Family Ministry Doesn’t Work

“Here, Mommy, this is for you to use.”

This was one of those conversations where I had been left out of the loop as to what was going on as my son handed me a tissue and a spatula.

“Thanks, buddy,” I replied, “What are these for?”

“For the game!” he answered joyously, boyish anticipation in his eyes as he imagined the next step in our day.

“Hmm,” I said quizzically, “What game?”

His smile quickly disappeared. What did I mean, “What game?”  THE game Mom! THE game that he had come up with in his head and we were going to play together and it was going to be SO. MUCH. FUN!  And all I said as, “What game?”

If you are in children’s, youth, or family planning-620299_1920ministry, there’s a very good chance that you have felt like my son. You spend time in study and prayer in order to best serve God in your ministry setting. You have caught His vision for family ministry, for equipping parents/caregivers as the spiritual leaders in their homes and for creating intergenerational opportunities for children to grow in the faith. You have researched the methods, read all the studies, and realized the goal.

And so you set out…and fall flat.

What went wrong?

You gave parents a really great resource or offered an amazing seminar or created an exciting intergenerational worship experience and in response you got a blank stare, a confused gaze, or an indifferent response.

It seems like after every conference I attend, I get emails and messages 1-3 months later from ministry friends around the country, sometimes the world, saying, “I tried. I really did. But family ministry (or intergen ministry or nextgen ministry) doesn’t work at my church.

My heart goes out to you because I know that sinking feeling. I think at some point in ministry, we all do. But I urge you, don’t give up yet.

Take a step back and consider: Is it possible that you handed your parents a spatula and tissue and told them to play the game?  Could it be that as good as your planning and vision are, the church you serve was never let in on the secret?

In his book Team Up, family minister Phil Bell shares that parents are on information overload, or as he puts it, they live in a world of “promotion dilution.”  This happens when “churches attempt to promote too many events and programs at a given time.”  When we are trying to get everything out in the open, sometimes nothing gets into the heart.  And then, as Phil shares, since “you’re one of thousands of other voices vying for attention and participation of parents,” your message gets lost in the mix. And you end up thinking that family ministry doesn’t work at your church.

(Phil offers some really great practical steps for how to deal with this so go read his book or follow his blog here)

In order for parents to engage intentional discipleship at home, they have to understand the WHY behind it.  They need to know that:

They are called by God to it.
They are the greatest influence in their children’s lives
They are already doing it whether they are intentional about it or not.
They are not alone in their work of discipleship.

And they only way they will know is if you tell them.  Not once, not twice, but over and over and over again. In a myriad of different ways, in a plethora of different platforms; one consistent message creating one specific need. 

In order for the church to engage meaningful intergenerational connections in worship and mentorship, they have to understand the WHY behind it. They need to know that:

They are called by God to it.
They are the greatest influence in young adults choosing to remain in church.
They are already sending messages to kids and youth about belonging.
They are not “lone ranger” Christians but part of a community, a family.

And they only way they will know is if you tell them.  Not once, not twice, but over and over and over again. In a myriad of different ways, in a plethora of different platforms; one consistent message creating one specific need.

“In a world of competing messages, it’s imperative to communicate strategically, simply, and consistently.” – Phil Bell, Team Up

Don’t let the fact that it takes time to turn a ship, deter you from the course.  That vision you’ve received from God is a treasure. The excitement and anticipation you have in your heart about the work God can and will do is the wind in your sails. But there is still a journey ahead; stay the course, turn the ship, and give time for others to catch the vision. Because when they do, your ship will cut through the waters faster than you could have ever made it go on your own.

“Let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up” Gal. 6:9 ESV


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.

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One thought on “Family Ministry Doesn’t Work

  1. Pingback: Beauty in the Broken | r e F o c u s

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