I remember being a young youth pastor and working as hard as I could to create a ministry that would lead students into a real relationship with Jesus that would transform their lives. We had meetings, programs, Bible studies, retreats, and mission trips all designed to push teenagers in their faith. Over the past 50 years, there has been a continual growth of youth and children’s ministries throughout church culture. In these circles, there are more and more “specialists” (like I was) focusing on specific areas of ministry. Consequently, we have created years and years of ministry silos, where children’s ministry and youth ministry have operated on their own with little real oversight.
Churches are attempting to eliminate silos and create a “family ministry” umbrella to bring the children’s and youth ministries together in some form. New language around ministering to the whole family has emerged and church culture continues to evolve and Family Ministry has become a thing. This often includes designating a staff member to be the Family Ministry Pastor/Director or the Next Gen Pastor. A few common things happen when this shift happens:
- Many churches have a history where the children’s and youth ministries do not play nice together. There is competition for resources, volunteers, space, attention, etc. Under the same umbrella, these ministries should theoretically work well together when it comes to systems, calendaring, programming, etc.
- The hope is that putting everyone on a family ministry team will insure staff alignment. This is often a perceived alignment and it is difficult to achieve without solid leadership from the top of the family ministry.
- There is sometimes a framework for scope and sequence within individual ministries, but unless intentionally built, this framework seldom exists from birth through high school.
And what about the third piece of family ministry? The parents.
Unfortunately, most churches do not have the time, resources, or vision to build a real ministry to parents. Many of us think that partnering with parents means keeping parents informed about the youth and children’s ministry and recruiting them as volunteers. But simply sending home updates on curriculum, creating a calendar, and regularly communicating to parents (while great and important) is just not enough.
A real ministry to families is all the things listed above, PLUS equipping and encouraging parents to step into their role as primary spiritual leaders and lead their kids through the difficult issues of the day. It’s moving towards parents in intentional ways and stepping into their world in order to really challenge and disciple them so they can effectively lead and disciple their kids.
As we think about what it means to build a ministry to the whole family, we need to quit kidding ourselves. Restructuring the org chart and adding the words “and family” to the children or youth pastor’s title will not bring about the change we crave. What we really need is three sustainable, deep-impact ministries – children, youth, and parents – all coordinating efforts in order to reach the whole family well. A sustainable, whole family ministry model includes:
- A solid children’s ministry building a faith foundation from birth.
- A dynamic, engaging youth ministry helping students continue to build, deepen, and practice their faith.
- An intentional ministry to parents, stepping into their family and practically helping with real issues.
- Long-term planning, an understandable scope and sequence, and clear collaboration between these ministries.
A whole family ministry is hard to construct, but I believe putting in the time, effort, and energy to build this at your church has the potential to reach families in your community in a much bigger way. As you take time to evaluate your church’s ministry to families, identify where you need to start pulling it all together, and simply take your next step on the journey.
Chris Sasser is the Pastor of Family Ministries at Port City Community Church in Wilmington, NC. He has served in full-time ministry since 1993, working with children’s, middle school, high school, college, and parent ministries. He has a passion for equipping and encouraging parents and leaders to help the next generation walk with God.