All Hands On Deck: It’s Time to Be the Church

Today, just today, I got 15 emails from different teachers and schools informing me of many important things that I needed to follow up on with my kids who are currently learning at home. This is in addition to the Remind, Class DoJo and text notifications and emails related to work and home life.

And the thing is….all of the information matters.

These are not ignorable emails. Nearly every single one include the words “important” or “imperative.”  Each email must be read and gleaned for this important, imperative information and then disseminated appropriately to a calendar, a child, or another person.

It’s mentally taxing. It is also necessary if good communication is to happen.

Enter Church.

Children’s pastors, youth ministers, and NextGen leaders across the country are facing a dilemma. How can they communicate to weary-worn parents suffering from overcommunication? How can they get parents to respond, participate, and commit to being present if their voice is drowned out by the myriad of other urgent voices?  How can they do their job if the ones they are called to serve aren’t available to them?

Parents and caregivers are also faced with their own dilemma. How can they do it all?  Their energy wanes and, while they don’t want to put church in the backseat, once school is done and lessons are turned in and all the new information assimilated, the mental capacity to join another Zoom, fill out another form, and serve in another place is lagging.

There is no easy answer.

Some on either side of the equation have just thrown up their hands and said, “It’s too much” and are choosing to not do anything at this time. Others have decided to keep pushing forward with tenacity but end up frustrated by a lack of reciprocation.   Everyone is feeling the weariness creep in.

While the answers may not be “easy”, there are some ways to give both ministers and parents some space to breathe and to move forward together. It is going to require grace from and for each other AND it’s going to require an “all hands on deck” culture within the church.

This moment is the moment where connecting generations in meaningful relationships is more than a lofty goal but a necessary step in recovering discipleship momentum in homes and churches. 

Below are some ideas for helping the faith community come together to serve each other at this time.

  1. A NIGHT OFF– For many parents, the current COVID culture has them running from sunup to sundown with school to work to home life. What a blessing it would be if they knew, once or twice a month, a meal would be provided for their family and they’d have a night off to spend an evening together. Consider setting up a Meal Sharing program where older members of your church partner with a younger family to bring them a meal every once and a while.
    • Wanna bump this up a notch?  Create “Conversation Cards” around different discipleship topics and have the card delivered with the meal for the family to discuss as they eat.
    • On the Conversation Card include a list of resources for parents in case they’d like to discuss the topic further.
  • A NIGHT ON – The Zoom life has led to fatigue for both parents and kids and having to add another scheduled Zoom to the calendar can be disheartening. Consider creating a space on your webpage for families to access in their own time with videos and interactive activities that can be completed throughout the week or months.
    • Kick it up a notch by creating a “scavenger huntwhere they go through different clues which lead the through the videos and activities. Use text to send the clues to the family as they complete each task.
    • Create a fun prize for any family that completes the experience such as “Ice Cream On Us” for all (Use gift cards) or “Family Pizza Party” (Gift card) or “Game Night” (Board game for the family).
  • A “NIGHT” IN SHINING ARMOR – Some parents are looking for nothing more than a prayer, a pat on the back and maybe a momentary distraction from the stress. Sometimes the best gift is simply to show up with a word of encouragement and a quick prayer.
    • A friend recently shared that she has had her ministry team mobilized to stop by kids houses with milkshakes for the family, which is incredible. What if this was extended to the whole church for participation? What if older Sunday School classes “adopted” younger classes and took time to do these drive-by blessings?
    • For older congregation members who are homebound, consider giving them the names of families from your church and having them write notes of encouragement or prayers that could be delivered to them; be sure to include a return address and card for the family to respond in like – who knows where it could lead?

If the faith community comes together to support parents and children at this time, the future of the church will be one of more connection and relationship, which is a good thing for everyone.

While it may be tempting to try to keep things as “normal” as possible at church, the reality of the current situation means it’s unlikely that things will look the same as they have in the past. This is the time to mobilize the Church to be the community it has always claimed to be.


Ready to Start, Not Sure Where?

ReFocus Ministry is pleased to present a four-part webinar series on generational discipleship and connection for churches interested in exploring intergenerational ministry both in their church and in their homes. Each session will focus on a unique aspect of gathering generations together, both the challenges and opportunities, as well as practical tips to begin implementing now during this time away from regular church gatherings. There are now TWO options for attending the webinar:

Sessions can be attended individually or all four can be attended as a series.

Session 1 – ReConnect. This first session of the webinar focuses on defining generations, generation gap, and the need for generational discipleship in your church. This is the “What” behind generational discipleship.

Session 2 – ReGenerate. This session focuses on the the research, the reasons, and the heart behind connecting generations from both a secular and spiritual viewpoint. This is the “Why” behind generational discipleship.

Session 3 – ReProduce. This session offers practical tips, strategies, and ideas to being connecting generations in your faith community and in homes in meaningful, lasting, life-changing ways. This is the “How” behind generational discipleship.

Session 4 – ReLease. It’s time to go and do! This session will provide a discussion and debrief around the questions, “What? So What? Now What?” and give you an starting point for incorporating generational discipleship as a meaningful part of your faith community. This is the “Who” behind generational discipleship at your church and in your home!

Anyone registered for all four sessions will receive a FREE half-hour coaching session/follow-up specific to your ministry needs.

To register, go to https://www.eventbrite.com/e/reconnect-a-webinar-for-generational-connections-tickets-121384392987. Questions? Feel free to email me at christina.m.embree@gmail.com. Can’t wait to journey with you!


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.

Emotions Running A Little High? What we do matters

I read an interesting study the other day regarding mothers and their newborn babies (through 14 months old). The study looked at how the mothers responded to their baby and how their own mothers had responded to them when they were a baby. The study predicted that “mothers who recalled their own mothers as high on nonsupportive responses to their distress in childhood engaged in more self-focused and negative cry processing at 6 months, which in turn predicted less supportive responding to their toddlers in distressing situations.” The study supported their prediction and concluded that “remembered childhood emotion socialization experiences have longstanding consequences for subsequent social behavior, including parenting the next generation” (Source).

That’s a LOT of big words to say, how we, as parents and involved adults, respond to our children’s emotion, no matter how young, has a long-term impact on them and on our grandchildren. And that seems really important to remember in 2020.

Has there ever been such a highly emotional period in our lifetime? Certainly not in mine and, I suspect, not in the lifetime of many who read this blog. But definitely not in our children’s lifetime. We have been blessed in this country to have had a fairly quiet period that our children have been raised in. Of course, there have been ups and downs, but not the emotionally-gripping scenarios that we are currently facing.

COVID 19 has dramatically changed the face of our children’s environments and culture. School looks different. Home looks different. Hanging out with friends looks different. Milestones like graduating or getting a driver’s license or having a birthday party or advancing to a new grade or going to school for the first time looks different. Everything looks different.

Most kids are spending a lot more time in virtual environments like Zoom calls and Facetime and other spaces like online games, social media sites, and watching television. “Nearly half of American children spend more than six hours a day in front of a screen — a shocking 500 percent increase in usage prior to the contagion’s spread, according to a survey of 3,000 parents conducted by the advocacy group ParentsTogether” (Source).

And their emotions have followed suit. Mental health experts are warning us that these new environments wrought with worry and unknowns will have a lasting impact on our children’s mental and emotional health (Source).

But let’s go back to that first study. We are not without hope. In fact, we have a unique opportunity as parents, grandparents, other involved adults and ministers at this time to impact not only our children but the next generation of children through how we respond to our kids at this time. And when I say “our kids”, I mean collectively our kids, the generation of newborn to 18 yr olds that are looking to us right now to see their emotion, to embrace their actions and reactions, and to respond in ways that promote faith, grace, and health.

How can we do that?

There are many ways and I am not a mental health expert or a licensed counselor so I do not want to overstep my own space as a minister and a mom. I will provide a list of sites at the end of this post that I have found helpful. But as a minister and a mom who believes in the power of intergenerational community and the love of God, I offer a few ideas that might be helpful as we reflect on this holy call.

Surround your kids with positive influences

Now more than ever, we have the opportunity to create spaces for our children that we can have some control over. Connect with fellow adults you trust and invite them to build relationships with your children so that they have people to go to with their questions and fears besides you. Your faith community should be a place where your children know that they are loved and prayed for.

I often ask my kids to name five adults besides mom and dad that they know love them and pray for them; if they can’t, I start looking for people to fill that role so that they always know they are a part of a community that cares.

Plan your Action instead of Reaction

When emotions are high, it is easy to react instead of act. Something happens, words get said, tempers erupt, tears fall and everyone leaves feeling worse than when things started. It is always better to have an action plan than to fall prey to reacting.

Start with prayer, on our own, every day, and with a community praying with you if possible. If you are at a loss for words, I cannot recommend using the book of Psalms as a guide for prayer and for wisdom enough. As we ask God to go before us in meeting our children in their emotional needs, the Spirit will prepare our hearts for action and their hearts to receive.

Some ideas for an older child/teen could be saying things like, “I know you are feeling a lot of emotion right now and I want to respond well. Let’s talk in 15 minutes once we are both less emotional.” For a younger child, often a few minutes of snuggling or a distraction such as a book or toy or praying with them. A little bit of time can go a long way in mitigating emotional outbursts that later on we might regret.

Acknowledge the Unknown, Point to the Known

With so much uncertainty in our daily lives, it can feel like the unknown is looming around every turn. Will there be school or won’t there? Will we get to go to the church building or worship from home? When can I see my friends? What is vacation going to look like? Each day there are questions without answers and that can be emotionally draining for adults and children alike.

Pretending all of that doesn’t exist or ignoring the dilemmas raised by these questions doesn’t make the stress disappear. It is better for us to acknowledge that there is a lot we don’t know…but don’t leave it there. Take them time to remind your children what we do know!

We know that God loves us and that He will take care of us.

We know that we belong to a family that loves us and a bigger faith family who is praying with us.

We know that God promises to be with us always as Immanuel, God with us.

We know that God is big enough to handle our doubts, questions, and unbridled emotions and still love us unconditionally.

We know that laughter and joy still ring out across the world; that good things are happening, that people are still serving others and speaking up for the oppressed and ministering to the marginalized and we can be part of that – we can serve and share life and light with this world.

And as parents, grandparents, friends, and ministers, we can do all of that, starting in our own homes and our own congregation with the next generation who desperately need to know we are here for them.

Resources for Parents


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
The Embree Family

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.

Re-Focus on the Family: Influencing the Influencers

Kids walking away from the faith. Lagging attendance at church.

Lack of relationship in the faith community.

Disengaged youth. Absentee parents. 

These are the topics I get emails about on a weekly basis. These are the things that are keeping ministers up at night praying and parents up at night worrying. And these are very real concerns that are multifaceted and complex to explore. But lately, I’ve become more and more convinced that there is one main area that needs to be addressed in our churches if we are going to find lasting answers. And that area is the family or the home, specifically as it relates to parents and caregivers.

A recent study released by Search Institute, a research group dedicated to “discovering what kids need to succeed.” suggests that there is indeed a secret weapon..only, it’s not that secret. The title of their research is “Don’t Forget the Families: The Missing Piece in America’s Effort to Help All Children Succeed” and what it shows is that we have made a big mistake in America – we nixed the family and tried to raise the kids without it.

family-1599826_1920They report, “too many institutions and professionals have given up on families, focusing exclusively on the struggles families face and the problems they create. We then put our energy and resources into setting up systems and supports that compensate for the failures we perceive in families.”

So what does that mean?

We tried to “fix” the shortcomings we’ve perceived in families by, well, replacing the family with things like school, and sports, and therapy, and youth programs and … church.

Yes, church.

As a society we collectively decided that “many families are dysfunctional and even hopeless. Changes in family structure and family life have led some observers, advocates, and the public to characterize the state of families today as bad and getting worse.”  The solution? Remove the “power” from the family and replace it with other more stable things.

The problem with that is, we forgot that we are hard-wired to be a part of a family, and no matter how many institutions we create to vie for power in our hearts, our family consistently remains the most influential. 

“In reality, there is little evidence that families have lost their power in the lives of children and youth—even though many families do face major challenges.[A] University of Virginia study found that most parents are quite happy with their own families (Bowman et al., 2012).

A 2010 survey of 2,691 U.S. adults by the Pew Research Center similarly found that 76% said their family is the most important element of their lives, and 75% said they are very satisfied with their family (Taylor, 2010)…

Longitudinal evidence suggests that it is more accurate to describe families as changing, not declining… family influence remained strong… levels of maternal engagement remained strong.

Conclusion? Families still matter greatly, and families can and do tend to perform well those functions that are particularly relevant to the lives of children, even in different social and historical contexts, household arrangements, and living conditions (Bengstan, et al, p. 15).”

What does that mean to us in the Church?churchpeople

Parents/caregivers are the single most important influence in a child’s life. Period. No amount of programming, support, systems or institutions can change that.  We are hard-wired to exist within families by the very One who wired our system in the first place.

And thus the call to parents to disciple their kids in the faith all through Scripture. Because God knew what researchers spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to tell us in a pages-long report on the success of children:

We propose focusing family engagement on reinforcing families’ central role in helping children and youth develop character strengths through which they discover who they are, their power to shape their own development, and why they matter in their families, communities, and world 

In the church, we call that…discipleship.

And it is time we give the power back to the place it belongs. It means we “shift the how of engaging families: from emphasizing the tactical ways families reinforce what happens in schools or programs (or church!) to supporting families in building developmental relationships.

For the last few years, many ministers in the Church have been sharing the theological reasons for a shift towards family ministry or ministry that focuses on equipping the home as the primary place for faith formation.  And in some cases, they have been met with resistance by those, who like the study points out, see the changing face of the family and the imperfections therein and say, “We just can’t turn this important job of teaching kids about God over to parents…what could happen?”

But now, this study, aimed at the larger society and having nothing to do with faith or religion or church, is saying we must “refocus family engagement for greater reach and impact based on the perspectives, priorities, and strengths of families.”

It is time, Church.  

We need to reconnect, reengage and refocus on the home. Family, no matter what it looks like or how messy it feels to dive into, is where it is at. The power has always resided there.  The influence has always been strongest there.  The fact is, families were wired that way from the start by the One who said, “Impress these commandments upon your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road; when you lie down and when you rise.”

It’s time to fix the disconnect and turn our attention, our energy, our desire to see children follow Christ towards the home and equip the leaders there to do what they are wired to do…go and make disciples at home.


About the author

EmbreeFam2017Refocus Ministry was started by Christina Embree, wife to Pastor Luke, mom to three wonderful kids, and church planter at Plowshares BIC. 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 and  ChurchLeaders.com

Thanksgiving: An Intergenerational Experiment in Community

This week, families and friends across the United States will gather to share a meal, to enjoy one another’s presence and to celebrate and give thanks for the blessings we corporately and individually share.

Community, the gathering together of people, will be at the center of our celebrations.

Community is broadly defined as “a group of people living in the same place or having a particular characteristic in common”. The design and make up of community is important to the functioning of society and the continuation of shared practices, traditions, and religion.  Information is passed from one generation to another, from the older to the younger and vice versa, through interactions, relationships and communication.

But in modern society we find a community that is becoming increasingly more age-segregated and our opportunities to engage in these interactions, relationships, and communication are being severely hindered. According to family sociologist, Dr. Karl Pillemer, this is the first time in history that young people have little to no contact with older generations other than grandparents leading him to claim, “this is the most age-segregated society that’s ever been” (Source).

Enter Thanksgiving.

This is one of the only times in our modern society that we put a bunch of people of all ages and generations into one space and anticipate conversation with one another. And, let’s all be honest, even with family, it isn’t always easy.

Why is that?

thanskgivingdinnerAccording to Pillemer, “People are more likely to have friends of another race than friends more or less than 10 years apart. That means that we are used to talking to be people to talk like us and do the same things as us and like the same TV shows as us and enjoy the same leisure activities as us. But believe it or not, that’s not really the best thing for us.

Studies show that when we spend time only with people our age, that leads to isolation and loneliness and greatly inhibits socialization in kids and teens and legacy-leaving in older people. The norms and practices of one generation fail to get passed to the next generation and each generation is forced to create or find their own identity, including language and customs and behaviors.

Our community is no longer communal.

But that doesn’t mean we don’t gather.

Regardless of our discomfort, most of us will make an effort this week to step outside of our comfort zones and talk with people from varying generations and life experiences. We will swap stories, laugh at how things were, laugh at how things are and, if we are intentional about, we’ll probably learn something new about us and something new about others.

The church in Western culture has not been immune to the impact of age-segregation. Age-specific ministries, curriculum, worship experiences, and facilities can create environments that make it difficult if not impossible to form intergenerational connections and nurture ongoing relationships across generations. As in the larger society, experiences of isolation, loneliness, delayed socialization, and lack of generativity occur within the church.

Our faith community is no longer communal.

But that shouldn’t mean we don’t gather.

Regardless of our discomfort, it is important for us, as a community of believers to ask some questions. Questions like “If spiritual formation is defined as “a process [and] journey through which we open our hearts to a deeper connection with God,” what is gained and lost in this process/journey by each generation when interaction and relationships with others is limited or not readily available in the church? Since Christianity is primarily perpetuated through discipleship and mentorship, how have these practices been impacted by the lack of generational integration?

What would happen if we did gather, together, and give thanks on a consistent basis? 

What stories could we stop, what laughter could we enjoy, and what can we learn about ourselves and others?

This Thanksgiving, as we grab that second helping of turkey, pause for a second and look at the people who surround us and give thanks for community and for the experience of being in it, even the uncomfortable bits.


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 the author

EmbreeFam2017Refocus Ministry was started by Christina Embree, wife to Pastor Luke, mom to three wonderful kids, and church planter at Plowshares BIC. 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 and  ChurchLeaders.com

Church is More

As many of you know, I am involved with a church plant in Lexington, Kentucky. Recently, my husband and I had a chance to sit down with our bishop and in our conversation, this phrase came up over and over again: Church is more.

More than what, you might ask?  Well, in this case specifically, church is more than Sunday morning. Cognitively and theoretically, I think most Christians and most ministers would agree with that statement. But a brief review of our structures, systems and focus would argue that we do tend put an unusually high demand on Sunday.

Picture this: It’s Sunday at noon.  Churches are sending their congregants away to a new week.  Children have been picked up, crafts and lesson sheets in tow.  Nurseries have been scrubbed down, sound systems turned off, and toys sanitized.  In a few minutes the once bustling church grows quiet as the people resume their lives outside the walls.

And therein lies the challenge. What happens the rest of the week?

And no, I’m not referring to a midweek service.  I’m referring to the part of the week where you aren’t “in church.” When church is “open.”

A recent study that looked at church attendance found that for most kids, regular attendance (being at church 3 out of 4 Sundays a month) is no longer a realistic expectation.  In fact, the majority of churched kids only found their way into the church building on average 2 Sundays a month.   That’s 24 hours each year.  That’s one day.  1/365th of their life.  That’s a lot of time not in church.

open-sunday-sign-1698635_1920

Simply put, that’s not enough.  This same study show that these kids will spend as many hours engaged in media in two days that they will in church all year.  Youths will be in their classroom 60 times longer than in church and spend over 280 hours participating in sports activities over the course of a year.

Maybe we already know all this, maybe not. But whether this is a reminder or a wake-up call, I urge us to consider, are we okay with these numbers? 

Are we satisfied that we are preparing the next generation to carry our faith forward?

Are we content that as a church we are doing our best to disciple and mentor our youth and kids?

My guess is most of us would say we are not okay, satisfied or content with these statistics but we may also be lost as to what to do.  Lost as to what to say.  Lost as to where to go. While we cannot steer the ship of culture to become something it is not, we can consider what we can do in order to bring about a real change in the culture of the church and the heart of the home.

MINISTERS

Equip Your Parents – If the parents/caregivers in your congregation grew up with a traditional Sunday School model, they may not have the tools to use for faith formation at home.  Equip them for the call!

Engage the Congregation – Your church will have to move the focus from Sunday and Wednesday nights to times of relationship-building and faith formation outside of the church walls.  The children aren’t in church because often Mom and Dad aren’t in church.  If no one is talking to them on the off weeks, our faith has become compartmentalized to a time and place rather than a way of life.

Encourage Your Leaders – If you have a staff, volunteer or paid, who serve the children and families of your church, take time to thank them for their service and encourage them to consider how they can reach out in love all week long, not just on Sunday.  Write a note, send a text, say a prayer and share a hug so that they can go and do the same.

PARENTS/CAREGIVERS

Get Plugged In – If kids aren’t in church, it’s often because their parents/caregivers aren’t in church.  Maybe you legitimately can’t be there, but if you can’t, you need to find somewhere (a small group, a prayer group, Bible study, or fellowship group) where your kids can see you growing in your faith. You are the single most powerful influence on your kids – what you model, they will follow.

Get Excited – There is nothing more exciting than an active growing life of faith.  It’s more exciting that a good grade, a goal scored, or a tooth lost.  Showing love, being kind, extending patience, choosing obedience and living gratefully should be celebrated and acknowledged.  What makes you excited will tell your kids what is important in life.  What do you cheer loudest for?

Get Together – When a family serves together, prays together, and studies together they also grow together.  Kids link actions to concepts.  If you want your child to grow up as a disciple of Christ, disciple them.  If you want them to be a worshiper, worship with them.  If you want them to pray, then pray with them and if you want them to believe the Bible, share it with them. Do this life of faith together. (Read more at Doing ‘Sunday’ on Monday)

Church may never “look” the same.  Sunday morning and Wednesday night may not be what it was 20 or 30 years ago.  But that doesn’t mean that we must lose the next generation.

Our faith is bigger than our church walls.  It’s time we realize that and we engage with Christ in the everyday.

Church is More.

A modified version of this post was first shared on this blog here.


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

EmbreeFam2017

Refocus Ministry was started by Christina Embree, wife to Pastor Luke, mom to three wonderful kids, and church planter at Plowshares BIC. 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

*The advertisements at the bottom of this page are chosen by WordPress, not by ReFocus Ministry, and do not necessarily reflect the opinions and values of the author. 

The Future isn’t the Future… Yet

Each year, Pew Research Center releases its top findings of the year on a variety of topics from political to social to religious. This year there was no lack of interesting findings on any of these topics, but there was one that really stood out to me as something we, as Christians, should at least be aware of.

According to their findings, Muslims are projected to be the world’s fastest-growing major religious group in the decades ahead. By 2035, the number of babies born to Muslims is projected to modestly exceed births to Christians, mostly due to Muslims’ relatively young population and high fertility rates.

The Muslim population in Europe, now accounting for 4.9% of the total population, is projected to continue to rise. Even if there is no new migration in the coming decades (an unlikely scenario), the Muslim share of the region’s population is expected to increase to 7.4% by 2050.

A few things to note about this research:
  1. The research talked about is looking at birth rates, so people who are born into a specific religious group, not those who actually adopt the religion as their own.
  2. The accompanying chart does not show birth rates; rather, it shows the expected increase in the number of those who adhere to a religion by percentage. In other words, the entire population of the globe is expected to increase by 32% by 2050 and the population of those who are Christian is expected to grow by 34% (just 2% more than expected population growth, so basically, it doesn’t actually grow). Conversely, the Muslim religion is projected to grow by 70%, greatly exceeding the expected population growth.
  3. These projections are based on current trends that are expected to continue into the future.  “The Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) published the report with findings that U.S. residents who identify as white and Christian are less than half of the country’s population… Forty years ago, about eight in 10 Americans were white Christians. Now, only 43 percent of the population identifies as such. Still, 70 percent of the overall population identifies as Christian, according to the PRRI… (The study) found that 25 percent of the population doesn’t identify with a faith group.”

Okay, that’s a lot of info.

What does it all mean to us, Christian parents and ministers, as we approach discipleship of the next generation?

I have many thoughts on this and would love to just pour them all out on this post, but that would be a lot of words and often a lot of words are just that… words.  So I only want to share these few things.

We are living in a mission field

Now more than ever, we must recognize that we are not living in a “Christian” nation or world. We are living in a world that is beginning to explicitly reject Christianity and either remain without any religious affiliation or adopt new ones.

There are people in our towns that have never heard the gospel, have never seen the inside of a church, and have never experienced the dynamics of a faith community. Our Christian jargon (words like “saved”, phrases like “born again” and concepts like “the body and blood of Christ”) sound foreign and strange, not familiar and comfortable.

That is the world we are sending the next generation into and our discipleship MUST include ways for them to live in this world and still not be of it. (For more on this, check out these blogs by Carey Nieuwhof). 

Others are not our enemy

I hesitated putting up these statistics because, sadly, I’ve seen some Christians react by badmouthing members of other religions as though these people were the enemy. They are not the enemy.

Human beings are not the enemy; they are in fact the whole reason Jesus came to earth, the whole reason we are called to be the church here on earth and not whisked away to heaven, the whole reason for grace.

Our heart should not be one of frustration, fear or competition – it should be love, modeled for us by God and lived out in front of our children. For God so loved the world… and so should we.

This is not The End

These statistics, these projections, are just that… numbers and guesses. They are based on what researchers think will happen based on what has been happening.  But that is not concrete.

hand-in-hand-2065777_1920

It can change.

And we can change it.

You see, we have the amazing gift to be able to raise up a generation who can raise up a generation who don’t walk away from the church, who choose to follow Christ, and who love this world the way that God did when He sent His Son.

We have the opportunity to reverse the trends through intentional generational discipleship that welcomes children and youth into the body of Christ is ways that are tangible, communal and lasting.

We can have faith-filled home where the life of Christ is lived out in the everyday and where the hope of the gospel is woven into our daily practices and conversations.

We can equip parents for the work of discipleship at home.

We can welcome children and youth into our faith communities.

We can answer the call to “make disciples of all nations.”

How can I say this with such confidence?  Because when Jesus first came to earth, it was 0% Christian. He started with a small group of men and women who listened, learned and loved… and they shared it with others… who shared it with their children… and so on until today. Even a secular group like Pew Research Center realizes the power of the home in spiritual formation as they use birth into a family as their criteria for religious affiliation and growth.

If these statistics have sparked your heart and mind as they have mine, why not take some time this month and consider, “What can I do to make a difference?  What can my church do?  How can I more intentionally impact the next generation in a way that is going to bear fruit for the future?”

Because the future is not yet. And the present is our gift.

Let’s use it. 

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

EmbreeFam2017

Refocus Ministry was started by Christina Embree, wife to Pastor Luke, mom to three wonderful kids, and church planter at Plowshares BIC. 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

*The advertisements at the bottom of this page are chosen by WordPress, not by ReFocus Ministry, and do not necessarily reflect the opinions and values of the author. 

Intergenerational Worship is NOT…

A children’s pastor recently spoke to the larger church community about the important role they play in influencing young people to remain in the church as they grow.

She explained that research has shown that having the opportunity to worship with those of different generations than their own actually helps them to feel more a part of their faith community and build relationships outside of their own peer group. And she shared that at some point in the future the children and youth would be invited to be part of the larger corporate worship experience of the whole church rather than always being separated at that time.

She was met with mixed reactions.

But one person in particular was concerned enough about this turn of events that he/she wrote the children’s pastor a letter. In it he/she expressed that “90% of the church” was happy with the way things were now and if she wanted to have the children and youth worship in the sanctuary, maybe she could start a service on Friday or Saturday night for them to go to that was more the style that they would like. And maybe if she did that “some other adults” would go to and, ba-da-bing.. the problem would be solved.

Actually.. therein lies the problem.

What the children’s pastor said and what this member of the congregation heard were two very different things.

Lenses of tradition, personal preference, and familiarity often cloud the conversation when we talk about any kind of change at church, but especially when we talk about bringing together generations for times of worship in a corporate worship setting.   It may be helpful that begin by explaining what this time of worship is NOT so that it can set the stage for what it is intended to be.

Intergenerational Worship is NOT…

Putting kids in the sanctuary

If the goal was just to put children and youth in the sanctuary, then creating a new service geared to them and separate from the rest of the body would make sense. But that’s exactly the opposite of what intergenerational worship is. The whole point is to create space for all generations, old and young and in-between, to worship together. Creating a new service or maintaining an existing service that targets one specific generation can’t accomplish this goal.

Glorified Kid’s Church

boy-1929539_1920Some people express the concern that if children and youth are welcomed into the service, they’d have to start doing “kids stuff” like singing songs with motions and eating goldfish during the super-short, kid-appropriate sermon.

Intergenerational worship is not old people pretending to be kids or young people trying to act old.

If that happened, it would be a total disservice to the whole point of intergenerational worship which has at its heart a desire to help kids and youth and adults and elderly be a part of the church as it is, whatever that looks like, and to experience all the parts of church that make it unique to their church tradition (such as liturgy, songs, Scripture reading, celebratory practices like baptism and communion, and all the other rhythms that make each worship service unique).

A Disruption

Often a concern raised is that children especially don’t get anything out of church and everyone will be forced to spend their whole service shushing kids. I read an incredible article in The Federalist, of all places, about this, and I’ve had a lot of conversations with parents, caregivers and other congregation members about this concern.

I’m not about to argue that children will get the same thing out of church that adults do; that would be ridiculous. I do think it’s important to consider what kids do get out of church (for more on that, click here) but also just as important to realize that kids are kids. They will wiggle and squirm and giggle and turn, but is that really such a huge issue that we shouldn’t offer times for the whole congregation to worship together?

It didn’t seem to be for Jesus when He “called a little child to him, and placed the child among them. And he said: ‘Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever takes the lowly position of this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me.'”

A New Fad

Actually, it’s exactly the opposite.  The segregation of ages within the church is a fairly new practice in American church history. Most of the time it gets traced back to the start of ministries on college campuses on post WWII America where it became apparent that there was a need for age-specific ministry. Churches began to recognize the need to create space to address the developmental concerns of each age group. Through time that progressed into less of a “both/and” model and more of an “either/or” model. In other words, instead of times of both age-specific and intergenerational gatherings, it became one or the other with little to no opportunity or encouragement to do both.

For those who see intergenerational worship as the “newest” fad to come down the block, it is helpful to understand that for thousands of years, the church all worshiped together and only recently have we begun consistently separating the ages. Which makes it very hard to learn from one another as Christ indicated that we should.

So, what is Intergenerational Worship?

Simply put, it is ministry that focuses on connecting multiple generations in faith-forming relationships cultivated through times of corporate worship, intentional discipleship, and ongoing mentorship.

For clarification purposes, please know that I am not opposed to quality Christ-centered, community-focused Children’s Ministry and Youth Ministry, but I do have concerns when families and churches are consistently separated from each other and never having time to fellowship together. There is great benefit to all of us when we are given the chance to learn from, worship with, and grow together with one another.

So how can we do that?  The follow-up article is coming soon. But I’d love to hear your thoughts on the ideas expressed in this one. What are your concerns, ideas, frustrations, and encouragement?  And what ways have you found to connect generations creatively without neglecting the needs of anyone?


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

family

Refocus Ministry was started by Christina Embree, wife to Pastor Luke, mom to three wonderful kids, and church planter at Plowshares BIC. 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 and  Seedbed

Those Who Stay: 3 Reasons for NOT Leaving the Church

Whenever I’m faced with a big project, I try to approach it in pieces. I break it down into do-able parts and work my way towards finishing the whole.

When I heard Dr. Richard Ross speak at D6 Conference, I couldn’t help but think that what he shared was basically the same approach, only in the realm of ministry.

youthminthatlastsDr. Ross served as youth minister for 30 years and now is a volunteer with teenagers and parents at Wedgwood Baptist in Fort Worth. He is also a professor to the next generation of youth ministers at Southwestern Seminary in Fort Worth and his new book, Youth Ministry that Lasts a Lifetime, was just released.  I had the opportunity to sit down with Dr. Ross at lunch and here are some of the things he shared with me then and from the main stage that really stuck with me.

What made you decide to look at the effectiveness of youth ministry?

Dr. Ross:  We hear a lot about young people who leave the church as they enter into adulthood. We tried replacing parents with the professionals for 60 years. So how’s that going? I decided I wanted to look at the characteristics of young people who stay committed to their faith after high school.

What did you find out?

Dr. Ross: There were three major factors to young people remaining in the church.

First, they had spiritually alive parents. Spiritually lethargic parents create spiritually lethargic children. Spiritually alive parents are not pew sitters. They are all in!

Second, the young people who remained had a relationship with the larger congregation outside of specialized ministry (such as children’s or youth ministry). Young adults who have little love for the bride will eventually walk away from the groom but teenagers who spend their time with all generations in the church tend to stay in church. Giving teenagers a love for the church comes in two pieces: relationships and ministry.

Which leads to the final factor;  there needs to be “Bible-drenched age-appropriate ministry” that helps youth live out their faith in the world today.

How do you suggest the church approach ministry to kids and youth with these factors in mind?

Dr. Ross: The ultimate goal is families that love God, love people, and make disciples of all people.  The way to do that is to get out of the “event business” and into effective ministry. I suggest a new model for approaching ministry – Ministry in Thirds. Would we be willing to give one third of our calendar, budget and energy to each of the three factors?

One third of these resources would be spent focusing on helping parents to be spiritually alive and active by resourcing them, supporting them, and equipping them for the work of discipleship.

One third of the resources would be focused on engaging our youth with the whole congregation and finding ways to build relationships in the larger faith community.

And one third would be spent on our age-specific ministry area such as youth groups and children’s ministry.

Where can we start if we want to move in this direction?

Dr. Ross: So much of what we do is focused on our events and programs and those take a lot of time and energy.  But when you get yourself out of the event business you discover you have hours every week you can give to the families.  Children are like wet cement. We can leave impressions on them when they are young. We need to let them be active in the church as soon as possible.

Don’t wait to allow kids and teenagers to serve until they are adults. They become dry cement.  Find ways to let them serve while they are young.

bonding-1985863_1920I’ve been blogging at ReFocus Ministry for almost three years now. During that time, my heart has been to offer a “Both/And” approach towards ministry to children and youth that included BOTH age-specific ministry AND intergenerational ministry in the larger church community and homes.  As I listened this week to Dr. Ross and Dr. Bengtson share about their research which consistently pointed to the need for these intergenerational relationships in the church and home, I couldn’t help but think to myself, “I’m not crazy. This really does work!”

Friends, we need one another. All ages, all generations, the whole body of Christ. As one D6 attendee shared with me, “All saints doing ministry, all the time, everywhere.”  There are no limits to God’s kingdom work. He can and will use all of us, youngest to oldest, to bring about “His kingdom come, His will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”


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

family

Refocus Ministry was started by Christina Embree, wife to Pastor Luke, mom to three wonderful kids, and church planter at Plowshares BIC. 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 and  Seedbed

 

 

An Army of Grandparents Unleashed

Since 1900, the average life span of an American has increased by 33 years.

33 years.

Why does this matter in ministry? More specifically how does this matter to family ministry?

I heard this interesting fact this week at D6 Conference in Dallas (where, consequentially, I also ate the best guacamole and queso I’ve ever had in my life). In the past, a fact such as this one would have passed me by, receiving only a cursory acknowledgement and a brief reflection on the advances in medicine we’ve experienced in that time. But this week when I heard that, I couldn’t get it off my mind.

It’s probably because I didn’t just hear that. I heard something other things that caused my “family ministry” ears to perk up.

I heard that in a 45 years longitudinal study of 360 families, grandparents were found to have a “higher than anticipated” influence on the faith of their grandchildren, second only to the parents of the child.

I heard that the degree of that influence a grandparent had in a person’s life did not decline with time but actually in some instances, it actually increased.

I heard that about 8% of children today are being raised by their grandparents and that there are more years of shared life with grandchildren than any time before.

I learned that if grandparents talked about their faith with their grandchildren face-to-face more than once a week OR went on family vacations with their grandchildren once a year that those grandchildren had a significantly higher chance of remaining in the faith than those who did not and led to an increase in grandchildren talking with others about faith struggles in their life.

I learned that “when grandparents consistently modeled their faith, their grandchildren tending to share that faith”

And I realized that there is a veritable ARMY of grandparents out there who are poised to help form the faith of the next generation of believers; to join parents in the beautiful privilege of discipling children an youth; to pass on the legacy of faith that has sustained them throughout their life onto their grandchildren who are just beginning theirs.

grandparents-1969824_1920And what’s even more amazing than that is that, according to developmental theorists, that’s exactly what God has instilled in them to do. According to Eric Erikson’s generativity theory, as people enter into the “post-kids, post-work” stage of life, they tend to start looking for ways to pass on to others what they have learned and experienced. If they can’t find that outlet, they will tend to enter a stage of “stagnation” where, for lack of a better word, they can get grumpy. In other words, people in this stage need to pass something on their legacy in some fashion to others.

This is where we find our implication for ministry, because friends, if there is anything that needs to be passed on, it is our faith!

Close your eyes with me and picture the grandparents in your life, in your church, in your community. Do you see them? Do you see the army of disciplers in front of you, just waiting to be unleashed? Do you number in their ranks?

If you, like me, have been taken by these facts and statistics, you might ask, as I did, “What next? How do I bring this army to life?”

Here are some practical ways forward that I gleaned from my experience at D6.

  1. Research – Take some time to look deeper into these facts stated above. The first few came from a study done by Dr. Vern Bengtson and can be found in his book Families and Faith: How Religion is Passed Down across Generations. The other information came from my friend and colleague, Matthew Deprez of the Fuller Youth Institute and the research he is currently doing on grandparents. You can find information about Erikson’s generativity theory here.
  2. Resource – I cannot say enough about the Legacy Coalition and the work they do resourcing grandparents for this important work of discipling their grandchildren. Take time to look over their website, read their blog, and hear the stories of how God is using grandparents in ministry to their families and community.
  3. Relay – I often tell family ministers that they need to be sure to continually let parents know just how influential they are to their children’s faith. I humbly submit that we need to do exactly the same for grandparents, building them up and encouraging them in the work of discipleship by reminding them often of just how important they are to the faith formation of their grandchildren.

I am excited. I am so excited. For years, we’ve known that grandparents had influence but now that we know just how much, we can truly understand just what this generation can do for our families. And that, my friends, is really good news.

We’ve been given 33 more years. Let’s use it to shape the faith of future generations. 

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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

family

Refocus Ministry was started by Christina Embree, wife to Pastor Luke, mom to three wonderful kids, and church planter at Plowshares BIC. 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 and  Seedbed

The Cubbies Win!

“So there we were, bottom of the ninth, game is tied and…”

baseball-field-1563858_1920I mean seriously, how many times have we heard stories that begin like that in movies and on grandparents’ laps? To have lived it last night with the whole country (despite the rain delay straight from the goat) and to have woken up to a social media feed full of celebration and raw excitement was a pleasant and, dare I say, needed break from the wearying political rhetoric and constant supply of heartbreaking news that fills our eyes and airwaves.

And yet, while this momentary chance to catch our breath and collectively celebrate a long-awaited victory is a slight reprieve, the facts of political divide and devastating realities don’t disappear.

There is a tension in our world. A tension that we see played out all around us. The tension of good and evil, joy and sorrow, peace and fear.

So, how do we as parents and leaders of the next generation, teach our children to live in a healthy, life-giving way in the midst of the tension. How can we live fully into moments of joy without trivializing the real and tangible needs and hurts in our world?  The way we react in these moments teaches our children a lot about how to approach life both now and in the future.

Here’s some thoughts on how we can handle the “Cubbies Win” moments of life:

Live Fully in the Moment

In C.S. Lewis’ Screwtape Letters, a conversation takes place between two demons. The older is teaching the younger the best techniques and approaches to tripping up Christians in their walk of faith. At one point, the older shares, “The Future is, of all things, the thing least like eternity. It is the most temporal part of time–for the Past is frozen and no longer flows, and the Present is all lit up with eternal rays.”  He says the best thing that the younger can do is get Christians to live in the past or in the future but never be fully in the present, because Christ is in the present.

When our present offers us moments of joy, Christ is there. Live into it!  Embrace it! And when our present offers us moments of sorrow, Christ is there. Fall into Him! Let Him embrace you!  As Jim Elliot, missionary, said, “Wherever you are, be all there.”

Do Not Worry

In Matthew 6, Jesus tells us in no uncertain terms not to worry about tomorrow. Often when we are faced with the hard realities of this life, our tendency is to turn to worry and our kids see that. But Jesus offers us this actual reality – that our worry does nothing to change the reality of the situation and can only remove us from a place of trust in God. Jesus says, “Give your entire attention to what God is doing right now, and don’t get worked up about what may or may not happen tomorrow. God will help you deal with whatever hard things come up when the time comes.” (Mt. 6:34, The Message).

Embrace the Tension

The fact is, what happens outside of us, in the world that surrounds us, is simply a larger expression of what happens inside of us all the time. Paul writes about this tension in Galations 5:17 when he says, “The sinful nature wants to do evil, which is just the opposite of what the Spirit wants. And the Spirit gives us desires that are the opposite of what the sinful nature desires. These two forces are constantly fighting each other, so you are not free to carry out your good intentions.” To pretend that the tension doesn’t exist does a disservice to our children. Teaching them to understand the roots of the tension (The Story – the metanarrative of Scripture) can be the best tool we can offer them

Reggie Joiner of Orange offers these thoughts on the tension that exists:

Tension doesn’t make a truth less TRUE, it makes it more REAL.. Some of us don’t like tension. We are threatened by tension. God is not threatened by tension. Tension is a good thing. The tension of doubt builds a stronger foundation for faith. Trust leads you to stronger faith AND doubt leads to stronger faith. Jesus had all the answers, yet He asked LOTS of question. He understood that that is how truth becomes real for us.

As believers, we live in the gap of “already” and “not yet.”  In other words, we already experience God’s grace and mercy in our lives but we are not yet in a place of fully experiencing a world without sin and sorrow. But we have Jesus with us in that gap and therefore we of all people can embrace the tension with unending hope.

Let’s be honest. The tension is difficult. That’s why we need Jesus.

But the moments of joy, of hope, of peace…those are little gifts we are given along the way. And Christ is in the present, so celebrate the moments. Or as they say in Chicago, Fly the W! (Congrats Cubs fans – that was a long time coming)


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 the author

Family(40)Christina Embree is wife to Pastor Luke, mom to three wonderful kids, and family minister at Nicholasville UMC. 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. Currently studying Family, Youth and Children’s Ministry at Wesley Seminary, she also blogs at www.refocusministry.org and is a contributing blogger at D6 Family,  Seedbed, and ChildrensMinistryBlog.com.