Family segregation in church

For the past year or so I’ve been re-thinking this whole family ministry thing. Many of you know that I came out of Bible College with a degree in Bible and youth ministry and then went to DTS for a degree in Christian Education and Family Life Ministry. The idea behind this was to equip myself with the education necessary to not only reach students, but their entire families via the students. For example, if an unsaved family sees life change take place in the life of their teenager, the rest of the family can’t help but notice and hopefully become interested. But recently my thinking has shifted a little further from the evangelistic aspect and has focused more on the family discipleship area. What I’ve noticed in the church so far has not been that encouraging, and unfortunately I do not really have a good solution for it, but maybe some of these thoughts are heading in the right direction.

During a typical week, the family wakes up in morning, the kids run off to school and the parents go to work. They spend their day separated from each other until the evening comes. The parents sometimes arrive home worn out from work about the same time the kids return exhausted from school and extra-curricular activities. Everyone grabs their own dinner and settles to a different part of the house: the parents in front of the living room TV and the kids in their bedroom to do homework, talk to friends, and watch their own TV. Bedtime comes, everyone goes to sleep, and the next day it’s rinse and repeat. There’s not too many people that would consider this lack of interaction and communication to be a healthy pattern.

However, our churches follow a very similar pattern. As soon as a family walks through the church doors, they’re off to different places. The parents go in one direction to their adult classes (sometimes even separated by genders) and the kids run off in other directions to see their friends in Sunday School. Even during the worship service a typical family will sit at different places — the parents with their friends and the kids with their friends. Programs like Children’s Church split up the family even further, so it’s not until everyone is ready to head home for the afternoon that the family finally meets up at the front doors and sees each other again. If our churches are trying to encourage good family values, communication, and time spent together, we certianly don’t seem to be providing a conducive environment for it.

So, my re-thinking family ministry has revolved around this question: How can we minister to the family as a whole and still effectively meet the needs of each individual? No bright ideas have come to mind so far, but at my church we’ve attemped to explore different possibilities that might lend themselves to a more wholistic family ministry sometime in the future.

Last year we held a family worship service that attempted to incoporate all ages of the family. The music included worship songs that both adults and children appreciate, such as Lord, I lift your name on high and This is the day. Announcements were made by kids and there was also a quick object lesson, which always appeal to any age group. Families were encouraged to sit together and then circle up into small groups for brief discussions at certian points during the sermon. The sermon avoided big words and used illustrations all ages could appreciate. Fathers were encouraged to be the spiritual leaders and take the initiative in leading their family discussion times. Although the Sunday service went relatively smoothly, the general evaluation by the church leadership afterwards was that the congregation felt a little uncomfortable and unsure about the change in format.

I am still not sure how to tackle this whole family ministry thing because there is such a wide range of ages to effectively communicate to, a variety of individual needs to meet, and so many “levels of spirituality” to challenge. It seems easiest to meet everyone on an individual basis, but somehow we must find a way to make the parents successful as spiritual leaders in their families and provide an environment that enhances family relationships. It’s a tough challenge, but there must be a way to reach the entire family through the students by building them up as the core family unit God established them to be. How exactly that takes place seems to be a bit of a challenge for me.

Posted on November 26, 2005

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