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.
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“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. 

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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

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

Practical Discipleship When We Lie Down: Valentine’s Day Edition

At our church, at the end of each of our gatherings, you’re likely to hear someone say, “At Plowshares we don’t dismiss from worship because we believe that all of life is worship.” In other words, we don’t think worship is restricted to a specific time or place; rather, worship is a part of our everyday lives as believers because Jesus says wherever two or three are gathered in His name, He is present. And that includes our homes.

This Thursday is Valentine’s Day, the perfect opportunity to celebrate the greatest Love of all, the gift of Jesus, in your home with your family at home. As we’ve looked at the four moments of Deuteronomy 6:7 the past few weeks (when we sit at home, walk along the road, when we rise and when we lie down), we’ve explored how to bring Christ into our everyday settings.

family-457235_1280This post offers a simple communion liturgy for families to engage the act of communion in their home together, a perfect activity for the family to engage in after supper before “we lie down”.  It invites the family to join together for a time of focus on Christ and the love He has shown us in his life, death, and resurrection through the meal He gave us to do so.  

All that is needed is some bread and some juice and some time together as a family. Simply follow the outline provided which includes conversation starters, Scripture readings and prayers and together remember what Love looks like as show to us by Jesus.

If celebrating communion isn’t something your family is familiar with or you prefer another way of experiencing this greatest love together, consider using the conversations starters and replacing the communion time with a time of blessings. There are some simple blessings at the end of the attached liturgy that could be a special time of blessing one another as you consider Christ’s deep love for us.

It is my sincere hope that this week your family is able to spend some time in worship together and that God will continue to invite you into a celebration of His Love together.

greatestlove


Family Communion: A Celebration of God’s Great Love

Prepare:  Communion is a celebration!  While it is a sacred experience and should be always treated as holy, it is intended for us to remember and celebrate God’s goodness to us. Set the tone with your family by discussing some ways God has shown His love to your family.

Have a conversation beforehand explaining what communion means. Remind your family that Jesus showed the Greatest Love of all when He died on the cross for us and rose from the dead and that this meal helps us to remember that great love. As with any time of worship, Christ is with us in communion. This is a special way to that we can invite Christ into our home.

Confession:  Before we take the Lord’s Supper, we examine our hearts and silently confess anything we need to before God. It might help if you offer your children some guiding questions like, “What do you want to tell Jesus ‘thank you’ for?” and “Is there anything you want to tell Jesus you are sorry for?”

Choose one of these Scriptures to read as a family: Matthew 26:17-30, Mark 14: 12-16, Luke 22:7-38, I Corinthians 11:23-26

Partake: During communion, show your kids what to do. Even if it is very obvious to you, it may not be to them. Take some time to pray as a family some prayers of thankfulness.

If you would like, you can follow this suggest format for communion time:  Take the bread, thank the Lord for it and for his gift of love and offer it to one another saying, “This is the body of Christ, broken for us.”  Then hold the juice, offer another prayer of thanks, and then give it to each other saying, “This is the blood of Christ, poured out of us.”

Process: Take some time afterward to discussion  what it means to them to remember Jesus in this way. Ask question ensure understanding and to offer clarity, like, “What do we take communion?” and “What are we celebrating?” and “What are we remembering?”  Then move on to more personal questions like, “How did you feel when you remembered Jesus’ sacrifice?”

Conclusion: Finish your time together by reciting the Lord’s prayer (Mt. 6:9-13). Let your children know that this is the prayer that Jesus taught his disciples to pray when they asked him how to pray.

Blessings for the Family

Father, thank you for our family. Lord, you know our hearts. You know our strengths, our weaknesses and every tiny detail about us. May we seek You above all else. When we wake up in the morning and go to sleep at night, may you be on our minds and hearts so that in everything we do, we would see You.*

Father, we thank You for Your blessing over our family. May we be unified in Your Love. Help us to speak the same language and share the same vision that You have for us. Lord, guide us and keep us on the right path. May we stand in unity…preferring one another over ourselves and loving You above all else.*

Father, thank you for creating our family with a purpose. We know that you have plans for each of us individually and for our family as a whole. Lord, reveal this purpose to each one of us and help us to walk it out daily. Help us to have an appreciation for each other’s personalities, gifts and even our weaknesses. Lord, teach us and guide us in all that we do, that we may glorify You.*

*Consider replacing the pronouns with your family names and praying these prayers of blessing for one another

(Blessings were inspired by Flourishing Today)


For more information about

Check out to ReFocus Ministry or “like” our Facebook page. Join our conversation at the ReFocus 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

Practical Discipleship “Along the Road”

“When you walk along the road…” Dt. 4:7

This verse is found in the oft-quoted passage regarding discipleship in Deuteronomy 6:4-9 where Moses addresses the congregation of Israel and explains how they are to pass their faith on to the next generation. He mentions four specific moments to talk about faith: When we sit at home, when we walk along the road, when we lie down and when we rise.

I love these four moments because they are universal – every single person ever had done these things. They’ve sat at a place they call home, they’ve left and gone out on the road, they’ve slept and they’ve woken up. These simple, everyday moments are when God shows up, if we are looking for Him.

Over the past few weeks, we looked at the first of these four moments and found some creative ways to use the time we’ve been given as we sit at home. Today, we’re going to look at the moments where we walk along the road and how we can redeem that time to share our faith with our kids.


Americans spend a lot of time in cars in cars. Of course, the vast majority of this time is adults commuting to work but it is estimated that for the average American family, 6% of their time is spent on the road (Source). That comes out to roughly an our hour in the car daily. Between sports practice, school drop offs and pick ups, dance rehearsals, youth group and everything else under the sun, the car has become a place we often find ourselves as we “walk along the road.”

family-932245_1920The car is a transient place, not somewhere we expect to stay for very long, even if we are on a longer drive; it brings us to the place we really want to be. So it’s easy to overlook as a space where discipleship can take place. But what would happen if we capture those moments and instead of making it a place that just gets us back and forth, it becomes a place where we intentionally invite Christ to be present with us?

Here are some simple ideas that can help us capture the fleeting moments in the car and turn our hearts to eternal things even in the most temporal of places.

Make a Mix “Tape”

Remember the good old days?  Just you, your dual cassette recorder, and your favorite songs?  Did I just date myself?  Anyway, there are a lot of fun ways to make a mix of all of your kids’ favorite church songs.

Ask your children’s pastor or worship leader what songs the kids have been singing over the past year and put together a mix.  You could burn a cd, add it to your Itunes or even make a play list on YouTube.  When you are in the car or sitting at home, pop it in and spend some time singing, dancing, and worshipping with your kids, with songs they know and love!

Find a Great Podcast or Radio Show

When our kids were younger, we would have to “pause” our show when we got out of the car and our kids were excited to pick it back up when we got in to go anywheres.

If you have to travel frequently, might I suggest downloading or purchasing some Adventures in Odessey programs from Focus on the Family?  These radio dramas provide a great platform for discussion with  kids and they will love listening to them (you will too – they’re pretty great!).  We have had many conversations with our children brought on by topics discussed in the episode and as an added bonus, the episodes all have Scriptures to go with them so you don’t have to figure it out yourself!

Find a Way to Serve Together

Sometimes the fun isn’t in doing something secretly but doing something together.  Lots of families will go on family missions trips but if that’s outside your budget or not the right age for your kids, there are a lot of other ways you can serve together as a family.

Your family could bake cookies for your neighbors, run a free car wash, serve at a local food pantry or free meal program, host a neighborhood potluck, visit the shut-ins or homebound members of your church, make up a picnic lunch and give it to another family, etc.  Putting together Blessings Bags to keep in the car in case your family comes across people in need as you travel.

Making service a family activity is not only fun, but it is the #1 ways researchers have found that teens connect their faith in Jesus to their life.  Make Jesus come alive by being His hands and feet together!

Use Your Words

The older our kids get, the more we are able to have intentional conversations that lead us into some more complex spaces. The car is a perfect place for safe intentional conversation. For one thing, we don’t have to make eye contact which sometimes makes us feel more comfortable when talking about uncomfortable things. Two, we can’t “escape” by leaving the space; we’re all in the car together. And three, it makes the time on longer rides go by faster.

If you don’t know how to get the conversation going, check out these great conversation starter questions and topics from Doing Good Together.  For an example of one intentional conversation I had with my pre-teen girls, check out this blog on Practical Discipleship in Middle School.

If we are intentional about making sure our communication with kids is real, relevant, and regular, we will make a much greater impact when we begin to speak, even in the fleeting moments of traveling in a car.  The idea isn’t to be perfect communicators; the idea is to be effective communicators, and for kids nothing is more effective that seeing adults who are living what they preach, attuned to their needs, and committed to an ongoing conversation with them about God.

Remember, discipleship doesn’t have to be complicated or difficult; in fact, it can be as simple as just remember to intentionally invite Jesus into the most ordinary of spaces like your car ride to the grocery store or the road trip to Grandmas. It’s about seeing the sacred in the ordinary, His presence in the present, and welcoming our kids into that sacred space.


For more information about

Check out to ReFocus Ministry or “like” our Facebook page. Join our conversation at the ReFocus 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

Practical Discipleship: Bringing Sunday into Monday as We “Sit at Home”

Continuing our series on Practical Discipleship, it felt appropriate to take some time to consider ways we can bridge the gap between church, the place, and church, the body of Christ as we disciples our kids in our homes. A few years ago I had the chance to sit in on a class with my husband and some of his (and my) seminary friends. The class discussion revolved around how liturgical practices in the church could be utilized to address current themes such as nationalism, consumerism, the oversexualization of society, etc. It was a great discussion.

However, as the discussion continued, it became increasingly clear that the church has limited influence in speaking into these areas.  In fact, it became increasingly clear that if the message was going to be heard, it was going to need to come from parents/caregivers in the context of the home.

But how?  How can we take liturgical and sacramental practices like communion and baptism and put them in the context of the home while relating them to the themes and challenges of the culture today?

How can we as ministers give parents easy wins, simple ways to connect Sunday to Monday, so that the home continues the conversation of church? 

And how can we as parents, use these beautiful moments that connect us to the church across time and space in our homes to remind our family we are part of something bigger?

We need to think bigger.

We need to look at this whole idea of having ONE conversation in multiple locations so that when we are in church on Sunday, what we are talking about, and what we are doing, doesn’t seem new or different or foreign. Instead, when we walk into church, it seems familiar and natural, a continuation of the conversation.

Like with communion:

What if we gave parents activities to explain communion to their kids at home BEFORE their kids take communion at church?

What if, after Communion Sunday, we give them a few conversation starters to share with their kids about how communion speaks to consumerism and materialism (not with those words, but with that heart)?

What if we created round table discussions for parents to come to at church, not when their kids are 13 and in the middle of the pangs of puberty, but when they have infants and are preparing for this whole parenting thing and at those tables, we took communion and talked about how we can live out this practice in our homes through sacrificial living and experiencing God’s presence?

And how about baptism?

family-1784371_1920What if the words spoken, the commitment of the church to walk alongside the child and family at baptism or dedication (depending on your tradition) were given to parents to take home and review with their kids on a regular basis? Maybe even framed and signed by the pastor and members of the church?

What if we offered remember your baptism services and encouraged families to talk about their baptisms at home before they come to church so that baptism was more than a one-time event but a continual reminder of identity in Christ and as a member of the Church?

A lot of “What ifs” in all of that, but imagine if those “What ifs” became easy wins for parents/caregivers to have intentional faith conversations with their children and youth when they rise, when they lie down, when they sit at home and when they walk along the road.

Here are some Easy Wins to get us started

Easy Wins – Communion

At our church one Valentine’s Day, we created little “Take Home Communion Kits”for families that included a short liturgy, the elements of grape juice and bread which were blessed by our pastor, and a little lesson the Greatest Valentine Ever (Jesus). Families were able to celebrate together with a lesson that connected to the holiday of Valentine’s Day and reminded them of where True Love is really found. Need elements? Click here for what we used. 

How do you talk about communion with youth?  Here’s an article that makes talking about communion as easy as talking about eating dinner, something all kids and youth understand. This is a great way to talk about communion as community, literally “communing” with God and the whole family of God. And this conversation can be had over dinner a.k.a. “when we sit at home.”

Creative Communion, a book by Margaret Withers and Tim Sledge, actually has six session around different foods and snacks that actually helps open the discussion with kids about different aspects of communion such as gathering, confession, gospel reading, offering, communion, and dismissal. It’s a really neat approach using food kids love (like pizza) to have an ongoing conversation about the sacrament of Eucharist. For more ideas and more about the book, click here.

Easy Wins – Baptism

Remember your baptism – Many church traditions offer the opportunity to “remember your baptism” as part of their regular service. This can easily be done by the family in the home and parents can remember aloud with their children their own baptism and what it means to be a member of the body of Christ. Simply use water to pour over one’s hands or touch to one’s head and remember together.

 Check out this amazing booklet from one church that gives baptism anniversary activities for the parents and children to do at home and remember together their baptism. 

Regardless of your church’s baptismal tradition, one thing we all agree on is that baptism invites us into the community of faith, into the Church, the Body of Christ. In an age where belonging and identity are often questioned, baptism gives us both. For parents, this can be a good way to talk to their kids when they question who they are and where they belong. Baptism brings us back to that place. Here are some links on ways to spark or have that conversation at home:

Discipleship at home doesn’t have to be a scary thing; it is as simple as inviting Christ into the spaces we inhabit daily. As ministers, we can help families discover Christ in their home as they sit and walk and rise and lie down and as parents we can capture the moments to discover Jesus is with us everyday, in every way!


For more information about

Check out to ReFocus Ministry or “like” our Facebook page. Join our conversation at the ReFocus 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

Practical Discipleship: Four Questions That Transform Dinner into Discipleship

“When you sit at home…” Dt. 4:7

This verse is found in the oft-quoted passage regarding discipleship in Deuteronomy 6:4-9 where Moses addresses the congregation of Israel and explains how they are to pass their faith on to the next generation. He mentions four specific moments to talk about faith: When we sit at home, when we walk along the road, when we lie down and when we rise.

I love these four moments because they are universal – every single person ever had done these things. They’ve sat at a place they call home, they’ve left and gone out on the road, they’ve slept and they’ve woken up. These simple, everyday moments are when God shows up, if we are looking for Him.

Over the next few weeks, I’d like to look at these four moments and find some creative ways to use the time we’ve been given. Today, we’re going to look at the moments where we sit at home and how we can redeem that time to share our faith with our kids.

“Highs and Lows!!”

If you’ve ever eaten dinner with the Embree family, no doubt that right after we prayed, dinner-2330482_1920one of us said this phrase.  It has become part of our dinnertime DNA and something that has led to incredible faith conversations over spaghetti and salad.  Some of our most defining moments as a family in terms of discipleship and growth, especially as a young family, took place because of these four questions.

I can’t take credit for them.  That goes to Dr. Kara Powell of Fuller Youth Institute.  I had the opportunity a few years ago to attend a seminar led by her about Sticky Faith and how to help our kids develop a faith that sticks beyond high school.  She shared this dinner time routine at that conference and I immediately thought, “This is easy!  This is something we can do!” and so… we did.

Here are four simple but ever so critical questions we ask each other nearly every day.

1. What was your HIGH today?

Simply put, you are just asking what went well that day. Why? Well, I’m sure you’ve all experienced the oh-so-enlightening after-school conversation that goes something like this:

Parent – So, how was school today?  Child – Fine.  

Parent – Well, what’d you do? Child – Nothing.  

Parent – You had to do something. What did you learn? Child – I dunno.  

Parent – Oh come on, give me something! Child – *blank stare* 

Asking a question like “What was your high?” begs the answer in story form.  Sure every now and then, we get a shrug, but most of the time, we get to hear about something that happened that day that otherwise we would not have been privy too.  Plus the whole family gets to celebrate the moment together.

2. What was your LOW today?

It is important to recognize that not everything that happens in a day is fun and happy.  Sometimes things happen that make us angry or sad.  Having a safe place to mention low times and process with family can lead to some of the most meaningful moments in your family’s life.  We’ve cried together, talked through some difficult situation, prayed for people who hurt us or were hurting, and addressed some of the harder things kids face in life.  We don’t want our kids to live a “facebook” existence where only the good moments get highlighted; rather, we want to teach them that God and home are safe places even in the hardest times.

3. What MISTAKE did you make today?

We all cringe a little bit at this one.  It means we have to step back and acknowledge that we may have messed up. It takes humility to admit that, not only to ourselves, but also to our family.  And no one is exempt; even Mom and Dad have to answer the question.

Do you know what message this sends our kids?  That we mess up, but God’s love is available anyway.  Forgiveness and grace are always available.  Sometimes, we can genuinely say, “I had a good day and I can’t think of any mistakes” but those times are outweighed by the moments we recognize that we trip up and fall into the grace of God.  We want our kids to know that no matter how big the “mistake”, God’s grace, love and forgiveness are always available, and so is ours.

4. Where did you see JESUS today?

This is by far my favorite question.  it’s different from the High of the day.  It’s where we have experienced God in our everyday life.  I love the answers my kids give to this question, things like, “I saw Jesus when my friend gave me a hug” and “I saw Jesus when my teacher forgave some kids who had three strikes and let them have ice cream anyway.”  Seeing the attributes of God in the world around them keeps them looking for Jesus everywhere they go.  Once, one of my girls wrote a note to a friend in which she said, “When you [did that thing] I saw Jesus in you.”  That’s exactly the kind of note we need to be giving one another!

Four simple questions.  Four amazing life lessons.

Four easy ways to connect.  Four intentional moments for discipleship.

And while the dinner table works for us, maybe it would work better for you on car rides? Or before bedtime?  Or maybe even over text if your kids are older?

The idea isn’t to create another “thing “we feel pressured to do.  Rather, it is to layer some intentionality over what we are already doing to create the opportunity to model faith, experience grace, and increase love together.

Remember, discipleship at home is never about doing more things. Rather, think of it as an opportunity to invite Jesus into everything we are already doing. Many of use eat dinner at home and most of us strive to do that together, as a family. Inviting Jesus into that everyday practice takes it from ordinary to sacred, from dinner to discipleship, from temporal to eternal, and that is discipleship at home.

For more ideas on how to use the dinner table as discipleship, check out these posts:


For more information about

Check out to ReFocus Ministry or “like” our Facebook page. Join our conversation at the ReFocus 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