The Kid Who Comes Alone

Fall programming is getting ready to kick off in churches all across America and I see one question get asked a lot, “How can I do family ministry with the kid who comes alone?”  That’s a valid question especially if a good portion of our programming, follow-ups and interactions are based around parental inclusion, equipping, and involvement.

When you serve in family ministry, your goal is to equip and resource the home in ways that promote faith formation and spiritual discipleship primarily by parents and caregivers.  But what happens when a child comes to your church and doesn’t have a home life that is conducive to that model?

In addition to doing our best to engage the family and minister to the parents as noted here, we also want to make sure our church is an environment that is prepared to be welcoming and inviting to everyone.

Here are some practical ways we minister to children who join us on their own.

Welcoming” Families– Before events that will likely bring more kids into your church, approach a few families and ask them if they’d be willing to “adopt” a child for the activities that day or week.

If your church has intergenerational services where kids attend, find families or even grandparents that will welcome the child to worship with them.

Talk about Home– Just because mom and dad aren’t there, doesn’t mean you can’t talk about the home with that child.  In fact, they may want and need support if they are trying to live out their faith at home without support.  Give them that space to share.

aloneatchurchInvite the family – If you are having a picnic, make sure to invite the whole family.  A word of caution – it can be hard on that child to have to constantly hand deliver invites or handouts that their parents might not want or show appreciation for.  If at all possible, make the contact yourself so that the child isn’t in an awkward position.

Give him/her a place– There’s nothing worse than feeling out of place and awkward.  But there’s nothing better than feeling like you are a necessary part of something.

There are many roles that need filled in preparing and completing a worship service.  Finding a place for that child to serve can give a strong sense of self-worth. (younger children can help hand out bulletins, help with greeting, be your “right hand man”; older children can read Scripture, help with sound/lights, participate on worship teams, help collect communion)

Know their name–  Being greeted each week by name says “You are welcome here. We want you here and we are excited that you are part of our church family!”

Appreciate WHO they are– Don’t let their identity be “The kid who comes without his/her parents.”  They are a beautiful and unique child of God.

A colleague of mine shared this with me about his own experience: “Once upon a time, when I was one of those kids (at church sans family), I appreciated being taken seriously on my own, not as a spare part (like so many singles do!)”

Host Cross-Generational Events– Instead of all events being focused on family groups, host events where all generations mingle and fellowship regardless of age or relationship.

One family minister I know has round tables and the simple rules are 1. You can’t sit with anyone you are related to and 2. You can’t sit with anyone your age.  Her church has grown to love these times of intentional intergenerational connection and no one feels singled out.

It is always a privilege to minister to and share the love of Jesus with the next generation but it is a uniquely special blessings to share with those who don’t experience these life-giving conversations in their home. Embrace the blessing and seek to find ways that say, “You belong here. You are family!”

Many thanks to the Family Pastors on Facebook who sent me these suggestions to share


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 on this page are chosen by WordPress, not by ReFocus Ministry and do not necessarily reflect the opinions and values of the author. 

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Stop Saying God isn’t in School

Note from the author: I shared these thoughts a few years ago and with the return of students to the classroom, I felt the urge to share this again. Please consider the message we send to our children when we tell them that God isn’t in the public schools. Don’t limit who He is in their lives, in the lives of teachers and administrators who follow Him, and His Spirit that is everywhere, calling all of us to Love. Instead of sharing a meme that say “God’s not there”, share this post instead and remember, “Our God is with us!”

——————————–

“If you think Jesus should be allowed back in schools, click “Like” and Share!”

“New Law  in Kentucky allows Bible to be taught in school. Do you Agree or Disagree?”

“God was kicked out of schools! It’s time we let Him back in!”

For some reason, memes and posts like this have started showing back up in my various social media streams. It seems like this particular melody gets sung every 6-12 months by some Christians and the chorus of “likes” and “shares” and “I agree” comments fill to social media outlets.

But I do not join the chorus. And I don’t think it is advantageous for any of us to do so.

“Why?  Don’t you think God should be allowed in public schools?  Don’t you believe in the Bible?  Don’t you think that prayer should be present in our educational system?”

Even typing those words made me cringe on the inside. Because laden within them and within the memes and posts above is this underlying assumption: God isn’t there. That somehow a law or a custom or a man-made institution is capable of restraining or inhibiting our God, our King of Kings, our Emmanuel.

Every year, as Christians, we celebrate Christmas.  In this season, we spend days focusing on one thing – the birth of Christ. And throughout the season we remind each other that we have a God that is not far off in some distant place waiting for us to come to Him. No! We serve a God who came to us, wrapped in our frail flesh, and walked among us, promising to be our Emmanuel – God WITH us – forever and ever.

During this season we marvel at the miracle of our Savior’s birth, foretold by prophets and angels, and witnessed by shepherds and kings.

We tell our children that because of this, they can rest assured that God is always with them, always present, always showing Himself strong on their behalf.

We even think ahead to the next big celebration of Easter and we explain that through Christ’s birth and death as fully man and fully God, we have been given a Way into eternity ourselves and we will never be separated from God, ever, for all time.

And then… we post memes that say we kicked Him out.  We bemoan the lack of His presence in our classrooms. We act as though our Emmanuel is not “God with us” but “God with us when we say it’s okay.”

How sad for us and how confusing for our children. That in one moment we speak with such faith and confidence and in the next we mourn as though we have been left abandoned.

Oh friends, wouldn’t it be much better to acknowledge the truth?  That God CANNOT be “kicked out” of this world, no matter how hard humanity might try to do so?  That our God thrives in places where men and women have tried to push Him out and silence His church?  That our God isn’t just present in our schools, but in prisons, concentration camps, Roman amphitheaters and arenas, in the darkest persecutions and even in the greatest prosperity. God can’t be banned from earth. That battle was fought and won thousands of years ago.

He is here to stay. He is Immanuel. He is God WITH us! 

And that is what we need to tell our children.

boy-2205733_1920We need to tell them the truth, that God IS in the public schools. That God IS in their classrooms and at their lunch tables and in their college dorm rooms and in their high school locker rooms.

God is there, fully present and fully able to sustain them as they live for Him.

The Bible isn’t banned; they carry the Word of God within them and they can speak words of truth and life anywhere they want to. Prayer isn’t prohibited; they can pray for themselves, for friends, for teachers, for anyone, anywhere at anytime and God will hear and will answer.

Friends, our children need to hear that God isn’t quivering in a corner, afraid or tied down. Our God, the God that took on flesh and came to us as a baby, is coming back as the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords. He is not fearful; He is triumphant. 

If we continue to act as though this world somehow regulates that truth, we make our God too small and if anything, the next generation needs to know how big and how loving and how present our God is.  We can’t proclaim His strength in church on Sunday and then lament His weakness the rest of the week.

How much better to send them off to school or work or play with these words, God is with you, everywhere you go. He is before you and behind you. He is on every side. You are not alone. You are NEVER alone. Know that you are loved so that you can love God and love others. Be WHO you are, all the time, everywhere, because God is present.”

God is in the public schools. I’ve seen Him.

God never got kicked out. He never removed His presence or His grace. No rule, regulation, law, or anything is strong enough for that. So let’s stop living a life of fear and regret. Let’s show our children that as long as we are His, He is here, present and active and ready to be Emmanuel to everyone who desires Him.


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 on this page are chosen by WordPress, not by ReFocus Ministry and do not necessarily reflect the opinions and values of the author. 

Is Church “Developmentally Appropriate” for Kids?

Whenever we talk about including all ages in corporate worship, one of the concerns that gets raised is whether or not developmental needs of all ages are being met in that context.  Often this is specifically used to reference the inclusion of children in the larger worship context.

But sometimes this view is  based on a narrowly defined area of developmental research and theories and a wider look at developmental psychology can give us a broader view of what it means for something to be “developmentally appropriate.”

Like most research, developmental theories are just that – theories. Lots of research continues to be done in early childhood development. Most people only think about cognitive development as the ability to understand certain things like words in a sermon or abstract concepts like worship. However, if we are looking at basics of development, it’s helpful to think bigger than that.

Development not just about what children can understand in terms of words and concepts; it’s about what they can learn socially, emotionally and in our case, spiritually.

Here are a few research-based reasons that support the inclusion of all ages, including younger children, in times of corporate worship and intergenerational learning.

  1. Vygotsky’s Zone of Proximal Development– This developmental theory explains that young children need to be in close proximity to older people who have “mastered” the tasks that they are learning. For instance, a four-year old is going to learn how to stack blocks better when playing with a 6 year old who has mastered the trick.

Fally-family-Fun

When we are talking about church, these young children learn what church is, how to act, what is expected by being in close proximity to adults who are practicing especially their parents who hold the most influence on their children’s spiritual lives. Here’s a great article about the power of the Zone of Proximal Development.

  1. Observational learning is another powerful developmental tool for young children. Watching others model what they should do is an important part of social development and one that has been lacking to in the larger church. This is often why when youth “graduate” from youth group, they don’t know how to interact socially with the larger church body and often end up leaving the church and saying they don’t feel like they belong.

Creating opportunities for observational learning can be tricky if a church is structured in a way characterized by all ages being separated from one another. The key is to create spaces where generational interaction can take place. For some practical tips and ideas for creating spaces where generations can connect together in worship and discipleship, check out this article.

  1. Fowler’s theory of Faith Development – Probably the best known developmental work in the area of faith comes from James Fowler and is based heavily on the work of Piaget, Erikson and Kohlberg (Check out the book The Church of All Ages by Howard Vanderwell, Chapter 3 for much more on this). 

In Fowler’s first stage (preschool aged children up to age 6) called the Intuitive-Projective faith stage, children basically reflect the spirituality of their parents.  Children will build their first ideas about their faith from the impressions of what they see and hear in church.  

The second stage (age 6-11) is called the Mythic-Literal stage where kids begin to learn the stories of the faith and articulate their own beliefs. That belief is largely mitigated by information they get from others and parents begin to share their influence with the rest of the church family. Framing sermons with a biblical story is a perfect way to invite this age into the sermon.

Other noted developmental ideas come from the work of Jean Piaget whose first two stages of development put a high premium on the importance of language combined with sensorimotor exploration.  This is why sensory bags or activity bags during services can be such a powerful tool for helping children engage during worship time.

Activity bags get a bad rap, mostly because people don’t understand the developmental science behind them. It’s important to understand that these activities aren’t intended to distract the kids but rather to help the kids use all of their developing senses; studies show if their hands and eyes are busy, their ears will be listening.  Quiet activities like lacing cards, stickers scenes, foam craft kits, beads and pipe cleaners, small puzzles and coloring are all great ways to engage your kinesthetic and visual learners.

The truth is if we look at the broad spectrum of developmental theories including these and others not mentioned here like Erikson’s stages of psychosocial development or Kohlberg’s stages of moral development, we can find space in all of them for including all ages in contexts of intergenerational worship and ministry.  Because ultimately, as social creatures, humans learn best from one another regardless of age. That means developmental appropriateness is something we can incorporate into any setting where we connect with other, especially others at different stages of development than we are.

Does that mean we shouldn’t have age-sensitive spaces?

No, not at all. There are lots of other developmental reasons to have spaces that meet our unique developmental needs. For instance, the ability to think abstractly is a characteristic of higher levels of development; until then, concrete thought is our primary means of processing. So we should have places where concrete access to learning is granted.

But to say that excluding children from corporate worship is necessary due to the fact that they are not developmentally able to be there is a fallacy and it limits the definition of what it means for something to be “developmentally appropriate” to a very narrow scope.

The truth is that worship services where all generations interact and connect can be developmentally appropriate if we are willing to broaden our understanding and find ways to build on the developmental stages we all find ourselves in.  That would also mean we would craft environments that aren’t targeted to a couple of generations but we would take the time to ensure each member in attendance would be able to participate in developmentally appropriate ways.

Instead of using developmental research to keep us apart, we can use it to create ways of connecting,  learning and growing together.  And in that way, we can even more fully explore what it means to be the body of Christ.


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 on this page are chosen by WordPress, not by ReFocus Ministry and do not necessarily reflect the opinions and values of the author. 

“Hospitality is the Most Subversive Weapon We Have”

When my kids were younger, I worked in direct sales with a company that sold packaged foods (dips, desserts, dinners, etc) to busy cooks. On days where I had a party that night, I would often bake delicious treats, whip up yummy snacks, and prepare different foods for taste-testing. Inevitably one of my children would smell that baking cakes or simmering sauces and ask, “Is that for us?!”  And I would say, “No, this is for my party tonight. You guys are having hot dogs and mac-and-cheese.”

One day, my more outspoken daughter looked up and responded, “How come you always cook the yummy food for other people and we just get hot dogs?”  Oh, ouch…I hadn’t looked at it that way. I had looked at it as, “This is my job and I have to do this and I need something quick to prepare for dinner.” But the message my children were receiving was that I cared more about the strangers than I did about them. 

fancyfridayOut of that moment was born “Fancy Dinner Fridays” where each Friday night I would cook a meal fit for a king (or at least as close as I could get to that). The table would be set with nice dishes, decorated with a theme, and the food..well, the food would be the very best I could make with my meager skills (and budget). They loved it.

But what they really loved…was being loved. 

This story came to mind once as I heard my friend, Dr. Marilyn Elliot, share with a group about hospitality. She made the comment that “Hospitality is the most subversive weapon we have against the enemy.”  Think about that.

While the enemy comes to steal, kill, and destroy, hospitality is where things are offered freely, life is celebrated, and character is built.

Now, put that in the context of children.

I often hear fellow parents and ministers talking about how we need to “fight for the souls of our children.”  Could part of the answer be as simple as being hospitable to them?  And by that I mean, welcoming them and embracing them in special ways that tell them that they are wanted, desired, and expected in our lives?

Consider this; Marilyn asked us to reflect on how it makes us feel when we arrive somewhere and two cups are set out, a candle is lit, the door is answered with a hug and smile. Welcomed, right?  We feel as though we are supposed to be there. We are wanted and desired. The atmosphere says, “Come in! I was expecting you!”

Now, contrast that with being met upon arrival with a cluttered space, a person with a towel on their head saying, “Oh my goodness, I totally forgot you were coming.” Even though we might stay, we feel awkward, forgotten, unwelcome in the space.

Intentional hospitality combats the sense of ‘not belonging’ that so many people face, so many children, face every day. Intentional hospitality says, “I am so glad you are here. I’ve gone out of my way to express to you how special you are to me.”  It brings with it a level of purpose and love that burgeons the receiver’s very soul. There is even an old Jewish proverb that says, “Hospitality is one form of worship.”  It is a weapon to combat that which the enemy seeks to steal, kill, and destroy.

“If you give a moment of rest, a moment of peace, to the person next to you – you are practicing hospitality – you are defeating the enemy in their life” – Dr. Marilyn Elliot

Are we being hospitable to our children, in our homes and in our churches?

At home, do we prepare space that is welcoming to our kids; space that is open for conversation and quality time; space that is prepared with expectation and intentional in experience?  This could play out in a number of ways:

  • Special dinner plans with the children in mind (Click here for conversation starters that lead to discipleship moments)fancy_it_up
  • Special family times like Movie Nights or an evening at the park
  • “Dates” with Mom or Dad
  • Welcoming them back home after school, day care, playing, etc with intention
  • Asking for their thoughts in decor decisions or family plans
  • Prayer times that are just for them
  • Books that are “theirs” that you read together

What about at church? When children enter the worship space, is there anything to let them know they are welcomed there?  Not just in the “children’s area” but in the wider community? Things like…

  • Activity bags or Worship bags or Sermon notes appropriate for them
  • Adult church members who know their names
  • Places for them to serve like ushering or taking up the offering
  • Songs that they might be familiar with during worship
  • A verbal welcome like, “We are so excited to see our children and youth worshiping with us today!” or “What a blessing to see our kids and parents and grandparents all gathered to worship today!”
  • For more practical ways to welcome kids to church, click here

If Christian hospitality truly is a subversive weapon against the enemy, then it behooves us to consider, how can we fight better?  Hebrews 13:2 encourages not to forget to show hospitality. Interesting that the word “forget” is used. Because that’s where I usually end up when it comes to hospitality to my own family. I forget that they need to hear the words, “I’m so glad you are here! I was expecting you!” as much as my friends and neighbors and guests do.

“The kingdom happens over hospitality. We might miss the most precious of moments if we forget to be intentional in this.” – Dr. Marilyn Elliot


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 on this page are chosen by WordPress, not by ReFocus Ministry and do not necessarily reflect the opinions and values of the author. 

Watch and Learn: The Power of Observational Learning

There is something so beautiful about seeing a child worship God.  The enthusiasm of their praise, the purity of their worship – it’s enough to make a grown man cry…literally. Many times during the service, I’ve had someone interrupt my own worship to point out a child or family engaged in a precious moment with God.

A friend of mine posted this testimony regarding her own Sunday morning experience:

Received a blessing this morning at worship that also served as a sobering reminder for me. I was singing, praying, and raising my hands in gratitude to the One Who has delivered me from death, and generally not paying much attention to what was going on around me, when the lady sitting behind me grasped my shoulder and told me to look across the aisle.

One of our sweet children, no more than maybe 2 years old was on her mom’s hip, watching me and lifting her hands in praise like I was. It made me weep to see her learning worship from her church family. But it also reminded me to always be aware of how I conduct myself. You never know who is watching.

The idea of older people modeling behavior for younger ones isn’t a new one.  Also known as observational learning, this process helps us to see, internalize, and then act in the ways we have observed.

Developmental psychologists have long known that children learn by imitating adults and older children (Source). It’s one of the ways that we not only transmit knowledge but also culture and yes, faith.

study by an Australian team found that children will imitate adults even if the behavior doesn’t make sense such as opening a box with a stick instead of with their hands.  What the children saw modeled, they imitated in their own everyday life.

A study of teenagers and addiction found that “many parents turn to professionals thinking that when their teen hears about the dangers of drug use from someone else, they will be swayed, but the truth is that usually, it’s the parents’ behavior that have much more impact on a teen’s behavior.”  

watchingWhat our children see modeled, they will imitate, and what they imitate will create their framework for how life is “done.”

So, it begs the question, what behavior are we modeling when we consistently remove the children from the larger congregational worship experience?

Children don’t BELONG in “big” church

I can think of no stronger message that we send to children and youth when we consistently segregate them from corporate worship.  As I’ve stated many times before, I am not against times where youth and children are separate and spending time growing in ways that reach specifically to them, but I am opposed to ministry that exclusively keeps children and youth from interacting with the larger faith community in worship.

 I am convinced that there must be times of corporate worship where children can see adults, more specifically their parents, engaged in worship, growing, and fellowship with the whole congregation if we want them to learn (imitate) what it is to participate in the local body of Christ.

Children don’t have anything to GIVE to the larger church

When our attitude towards kids is to consistently segregate them away from the adults and keep them in their own space together (with a few volunteers), we are telling them that that are unnecessary to the functioning of the church.  That we adults don’t need them to grow in our faith.  That they are a distraction from what we are doing on Sunday morning.

But Christ sends a very different message – He tells us we MUST learn from them. He tells us that that the kingdom of God belongs to them (Mark 10:14), that by welcoming them we welcome Him and the Father (Luke 9:47, 48), that we should become like them (Matt. 18:3). How in the world can we do that if we never get to see them in praise and worship, in prayer and fellowship? How can we imitate them?

Children aren’t old enough (smart enough, mature enough) to UNDERSTAND God and church

Sunday school.  Ever thought about those words? It implies a place where you go to “get taught” about something.  We even call our volunteers “teachers” many times. How about Children’s Church?  Even this sends a message that this is a place for kids, not adults, but kids to “do church.”  But frankly, I have learned more from the kids in Children’s Church than I think they’ve learned from me.  They’ve taught me how to praise with abandon, to pray with great faith, and to love each other.  So many times I’ve thought, “Oh, how I wish the whole church could see this right now!”

Because children DO understand God and His love, often in ways we adults cannot grasp.  We don’t have to “dumb down” theology for them; they get it!  Yes, we do need to communicate it to them in ways they understand but they are definitely “smart enough” to know God and to participate in church.

Our children are imitating our behavior; our worship and our community and our prayers and our fellowship.

Let’s make sure we are modeling what we really want to be modeling.

Let’s make sure what we are teaching them is what we actually want to be teaching them.

As my friend shared, let us always be aware of how we are conducting ourselves. Because they are watching and learning… all the time.


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 on this page are chosen by WordPress, not by ReFocus Ministry and do not necessarily reflect the opinions and values of the author. 

Sports are Not the Problem

It’s no secret. Attendance at church across the board is down…depending on what metric you use and what statistics you look at. But for the most part, it’s safe to say, that regular weekly attendance in a church building is in a downward spiral. Some studies show than the average “regular attender” at church only comes once or twice per month and obviously, this affects the attendance of children and youth as well.

Having been down this road in a number of different ministry settings, I’m always struck by the reasons that are given by those in children, youth and family ministry for why attendance is down.
boys-2769553_1920

“Sports are to blame.” And 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.

“Parents are to blame.” The common line is that parents no longer value church and therefore church is seen as optional while other things require commitment. In fact, just today I saw a tweet that read, “The most common parenting perspective fail I see played out on a regular basis: church should be convenient but sports require sacrifice” which is a combination of the two observations above.

“Church is optional.” Some have pointed to the fact that church attendance is sometimes used as a disciplinary tool (i.e. Didn’t do your homework? No church for you!) while others comment on how school is a priority but church is not.

There’s a lot of blame being doled out for why things are the way they are. But is it possible that the criticism we often shift outward also needs to be directed inward?

Instead of blaming sports and ballet and parents and society and school and (fill in the blank), it seems it would be wise for us, the church, to look inward and ask,

“Why is it so easy to leave? How have we created an environment that implies consistency is not necessary, that commitment is optional, and “church” is a thing of convenience?

I believe if we take the time to honestly critique ourselves, we will find that we must share part of the blame for the shift in church attendance and necessity.

Church as an Event

I’ll never forget hearing the phrase, “Make Sunday morning the best hour of their week!” encouraging ministers to focus all of their attention on making that Sunday morning hour so popping, so exciting, so over-the-top memorable and fun, that kids couldn’t wait to come back.

However, the trade-off for that is that we had to create programs that appealed primarily to the senses and not necessarily to the soul and spirit. That’s why the approach of using church attendance as discipline is an easy “punishment” to dole out.

Church as Competition

A friend was talking to me the other day about church programming and marketing and made the statement, “When will the church realize we don’t have to compete with the world, that we really can’t compete with the world? We have a totally different thing to offer.”

And that’s just it. Our churches, funded nearly entirely by donations, cannot compete with concerts and movies and malls filled with all the things. We can’t compete with Instagram and Snapchat and Twitter feeds. We can’t compete with multi-billion dollar ad campaigns and streamlined marketing plans. And we don’t need to. It’s not a competition. We aren’t going to win people back to church by being the newest, coolest thing on the block. We are not in competition with the world OR with each other. We have Jesus. We have community. We have truth. It’s not a competition.

Church as a Building

My husband has pointed out quite frequently that if you look at the history of the word church, it changes over time. The simplest explanation is that in the New Testament, “church” was “ekklesia” which translates to “a gathering of people called out”. Over time, as buildings were built for those people to meet in, the German word “kirche” took the place for church and it referred to the building. So when we ask, “Did you go to church?” we usually mean, “Did you go to a building?” But the reality is, church isn’t a building.

We all know that in our head, but when we measure things like “church attendance” we are looking specifically to people being in a kirche not people living in ekklesia. And when we invite people to church, we invite them to a place, but, as my husband often points out, we should be inviting them into our lives. If church is a building, it’s easy to miss a week or two. If church is community, it’s much harder to skip out.

Church as Age-segregated Silos

We don’t see each other and so we don’t miss each other. We don’t know one another’s names or what our lives look like outside of Sunday morning, so we can’t check in on one another through the week and ask how things are going. We don’t pray together. We don’t worship together. And we don’t share life together.

And we can give all the reasons in the world why that is okay and best and most convenient for all, but the reality is, the consequence of consistently segregating the generations from one another has led to a breakdown in community and a lack of intergenerational relationships from which discipleship and mentorship flow.

I’m sure there are many more things we could add to this list. I’m sure that some of them are particular to individual faith communities. I’m also sure it is easier to blame sports and school than to look inwardly at ourselves and ask hard questions about how we, the church, have contributed to the lackadaisical attitude towards regular attendance and consistent community.

But what if we did? What if instead of focusing the blame elsewhere, we determined to look to ourselves first and to do what we could to create a community, an ekklesia, that was focused not so much on attendance as discipleship, not so much on programming as relationship, not so much on a building and a time as a people and a way of life.

What if we started with our church?


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. 

Asking the Question “Do I Belong?”

I wrote a blog a while back that explored the Pew Research findings that showed that the fastest growing label in the “religion” category was “Unaffiliated” or not connected to any particular religion. This category was filled primarily with Millennials who had at one time associated themselves with organized religion. I was curious why this trend was happening so I read a number of blogs written by Millennial authors about why they had chosen to leave the church.

alone-1868905_1920By and large, the overall message was “We don’t feel like we belong.”

I could relate, but on a different level. If you’ve ever visited a foreign country, you probably can to.  A few years ago, Luke and I had the chance to go to Europe and I loved every minute of it BUT the whole time I was there, I felt out of place, like I didn’t belong. I may have been there, dressed in the right clothes, paying with the right money, and eating the right food, but I didn’t feel like I belonged. Even when things were done to make us feel more at home, it still couldn’t eradicate the feeling of not belonging. Why?

We didn’t know anyone – Everyone was new to us; a stranger. Even the friendliest people we met were still new. We had no relationships with them nor them with us, so our conversations were necessarily surface and without depth.

We weren’t familiar with the customs – It’s funny how the littlest thing can remind you that you are out of your element, things like asking for “just water” at a restaurant and having a chilled bottle of seltzer water delivered to your table or not walking on the right side of the road because that is the bike lane and they will run you over. These moments, seemingly small, were poignant reminders we were in unfamiliar territory.

We didn’t speak the language – Obviously one of the most visible ways we felt unaffiliated was in terms of just speaking to those around us. Trying to figure out if what we were paying for an ice cream cone was actually the right amount could lead to times of intense stress. Reading maps and taking the subway? Yeah, we lived Finding Dory.

So what does this have to do with the church?

If the bloggers I read are accurate in their assessment, they share much the same feelings when they are in church. It makes sense then that they would want to leave and find somewhere where they feel they belong.

And, if during their lives as children in church they spent most, if not all, of their time separated from the older generations and not in attendance for corporate worship or congregational gathering times, the feeling of not belonging would simply be a natural occurrence, an expected consequence.

They wouldn’t know anybody – Or perhaps, more accurately, they wouldn’t be known by anybody. If coming into “big church” is a new experience and the majority of people attending are new to them, it would not feel like a community they were a part of or were familiar with. It’d be like going to a new country in a way.

They wouldn’t know the customs – Every church has a liturgy; a way of worshiping together. Some follow traditional liturgical practices that have been passed down for centuries; some just have a habitual way of going about church service (song, welcome and greeting, song, song, prayer, offering, song, sermon, prayer, son…something like that). When to stand, when to sit, how to “pass the peace”, how to sing, when to clap, when to go up front, etc. – these customs help create the atmosphere that is unique to that church.

How foreign it can feel if it’s never been experienced before and how unusual that must feel when it is happening in a space where you’ve been attending for most of your childhood and youth.

They wouldn’t know the language – Almost every church I’ve attended has some time where the congregation participates in some way praying, reciting, or singing together. In some churches, especially more liturgical ones, there are certain things that are to be said at certain times. For the inexperienced, I imagine this could feel quite intimidating and at times isolating.

What can we do?

My encouragement would be this:  Find ways to connect the older and younger generations in meaningful relationships where they know each other names long before the young ones head off to college AND seek to create space where the whole congregation can engage in worship and fellowship together before the young people are launched into completely unknown territory.

Give them a chance to know and feel like they belong before they even arrive.

Part of the fun of visiting a new place is that you don’t know everything. The same holds true with church. There should always be more to know of Christ and of each other and there should always be a certain sense of stretching and discomfort as we truly engage in living life together as community.

However, recognizing that transition is difficult and we sometimes need a bridge to make the journey, there’s nothing wrong with creating space for relationships and times of corporate worship to reinforce the message for young people that they most certainly do belong.


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. 

“I’m Not Sure I’m Cut Out for This ‘Discipling’ Thing”

“We will not hide these truths from our children;

We will tell the next generation about the glorious deeds of the Lord

About his power and his mighty wonders…

He commanded our ancestors to teach them to their children

So the next generation might know them–even the children not yet born–

and they will in turn teach their own children

So each generation should set its hope anew on God”  Ps. 78:4, 5b-7a NLT

The other day, I had the opportunity to share with some children the miracle that is new life; something coming to life in unexpected ways, much like our Savior. We talked about how a seed falls into the ground, and dies, but then brings forth new life. Much to my surprise, my object lesson was sitting beside my kitchen sink; a popcorn kernel had fallen into a potted plant and had begun to grow and sprout a new seedling.

When I was talking to the kids, we talked about the fact that the seed was “hiding” in the soil but it wasn’t “hidden” from God. It was still doing all the things the seed was supposed to do; it was bringing about new life. 

Psalm 119:9-11 says, ” How can a young man keep his way pure? By guarding it according to Your word. With all my heart I have sought You; do not let me stray from Your commandments. I have hidden Your word in my heart that I might not sin against You.” In much the same way, God’s Word is “hidden” in the heart of a child (young man) but it is not dormant; rather, it is doing what the Word came to do – bring forth new life. 

affection-1866868_1920As a parent, I can at times become discouraged when I don’t see the fruit of discipleship evident in my children’s lives. Like most Christian parents, I wonder, “Have a done this thing right?  Have I shared the right things?  Have I been a good disciplemaker?  What about all the times I’ve messed up?  What about all of my mistakes?

It can be…exhausting and defeating. 

But as I read these Scriptures a few things come into focus for me; things that help me to remember whose they are and who I am actually called to be. I hope these reminders can be a wells of God’s grace and truth to any others who have said, “I’m not sure I’m cut out for this ‘discipling’ thing.”

Talk About God

Just do it. Talk about what He’s done for you, for us, for others, for the world. Talk about the miracles. Talk about the mundane. Talk about His love. Talk about His Grace. Talk about it when we sit at home and when we drive along the road; talk about Him when we lie down and when we get up (Dt. 6:7).

Don’t hide Jesus from them; hide Him inside of them. And trust that the Word (Jesus) will do the work of transformation that will bring about new life, in His time.

See a Bigger Picture

Moments pass; they do not last. Doubts are part of life and a healthy faith; they do not define one’s path.  Emotions and feelings are real but they are not reality.  Even if our words seem to have no impact or little impact or negative impact, the bigger picture is that we hold the greatest influence over our children’s faith and, according to the Psalm above, not only our children’s faith but the faith of those who are to come; our grandchildren who are not even born yet.

If we can look with eyes of faith beyond today, we will continue to speak with faith and hope about this Jesus who loves us and them so much, He reaches beyond today and into tomorrow with His grace.

Trust the Process

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had to tell myself this about other stuff; work stuff and medical stuff and school stuff.  And it usually pans out; if we just trust the process, the work usually gets done.  But here’s the biggest difference with God:  There is no “usually.”  With God, His promises are “Yes” and “Amen.”  And while our children will always have their free will, we can rest in the fact that God will do all that He said He will do.

  • His Word will not return void (Is. 55:11).
  • He goes after his sheep (Luke 11, John 10).
  • He made sure our children are always being prayed for continually (Mt. 18:10).
  • He calls them to come (Luke 18:16).
  • He loves them; oh, how He loves them (Mt. 18:2-6).

The Word is at work in our children’s hearts. I believe that much as I believe a seed I bury in the ground doesn’t just die but it dies to new life. What we have hidden in their hearts, through our words, our prayers, our actions, and our lives, remains there. Jesus tells us that if He is lifted high, he will draw all to Himself (Jn. 12:32); our job is to lift Him high, He will do the drawing.

Right now, I am the mom of a high schooler, a middle schooler, and an elementary student.  Every day, new scenarios arise that make me question my adequacy as a parent, let alone a person called to form faith and raise disciples.  But every day, when I look to the Lord, I remember I’m called to one thing: Lift Jesus high – talk about Him, talk about His word, talk about His love, talk about His goodness and grace, talk about His approach-ability and His incarnate humanity, and talk about His eternal promises.

I am called to plant endless seeds. He alone can make them grow.



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. 

Mind the Gap: Reuniting Generations in Our Churches

Recently there’s been a return to cross-generational and intergenerational communities and contexts mostly because of the research being done on the importance of multigenerational community. (Source).

As crazy as it seems to us, it’s actually quite normal and quite healthy for generations to spend quality time together.

intergenerational-cool-stuffBut, let’s be honest.  the way society is currently structured, connecting with generations outside of our own can feel uncomfortable and decidedly not fun.   And because of that, we sometimes think that we don’t have anything in common with generations other than ours and even more sadly, that we can’t be friends.

But, that’s simply not true.  It’s what we’ve become accustomed to but it’s not truth. The truth is we actually live better, more fulfilling lives when we are around each other.

Is it possible to change our minds?

Some amazing places are showing it is possible, like this intergenerational care home in the UK and these intergenerational communities in the US. They are built on the idea that we have more that unites us than separates us, more in common than difference. And I believe that can be done in the church as well. In fact, I believe it is one of the most important things we can do in our churches today. But how?

Start Slow

Realistically most of the generations that attend a church don’t even know one another’s names. They often don’t attend the same service times, they are in age-specific Sunday school classes that don’t intermingle with other classes, and they very often are in different parts of the church building.

The very first thing we can do is provide a way for generations within the church to learn each other’s names. Check out this cool resource that is a perfect way to create connections across generations: Pray for Me.

Create a Common Identity

As members of one faith community, this idea of a common identity should be relatively easy to create. Basically, using your church’s vision and mission, craft language that can be used across generations to say “This is who WE are.”  Don’t just use the language in the adult classes or church service where children and youth aren’t present.

Make sure that everyone knows they are part of the church and identify with the mission. As silly as this may seem, tee shirts are a great way to make this happen. Magnify the similarities NOT the differences.

Allow for Interactions

If your church is set up in a way that doesn’t allow for generations to mix and mingle (separate services, classes, and spaces) then it will be necessary to intentionally create space for interactions to take place. Meals together, intergenerational worship, and cross generational events are some ways to allow for that.

It’s also vitally important facilitate and encourage interactions outside of the church buildings. Some ideas:

  • Have the kids who play sports or dance post their game or performance schedules and encourage older folks to attend.
  • Ask the older generations videotape themselves telling stories about their memories of being in church and share videos with the kids once a month.
  • Create a Homebound Ministry with the youth who go and visit people who aren’t physically able to come to the church.
  • Host classes where skills can be taught between generations, older to younger and younger to older.
  • Find places in the community where teams could volunteer and serve and send intergenerational groups out to serve with one another.

Show Up in Unconventional Ways

If there is always an adult leading the call to worship, let a child do it. If a child always takes up the offering, have a college student do it. Move chairs and tables around so that people end up sitting with other generations and making new friends.  Keep messaging that we have more in common than we think and help them discover common likes, dislikes, and activities. And when you find a commonality, celebrate it!

If there is an advertised “churchwide” event, then make sure the whole church is there, all ages, including children, youth, and senior adults. As Paul would say, “Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace” (Eph. 4:3).

Regardless of what our society has convinced us of, this is actually what we want. Our soul longs for community and our physical health and well-being benefit from it in ways we are just starting to understand. So, yes, while it will take some intentional work and some consistent messaging, ultimately the end goal is worth it.

We will be the body of Christ.


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. 

Tips for Intergenerational Worship Services

More and more, churches are recognizing the importance of creating space within their corporate worship for the full church body to gather and worship, including the youngest among us.   But that does create a challenge for many faith communities that have been used to not having children and youth in the sanctuary for part or all of the corporate service time.

kiddistractionOver the past few years, I’ve had the opportunity to work with three different churches who approached intergenerational worship in different ways and I’ve gathered a few ideas from them about how other churches might be able to approach these types of services.

These ideas are by no means exclusive… look at them as a starting point and let the culture of your church help fill in the gaps as needed.

Here’s a few things that I’ve done or seen done at the churches I’ve been blessed to serve in:

1. Kid’s Worship Team – This team doesn’t necessary lead “singing” but they worship through hospitality (holding doors, handing out bulletins, etc), prayer (they go forward during prayer time and pray for themselves and others) and generosity (they take up the communion and pray over it).

For our team, the kids followed a weekly schedule, just like the adult worship team, and if they missed their Sunday, they had to get someone to take their spot. They also had to go through a training on worship with me before they could serve.

2. Sermon Notes – There are a lot of great templates out there for sermon notes and for older kids, it’s a great way to keep them involved with the service.  In one church, if a child completed their sermon notes, they could get something out of a treasure box and the completed form was given back to their parents so the parents could have a follow-up conversation with their kids at home.

3. Call Out the Kids – Kids love to get attention and they love when they get to be drawn into “adult” things like the sermon. We often asked whoever was speaking to at some point in the sermon just say something like, “Hey kids, have you ever seen this?” or something else that would be appropriate to the text to help draw the kids into the story. It’s amazing how just that little comment really drew them in and helped redirect their attention to the service.

4. Interactive Teaching and Learning – Anything interactive is great!  One of the ways our current church engages the kids is if there is a topic that involves a story from the Bible, the pastor will have the kids help act out the story. Everyone loves it – it’s spontaneous so things definitely go wrong, but the whole congregation gets involved and no one forgets the Scripture we studied that week.

5. Busy Bags  – Busy bags get a bad rap, mostly because people don’t understand the developmental science behind them. Have “busy bags” but explain to parents and other church members that these activities aren’t intended to distract the kids but rather to help the kids use all of their developing senses; studies show if their hands and eyes are busy, their ears will be listening. 

Quiet activities like lacing cards, stickers scenes, foam craft kits, beads and pipe cleaners, small puzzles and coloring are all great ways to engage your kinesthetic and visual learners.

6. Active Involvement – The difference between “having kids in Big Church” and welcoming kids into corporate worship lies basically in participation.  Are children being invited to actively participate or passively observe?  Inviting children and youth to be part of the order of worship has incredible sway in creating a sense of inclusion and welcome.

Children and youth can read Scripture, say the benediction, lead a song (doesn’t always have to have actions – it can just be a song that they like – my son loves, “No Longer Slaves” and can’t wait to lead it), and pray.   Being involved signals that we have a place in the congregation – we are a part of something bigger – and everyone needs to know that truth.

There are many, many more ideas on how to incorporate children and youth into the larger worship experience and I’d love to hear from you!  What have you seen done or are you currently doing in your church context? If you are a parent, how do you help your kids connect to the larger body in worship? And if the answer is, “Nothing yet!” hopefully these tips will get your creative juices flowing!


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 Blog

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