The Two Biggest Challenges in Your Family Ministry (And How to Overcome Them)


Keith Ferrin shares a message on two challenges in family ministry: kids from families who know Jesus and kids from families who don't.

I was asked to write a post for a blog tour where various pastors (children/youth/family/lead), authors, bloggers, and regular old moms and dad were asked to write a post simply answering the question:

What is family ministry?

I was talking with my buddy Trevor (a family life pastor, blogger, and tweeter) about the fact that we were both writing our posts at the end of the blog tour. We wondered if we’d have anything “new” to say. Well…when it comes to defining family ministry…I’m not sure I do.

But having spent six years as a youth pastor and the last 16 traveling to speak at heaps of churches, I may have narrowed down the list of challenges to family ministry to two big ones:

Kids from families who know Jesus.

And kids from families who don’t.

Yep. That about covers it. Let’s break it down a bit.

As I talk to children’s/youth/family pastors, one of the most common complaints I hear is…

I can’t get the Christian parents to do anything with their kids at home!

Whenever I have a chance to speak to Christian parents, I remind them that right after Moses told the Israelites to love God with everything they’ve got and to write His command on their hearts, he told them to “impress them on your children.” (More here) He then follows with several times and places we’re called to talk about the Word. Pretty interesting that none of them are at church!

When you…sit at home…walk along the road…lie down…get up.

So what do we do? A few suggestions to get started:

• Keep repeating Deuteronomy 6. Keep reminding them of their responsibility (in the most encouraging ways possible) to be the primary disciplers of their own children. Coaches constantly remind players that they represent their school. Good corporate leaders remind employees that they represent the company. We need to do the same with parents without condescending or blaming.

• Create an environment they want to be a part of. Is your family ministry fun? Do you invite the parents to participate in the stuff that’s “just for fun,” or only ask them to do the take-home Bible study, or work with their kids on their memory verse for the week? The more the parents feel like they – and their kids – are a part of something big/fun/enjoyable, the more it will be easy for them to talk about it.

• Give them some easy wins. Then celebrate them. This is tough. We read, prepare, photocopy, and email all these resources. We know the impact it could have. The problem is that they don’t know. And they’re busy. The only way that retraining happens is little by little. That’s how it is with exercise. Or learning a new language or musical instrument. We have spent decades creating a my-church-should-do-all-the-discipleship culture. It’s going to take time to unlearn and relearn. Give them something simple. Then sincerely thank and encourage them when they do it.

Then there are the kids who come from families who don’t know Jesus.

For this challenge, I’ve got two suggestions:

1. Make sure the students know they belong.

Too often we create an environment that excludes the very kids we’re trying to include. And we don’t realize we’re doing it. (Tweet this!) Examine what you do, how you do it, and the language you use to talk about it.

Sadly, this was lived out this week at my own church, with one of our friends! We started our big, summer program. Kids were having a blast. They could earn extra points for things like bringing a friend, bringing a Bible, learning a verse. Seems normal, right?

Except for one 2nd Grade girl who was there for the first time. She was overwhelmed and thought she might get in trouble if she didn’t know her verse by next week. Or worse…she might have to stand up and recite it in front of strangers! So she told her mom she didn’t want to come back. Ugh.

Let me be clear: Our staff and volunteers have worked incredibly hard and loves those kids so much. I think a vast majority of the blame needs to land on my family. We’re the ones who invited her. Yet we failed to guide her through the day.

2. Serve the parents

How can you – in a practical way – serve the parents of those kids? It might start with a note telling them how awesome their kid is. (We parents love that. Right?) Do you have any discretionary funds that you can use to pay a bill buy a gift card? Could you make a phone call and actually ask them if there’s any way you can serve them?

It’s not just about giving them some literature on your church or inviting them to the next event (though neither of those is bad). It has more to do with having enough of a conversation to find out what the real need is. And then meeting it.

One blog post certainly can’t address all the nuances of these challenges. But I hope it starts a conversation. Are you in?

Question: What are some of the ways you’ve gotten Christian families involved in the discipleship of their own kids? How do you make students who come alone or with friends know that they belong? How have you served the parents of those students?

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