leans into the process of transition and brings light to the obstacles that hinder change in a way that honor is championed, hearts are encouraged and Christ is glorified.  Transition is never easy, but it is possible and it can be an exciting time of growth and visioning for the entire congregation.

Perhaps you find yourself today on the verge of transition.  God has given you a vision.  He has drawn your attention to a new focus through His Word, His Spirit and His Truth, and you are ready to begin the journey of transformation.  Perhaps you’ve tried before and failed and you feel like you just can’t walk the path alone.  Perhaps you are in the trenches, knee deep in the throes of transition and ready to see a light at the end of the tunnel.  Regardless of where you are, if you are feeling this tug towards transforming your church’s ministry to families, I invite you to join me as we together take the steps we need to see God’s heart for children, parents, grandparents and everyone in-between growing together in their faith and life.

It is time to reFocus.

Picture courtesy of Nicole Cook photography, ncookphotography.com