Reaching a New Generation of Families
Throw Away Your Cookie Cutter “Family Ministry” Strategy
This last week, I had the privilege of spending time with Amy Dolan, children’s ministry consultant and founder of Lemon-Lime kids. Amy led a session at the conference I attended and facilitated a conversation about what family ministry will look like in 2011 and beyond. I’ll lead with some new facts and ideas that Amy planted in my head and what I think we, as ministry practitioners, can do to revamp and re-imagine what family ministry looks like for a new generation of families.
What is a family?
In order to begin reaching families in your community with the Gospel, the first thing you need to throw out is your definition of family. “Why?” you may ask… well, to begin with, the families you minister to are living in a world where the definition of family has changed. Don’t believe me? Let’s let Diane Sawyer and her team do the talking:
In my own home – we’re faced with redefining what a family is. I have a sister who has been with the same boyfriend for over a decade. We like him a lot. At Christmastime, our family (my wife, 2 kids and I) buys them one Christmas gift in the same way that we send our sets of parents one gift each. Our kids even call him Uncle Jordan. He and my sister aren’t married, they don’t have kids, and yet – we, in all practical purposes, call them a family.
There almost seems to be a generational divide over who is and who isn’t comfortable with the loosening of the term “family” – especially in the world of Church. Don’t believe me? Ask an elder or board member at your church to write the definition of “family” and then ask a teacher or administrator in your local public school district to define what a family is – they’ll probably sound a little different. And, as you reach out into your community, you need to know that the definition of family is changing – whether the church is ready for it or not.
Throw away your cookie cutters!
These are my words, not Amy’s. However, I think she’d be in full support of them. Over the last decade, as the church has re-struggled to engage families by tapping someone on staff to “Run” family ministries, the Church has gotten great at running “family” events. Many churches, if you asked them what their family ministry strategy was, would point to a potluck they host or a movie night they invite families to. Think about the way that we’ve often pitched these events…
To kids, we encourage them to bring their parents to events – but… what about kids who come to church with their grandparents? Or what about the ones who have neighbors driving them to church? And how about the kids in your church who are in foster care or have been removed from their parents’ home by local authorities? Have you ever considered how those kids feel when you get a room full of their peers excited about inviting their parents to an event?
To grown ups, we announce that family events are upcoming and tell parents to bring their kids – but… do we consider the couples in the congregation who are struggling after a miscarriage and ache to be considered a “family” by those around them? Have we thought about the message that we send to singles in our churches who already feel as though the church tells them that their life isn’t complete without a spouse… and now there’s another hurdle they’re going to have to jump over to be considered a “family” by their pastor?
I think we can do better and that we need to do better if the church is going to run effective family ministry in the changing world around us.
Practical next steps
I want to suggest a handful of next steps for those of us in the church who are looking to better serve families and the communities around us. However, I want us to also sit and consider some of what we just read and heard. If the definition of “family” is more fluid in the year 2011 than it’s been over the last few decades, then what does that mean for those of us who have been tasked by our churches to facilitate “family” ministries? Where are some places in our churches that we can make room for singles and couples without children so that they know that they are a part of our church family and their voices are valuable in the conversation?
I’m going to hold off on practical application until my next post. I feel like throwing out answers this quickly doesn’t allow the space we need to consider the changes on the horizon for Family Ministry in the Church.