A recent article in Children’s Ministry Magazine made the following statement,
“The predominant mind-set in Christian education concerning families has long been that to “strengthen the whole you must strengthen the parts.” But families need more from church life than segregated programs and the occasional all-church activity. Many of our church activities actually pull family members apart from each other.We know something’s wrong with this picture, but sorting out a solution seems complicated.”
I happen to agree. My conversations with children’s ministers and family pastors across the country confirm that many churches are seeking to incorporate times where the family can stay together to worship, grow, and learn about God together in church, but don’t know where to even start. One reason for that is because each church has a unique culture and specific needs so cookie cutter approaches and one-size-fits-all curriculum approaches just don’t work.
But that doesn’t mean that it can’t happen. It just means we need to get a little more creative.
If your church is looking for a way to get the family together at church, here are five different approaches that could help make that happen. These ideas come from a variety of different church backgrounds and traditions, so they may not ALL work for your ministry context, but chances are one might strike a chord and you will be able to begin working towards more and more times where the family experiences faith formation together with their faith community.
Family Worship Sundays
Many churches have begun offering times of Family Worship, often once a month or on fifth Sundays, where the family stays together and worships as a unit. These Sundays should not be confused with Children’s Sundays or times where kids perform for the church. While these are special times for the church as well, they are more focused on children than they are families.
A Family Sunday will incorporate ways for the family to experience worship togethersuch as communion, prayers said aloud with the whole church, worship songs that everyone know and can sing to, a sermon that is appropriate for all ages and elements of the service that invite participation of parents/caregivers and children such as Scripture readings by families and prayer as families. For ideas on how to include families in worship on Sunday, check out jensfrontporch.org .
Family Worship Experiences
There are a few subtle difference between a Family Worship Sunday, where the family joins with the whole congregation in a regular worship service time, and Family Worship Experiences where families are specifically targeted and ministered to. Often these experiences take place at a time other than Sunday morning and incorporate a variety of interactive activities, worship, and teaching.
Some great examples can be found at www.dandibell.com and if you want a group to come in to host, Seeds Family Worship has one they do in connection with Phil Vischer and What’s in the Bible? with Buck Denver.
Family Faith Formation
For some, inviting the family to stay together takes place best in a mid-week experience. This is what a church I served at did and we had a lot of fun using these nights to explore the Bible together. We wrote our own curriculum in 5-week blocks based on what families have indicated they want to learn. Each family sat in chairs in a circle and explored Scripture, did activities, and participated in a time of affirmation and blessing each night. Our topics included Prayer, Salvation, The Bible, God as Creator, and Service.
Kids absolutely loved spending this time with their parents. Of all the programs we had at church, this one got the highest praise from children.
If your church isn’t ready yet to host a Family Sunday or Family Worship Experience, one idea is to begin hosting Family Activities on a monthly basis. These activities should have as their central theme the idea of having family spend time together either with/around the larger faith community, around service to the larger community, or around worship and the Word as a family unit.Putting these focuses on a rotating basis can help your families begin to spend intentional time together around the topics of faith, community, and outreach.
For instance, one month you could host a Family Game Night at church (time with faith community), and the next offer an activity that families can do at home that include a Faith Talk and time in God’s word (time with worship/Word), and then the next month offer a service experience in the community that families can do together (outreach). By offering a variety of ways for families to come together around the themes of faith, community, and service, you can begin to cultivate times of faith formation for the whole family to engage in together.
Family Service Projects
What better way to bring the family together than in an opportunity to serve Christ and others as a unit? There are many ways to engage the family in service. Check with your local food pantries and Salvation Army to see if there are ways families can work together stocking shelves or organizing donations. Many local soup kitchens or churches who serve meals will welcome family groups to serve together. Check also with local mission and ministries that serve the poor, homeless or other marginalized groups to see how families can offer assistance.
Engaging the family in the act of serving together can be one of the most transformational and meaningful ways to connect faith with everyday life and create bonds in the family that last long after their time of serving has ended.
Refocus Ministry was started by Christina Embree, 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. 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