Family ministry

As a youth minister the last 4.5 years it has become increasingly obvious to me that in order for the youth ministry to be successful, in order for the church to he healthy there must be a focus on the health of the family.

Here are a couple of quotes from a family ministry class I am taking at LCU:

The Postmodern church is facing a looming crisis of inconceivable magnitude. This crisis is the result of the subtle yet sweeping decision to shift the church’s primary task from building a strong, vibrant faith community that is called, empowered, and equipped to serve a lost, broken world to developing programmatic structure that separates and segments the church into small, generationally homogeneous, unconnected factions in order to keep pace with the Jones’ church down the street. Fragmentation is the most apt description of the postmodern church… The church has become a programmatic shell around which the various other ministries of the church loosely orbit.”
Pam Erwin quoting Chap Clark
“It is a sad fact of life that often the stronger the youth program in the church, and the more deeply the young people of the church identify with it, the weaker the chances are that those same young people will remain in the church when they grow too old for the youth program. Why? Because the youth program has become a substitute for participation in the church… When the kids outgrow the youth program, they also outgrow what they have come to know of the church.” Ben Patterson

I recently spoke with a friend who has been ministering to families and youth for more than twenty years and who has an obvious passion for families in the church. I was seeking his wisdom and counsel as I sorted through my own research and thoughts for this book. We discussed ways that churches might minister to families more effectively and what the needs of today’s families are. I also asked him what he felt was the biggest issue facing churches in their ministries to families. He said, “In most churches in America today, the ministries are detrimental to families. I call it ‘fragmentation of the family by design.'” As I processed my friend’s comments, I realized he was accurate in his assessment. Most of what we do in our churches, even when we call it family ministry, serves to disrupt, disconnect, and divide families. Through this book, I hope those of us in ministry will begin to think differently–to not only change the way we do ministry, but to change the way we think about ministry – Pam Erwin


“Therefore, when I advocate that youth ministers take a hard look at the family, I am not suggesting that they take family ministry and add it as number sixty-three on the “when I have time” priority list. What I am advocating is an entirely different paradigm for youth ministry–a paradigm based not on how many kids we can get to meetings but on how effective we can be in leading young people to mature Christian adulthood. After all, is this not the reason we all immersed ourselves in youth ministry in the first place? It is time to return to a vision for this purpose. The day has arrived when leadership must courageously, and sometimes radically, take steps toward embracing the nurturing roles of the students’ nuclear biological family and spiritual extended family. The time has come for “parenting” rather than “orphaning” structures” – Mark Devries

A couple of thoughts on the family:

I agree that the way we practice ministry in churches promotes the problem of fragmentation by generational groups. What would happen to our churches if we realigned our ministries to incorporate a sense of togetherness. For instance what if on Sunday morning Bible class we sent families to class together? And instead of keeping our kids out of the worship assembly we included them, what if service projects and mission trips were advertised and promoted as opportunities to serve in ministry together. A shift is needed in our churches, one that will capture the needs of families, one that paint a portrait of a real, vibrant faith community, and promote and an ongoing faith dialogue between parents and kids. I suspect that a lot of the families that our ministries currently service are not in constant faith dialogue with each other. What I mean by this is this, that moms and dads aren’t talking about the Word of God, that they aren’t looking for the work of God in the world, or can’t see it because of the busyness of their family calendar. Families are to busy, stressed, and tired, and relate to one another with en empty tank.

Any of y’all out there asking the same things? Or even thinking similar thoughts? How is your congregation ministering to the whole families?

About Jason Retherford

The random musings of a youth minister.
This entry was posted in Family, Theology, Youth Ministry. Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to Family ministry

  1. Gman says:

    been asking it for some time now!

  2. thedougout24 says:

    Jason, you know as well as I do that these are not new questions (at least not for those of us who have been involved in conversation about ministry). The disheartening factor to me is that you can preach it, teach it, try to incorporate it repeatedly within the established church and it is misunderstood…fought against…and the end result doesn’t seem to be much different than where you began…in fact, you may have lost people who couldn’t deal with the pressures of the new environment trying to be achieved.

    As a value, I don’t believe family ministry can be compromised. It’s true that our churches are functioning in compartments and gaps exist everywhere in our communication between the generations. If we need one another (and we do) then we can’t be satisfied the way it is.

    I think most ministers get burnt out in part b/c change doesn’t happen fast enough (myself included). We love the church, but sometimes wonder if the best thing for the growth of the kingdom wouldn’t be to just blow it up and start over fresh. All I know is it takes a special kind of long-suffering and loving soul to remain in the trenches of ministry while holding on to this tension between what we are and what we hope to become…knowing that in our lifetime as a congregation we won’t ever meet those expectations corporately.

    Practically…as a youth minister I say take what the people give you as far as making change (in this case..moving towards family ministry)…and then take a little bit more to get them out of their comfort zone…but not so much that you lose your job 😉 And don’t do this alone. Find others who share this vision, who will be an advocate for this change. If there are no others, cast the vision repeatedly and pray for God to raise up partners in this vision. If you are not welcomed…maybe its time to shake the dust off your feet and go to the next town.

    I’m proud of you for remaining in the trenches, brother.

  3. jason says:


    thanks for contributing the discussion. good thoughts,. and thanks always for the encouragement.

  4. two things: (1) it’s sometimes appropriate to split adults and kids apart. there needs to be a place where grown-ups can talk about grown-up things, and there’s nothing wrong with that. (2) there needs to be a place where kids and parents can come together to learn the same thing at the same time.

    on that second part, consider this: we usually think about this in terms of either/or. either we bring the kids into the adult environment or we think adults must go into the children’s environment. what if we began thinking of a both/and category? could we create a place for both kids and their parents?

  5. jason says:


    Thanks for taking time to enter the conversation here. I agree with your two points, that having adult time for adults to have grown-up conversation is important. And that there needs be a place where both kids and adults come together.

    I like the both/and idea. Have you noticed though, any resistance to this way of thinking? A church that is both/and in its stance and ministry to families? I think for most of “us,” (churches in general) that we’ve become so accustomed to the sunday school model for how we operate that anything else is to scary and to different. I don’t mean to sound negative, I just don’t how you change the thinking of so many.

    John, I know there are churches who are integrating kids and adults into a more healthy model ( for lack of a better word), what are some of the healthy models of this sort of integration have you seen and where?

  6. Jason,
    I’m extremely biased in this conversation, having worked as a consultant for North Point Community Church’s family ministry department for a number of years! In my opinion, they do it as well as anyone in the world.

    The biggest resistance I’ve found to this both/and model of ministry comes from “insiders”. If a church is totally focused on the people who are already attending there and unconcerned about first-time visitors, they push back really hard.

    Adult Sunday School is a disaster — for a number of reasons — one of which is how it ties us to a tradition that is ineffective and keeps us from innovation.

  7. jason says:


    I got the privilege of hearing Reggie Joiner speak at our NCYM conference a week ago. His heart is awesome. I would like to learn more about what North Point is doing, and what’s working, and how the process works, and what a smaller church can do or begin to do to radically shift the “disaster” we know as Sunday School.

    What do you recommend?

  8. There’s a DVD available on North Point’s website (it’s also available at The reThink Group’s website) called 5 Things Every Kid Needs.

    It unpacks a typical Sunday morning in their Children’s Ministry, communicates the scope and sequence for ministry and lets parents know about a strategy to partner together.

    That’s a pretty good place to start.

    Also, in the interest of full disclosure, this is part of what I do now with Faith 2.0. I consult and coach churches through these kinds of discussions.

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