The Missing Piece in Family Ministry

I recently saw an advertisement in a children’s ministry group that stated something to the effect of “The missing element to your family ministry experience: Click here to discover the key to successful family worship” (not exact wording, just something similar to that). Naturally, I clicked. I mean, what minister wouldn’t want to discover the missing element to successfully engaging families in worship?

What I found was a well-appointed and quite interesting curriculum approach with engaging family worship experiences. I liked them; I thought they would certainly be successful in what they were created to do.

But, there was still a significant missing piece.

While this curriculum emphasized the importance of engaging families in worship together and equipping parents for the work of discipleship in their home, there was a huge missing component – an intergenerational, interconnected faith community engaged in meaningful relationships beyond the walls and programs of the church and in discipleship together.

There is one verse that we often use to demonstrate the mandate in Scripture for parents/caregivers to disciple their kids at home is Deuteronomy 6:7 – Impress these commandments on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.  I love this verse because it shows the most everyday, most ordinary moments and tells us in those very ordinary times to talk about our extraordinary God.

But I fear that in shining the spotlight so often on this verse and directing our focus of discipleship exclusively to parents/caregivers, we miss something of great importance, something that changes everything about the command.

This command wasn’t given exclusively to parents.

It was given corporately to the community of faith.

The charge to talk about these commandments, to impress them on the children, to disciple the next generation in faith what given to the entire gathered assembly and never once were parents singled out and told that discipleship was their sole responsibility. On the contrary, the command was clearly given in the presence of everyone (Hear, O Israel) and deemed by God through Moses as applicable to the whole assembly. So much so, it is repeated, nearly word for word in Deuteronomy 11:18-20 again in an address to the whole congregation.

So what does this mean?

Parents, it is not “your” job to disciple your children.

Church, it IS corporately our job to disciple our children.

So, yes, if you are a parent and you are a believer, of course, it is your job to disciple your kids, especially since you have the most time with them and the most influence on them!

But, Church, please hear this, parents are not supposed to be doing this alone. This isn’t a command devoid of community. This isn’t a mandate that applies only to parents/caregivers and their children. This is a command given to all of us, every single member of the community of faith, to all of our children, not just those who live in our house. 

When viewed in this light, some of our common excuses fail.

We can’t say, “I gave my time serving with in Sunday School and youth group when my kids were young. It’s their turn now.”

We can’t say, “Well, they aren’t my kids. It’s not up to me to talk to them about God.”

We can’t say, “It’s not my responsibility.”

I mean, we can say those things, but if we do, we are willfully choosing to ignore the commands that God gave, not to parents alone, but to all of us to pour into, engage with, impress upon, and walk with the youngest generations.

It is time for us to release some of the burden we’ve put on the backs of parents by repeatedly telling them, “This is your job” by changing just one letter and a whole way of understanding and instead saying, “This is OUR job.”

No parent should ever feel alone in this calling. Not in the dynamic the God has given us.

They should feel the support, nurture and equipping of an entire faith community surrounding them and ministering to them and their children.

The children in our churches should be known (by name) not just by their parents and a few close friends, but the congregation, the community of faith, who are committed to helping them grow in their faith both inside the church walls and in ordinary, everyday life.

The covenant of the congregation, spoken often at baptism or confirmation, in which the congregation pledges to walking with the child and helping them grow in their faith needs to become more than just “what we say” and turn into “what we do.”

The ministries to children and youth in any church should not be lacking in volunteers or servants on mission because the entire church is called and has verbally confirmed their commitment to disciple these young people in the faith.

To place the responsibility squarely on parents without recognizing the responsibility of the church to walk hand-in-hand with them skews the command of God to “impress these commandments on your children.”

Church, it is time we step up and relinquish our excuses. It is time we read the Scripture as it was given; to the whole assembly in community as a unit. It is time we seek to not only support and equip parents but to join them, hand-in-hand, and be part of the work of discipleship.


One Way To Support & Equip Parents/Caregivers…

ReFocus Ministry is excited to offer “Everyday Discipleship: A Workshop for Parents/Caregivers.” 

This one-hour workshop covers an unlimited number of parents from your church to join us for a seminar including an Everyday Discipleship worksheet and follow-up resources for parents/caregivers focused on helping support and equip parents for faith formation in their homes.

This workshop has been widely attended by both ministers and parents alike with positive feedback on how it changed their perspective on discipleship in the home and got them excited about sharing their faith with their kids.

This webinar uses a Zoom format and is set up with an individualized code for your church only. All resources will be emailed prior to the webinar so you can distribute to parents with your regular communication.

Interested in learning more?

Fill out the form below with the Message: Everyday Discipleship and we will be in touch!


For More Information About…

Check out to ReFocus Ministry or “like” our Facebook page. Join our conversation at theReFocus Family and Intergen Ministry group on Facebook.

About this Blog

Refocus Ministry was started by Christina Embree, wife to Pastor Luke, mom to three wonderful kids, and church planter at Plowshares BIC. She also serves as the Minister of Generational Discipleship with the Great Lakes Conference of the Brethren in Christ.

With years of experience in family ministry and children’s ministry, she is passionate about seeing churches partnering with families to encourage faith formation at home and equipping parents to disciple their kids in the faith. She recently graduated with a Masters of Arts in Ministry focusing on Family, Youth and Children’s Ministry at Wesley Seminary, she also blogs at www.refocusministry.org and is a contributing blogger at D6 Family, ChurchLeaders.com, and Seedbed.

What Does “Different” Look Like?

Last week, ReFocus shared a post about the missing church asking, “Where did the church go?” The conclusion was simple: If we keep doing what we have been doing for the past two decades, we will continue to experience the same results – a decline in church attendance and more and more people walking away from the Christian faith.

This post was widely shared, read, and affirmed but also raised the question: If doing more of the same is the issue, what does different look like?

As pointed out in the original post, “Believe it or not, our perfectly planned services and emotionally-poignant worship experiences and our super fun youth groups and our dedicated staff and high-tech curriculum are not what keep people connected to the faith. It’s relationship. Period. It’s the creation of a community that is integrated and intentional about being part of one another’s lives, regardless of time and space, and committed to being there for one another through all of life’s ups and downs.

But how can we do that? Often our current systems, programming, and curriculum rarely if ever allow for relationships to be cultivated across generations and beyond the scope of the Sunday morning/Wednesday night experience. We see shadows of what could be but we miss the full technicolor reality. However, if we are willing, there are some simple places where we can start.

Here are FOUR areas to begin the work of intentional intergenerational community.

PRAYER

In my opinion, there is no better place for a church to begin to connect to one another than through intercessory prayer for each other. The inspiration for our prayer program at church comes from Tony Souder‘s book Pray for Me which connects children and young people in the church with prayer champions of three older generations.

The commitment is simply to pray for one another throughout the school year. But our church found that if you are praying for someone, you start caring for that someone, and as a result, relationships begin to grow. For more information on my personal experience with this, check out this post from 2015.

SERVICE

One of the characteristics of children and youth are the ways they describe what it means to be a Christian. Most adults list Christian beliefs like believing in Jesus’s death and resurrection and believing in eternity. But kids and youth often will use actions to demonstrate faith; things like, going to church or loving others. One amazing way that a faith community can create a space for generations to be together is by providing opportunities for serving together.

When we serve together something happens: We are more likely to bond with the people we are interacting with and the part of our brain that forms memories is triggered and we hold on to that bond for years to come. (Source). Weeding a community garden, providing food for people in need, cleaning the church building or a neighborhood park….the possibilities are endless and usually not restricted by age. This is a great way to engage members of a community in relationship with one another.

PRESENCE

There are many reasons given by those in children, youth and family ministry for why church attendance is down. One big one is this: Sports are to blame.” Well, let’s be honest, team sports, especially travel ball, are one reason. Practices and games no longer get put on hold for Sundays and Wednesday nights so if a child joins a team, they will likely be asked to be with the team on those days at some point. So what if we flipped the script? What if the church showed up at the sporting events, the ballet recitals, the theater performances and the preschool pageants?

Consider creating a space in your church where the schedules and announcements for these events can be posted (physically or virtually) so that the church community can show up.

PARTICIPATION

Over the past few years, as I’ve researched and written for this blog and for classes, one theme kept coming up over and over again in regards to why young adults left the church behind – they didn’t feel like they belonged.  They felt like they belonged in children’s ministry when they were little. They felt like they belonged when they were in youth ministry as teenagers. But once they were in “big church” they felt out of place, disoriented, like strangers in a familiar place but one where they didn’t belong. One way we can begin to build intentional community is by finding ways to create spaces for participation in the activities of the church. Some simple ideas:

There is NO cookie-cutter method or “right way” to do this.

If a church is asking the questions, “How do we do community better? How do we bring generations together? How do we reach out to the kids, the youth, the elderly, the lonely, the isolated? How do we do church differently?” then that church has taken the first step. That’s where it has to start. A recognition that there is more and a desire to explore how to discover that more. Prayer, Service, Presence and Participation are just starting points….but they hold the promise of a better future, one where the church is truly together.


Let’s Get Started Together!

ReFocus Ministry is excited to offer “Everyday Discipleship: A Workshop for Parents/Caregivers.” 

This one-hour workshop covers an unlimited number of parents from your church to join us for a seminar including an Everyday Discipleship worksheet and follow-up resources for parents/caregivers focused on helping support and equip parents for faith formation in their homes.

This workshop has been widely attended by both ministers and parents alike with positive feedback on how it changed their perspective on discipleship in the home and got them excited about sharing their faith with their kids.

This webinar uses a Zoom format and is set up with an individualized code for your church only. All resources will be emailed prior to the webinar so you can distribute to parents with your regular communication.

Interested in learning more?

Fill out the form below with the Message: Everyday Discipleship and we will be in touch!


For More Information About…

Check out to ReFocus Ministry or “like” our Facebook page. Join our conversation at theReFocus Family and Intergen Ministry group on Facebook.

About this Blog

Refocus Ministry was started by Christina Embree, wife to Pastor Luke, mom to three wonderful kids, and church planter at Plowshares BIC. She also serves as the Minister of Generational Discipleship with the Great Lakes Conference of the Brethren in Christ.

With years of experience in family ministry and children’s ministry, she is passionate about seeing churches partnering with families to encourage faith formation at home and equipping parents to disciple their kids in the faith. She recently graduated with a Masters of Arts in Ministry focusing on Family, Youth and Children’s Ministry at Wesley Seminary, she also blogs at www.refocusministry.org and is a contributing blogger at D6 Family, ChurchLeaders.com, and Seedbed.

Where Did You Go? The Disappearing Church

A friend of mine recently tagged me in a Twitter thread. In the post, the author made the statement that, in America, we are really good at “acute compassion” but we are terrible at “chronic empathy.” As an example, the author noted how Americans are quick to run to each other’s aid in times of emergency. We give blood, we show up in boats and trucks and haul people out of floods and fires, we donate to people in emergency situations, we show up whenever there is a crisis and we rally together as a country. But, we aren’t that great about creating infrastructure that offers ongoing care to those in poverty, care for the elderly and aging, and safety for the larger citizenry.

In the author’s words, “It is the long term work that makes disasters less damaging but we don’t want to give to the needy; we want to save the endangered. We don’t like being care workers, we want to be heroes.”

I think the author is right. I think, in our culture, it is easy to jump on board to a short-term care situation that requires minimal, short-lived sacrifice and feel good about it. But I think it’s far harder to commit to a long-term experience of hard work and dedication that requires the building of relationships, the commitment of time and energy, and the lack of immediate payoff. The latter requires something more than a momentary emotional pull to “do something.” It is much deeper and much more sacrificial; it requires us to lay down our comfort and willingly put ourselves in a position of service and humility.

And that’s exactly what I believe the Church is called to do.

You see, when I read this Twitter thread, here was my response: “Yes, and this applies to generational discipleship in the church too. We are great at altar calls and perfectly crafted worship services; terrible at lifelong discipleship and intentional community.”

The Church in America experienced a disruption over the past year that it was not prepared to handle. In fact, statistics show that 1 in 3 churchgoers have stopped attending church (in-person or online) since the start of the pandemic (Source). This is coming on the back of a rapid decline in church attendance over the last decade (Source).

Why? Because what we have been doing for the past two decades is not what keeps people in church. Believe it or not, our perfectly planned services and emotionally-poignant worship experiences and our super fun youth groups and our dedicated staff and high-tech curriculum are not what keep people connected to the faith.

It’s relationship. Period.

It’s the creation of a community that is integrated and intentional about being part of one another’s lives, regardless of time and space, and committed to being there for one another through all of life’s ups and downs.

Way back in 2013, the Barna Group shared this:The first factor that will engage Millennials at church is as simple as it is integral: relationships. When comparing twentysomethings who remained active in their faith beyond high school and twentysomethings who dropped out of church, the Barna study uncovered a significant difference between the two. Those who stay were twice as likely to have a close personal friendship with an adult inside the church (59% of those who stayed report such a friendship versus 31% among those who are no longer active). The same pattern is evident among more intentional relationships such as mentoring—28% of Millennials who stay had an adult mentor at the church other than their pastor, compared to 11% of dropouts who say the same” (Source)

What about Gen Z, the generation of young people in our churches right now? “Parents are the most important people and the greatest influence for children. According to this study, Gen Z admire their parents, but at the same time they don’t feel family relationships are central to their sense of self. They love their parents, but still long for good role models” (Source).

In the Church, we are good at acute compassion; we will show up for each other when there is an emergency or a crisis. We are good at weekly experiences and crafting worship services, Sunday schools, youth groups, mission trips, and Vacation Bible Schools that offer temporary fixes to our emotional and spiritual needs.

We are less good at things like creating space for intergenerational relationships to flourish, where older and younger people can create lasting relationships based around conversation, prayer, mentorship, guidance, and lifelong community

We are decidedly not good at addressing the structures in our churches that lead us away from each other such as age-segregated worship experiences and lack of communal opportunities to serve together consistently and building relationships outside of the church building and the hours set aside for “church.”

And then we wonder why each generation has fewer and fewer individuals who regularly attend church or identify as a Christian.

2020 has been a good barometer for this.

For individuals who had intentionally developed relationships with people in their church, who had demonstrated the willingness to put in the work of community, to remaining connected despite being about to gather in-person, to commit to Zoom worship and in-home family Bibles studies, to text one another and check in on each other, to continue building community despite the unusual circumstances…for those people, 2020 while difficult, was not a death knell to their faith or their commitment to church.

But for those who were loosely connected or even disconnected, who showed up for the experience or attended out of obligation, who didn’t have committed discipleship relationships with anyone at church or in their faith community outside of paid staff or volunteers…. it was much easier to walk away.

I believe we are faced with a challenge as we begin worshipping together again. We can either 1. Try to recover what once was and return to a sense of “normalcy” with lower numbers and zero change or 2. We can acknowledge we are good at acute compassion but terrible at chronic empathy and begin to change the way we do church by prioritizing relationships over programs and worship over services.

I’m convinced beyond a shadow of a doubt, if we don’t want to lose an entire generation (Gen Z or the upcoming Alpha Generation), we are going to have to commit ourselves to the long-term work of intergenerational discipleship, mentorship and relationship and it is going to take more than showing up on Sunday morning and occasionally volunteering in children’s ministry or giving towards the youth group mission trip.

We’re going to have to show up in the spaces and places where the younger generations are – the uncomfortable spaces like social media and the unspiritual spaces like ball games and the deeply spiritual spaces like committed prayer partnerships – and build intentional community as though our spiritual lives depended on it.

Because, at this point, I think they do.

Church as usual is not enough. It is time for a change. And it doesn’t start in a building. It starts in a community who says, “I refuse to just show up when there is an emergency or a need. I’m showing up when life is looking pretty good and I’m digging deep into relationship with intention and purpose. I’m going to relentlessly pursue relationships even if it is hard and rejection happens and I feel alone.”

That’s what Church really looks like. The easy road of “Sunday morning worship” is no longer an option. We must build something more. “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” – Jesus in the Gospel of John 13:35.


Ready to Start? Not Sure How?

ReFocus Ministry is excited to offer “Everyday Discipleship: A Workshop for Parents/Caregivers.” 

This one-hour workshop covers an unlimited number of parents from your church to join us for a seminar including an Everyday Discipleship worksheet and follow-up resources for parents/caregivers focused on helping support and equip parents for faith formation in their homes.

This workshop has been widely attended by both ministers and parents alike with positive feedback on how it changed their perspective on discipleship in the home and got them excited about sharing their faith with their kids.

This webinar uses a Zoom format and is set up with an individualized code for your church only. All resources will be emailed prior to the webinar so you can distribute to parents with your regular communication.

Interested in learning more?

Fill out the form below with the Message: Everyday Discipleship and we will be in touch!


For More Information About…

Check out to ReFocus Ministry or “like” our Facebook page. Join our conversation at theReFocus Family and Intergen Ministry group on Facebook.

About this Blog

Refocus Ministry was started by Christina Embree, wife to Pastor Luke, mom to three wonderful kids, and church planter at Plowshares BIC. She also serves as the Minister of Generational Discipleship with the Great Lakes Conference of the Brethren in Christ.

With years of experience in family ministry and children’s ministry, she is passionate about seeing churches partnering with families to encourage faith formation at home and equipping parents to disciple their kids in the faith. She recently graduated with a Masters of Arts in Ministry focusing on Family, Youth and Children’s Ministry at Wesley Seminary, she also blogs at www.refocusministry.org and is a contributing blogger at D6 Family, ChurchLeaders.com, and Seedbed.