Since my first post went viral on, “Have Sunday Schools Lost their Missional focus?” My readers have been clamoring for the follow-up post. Two observations struck me regarding Sunday School ministry. Some followers recognize that Sunday Schools may have run their course. Many who felt that way understand that the numbers of involved families required to sustain the structure are not showing up in our parishes. Many readers offered several observations to account for this lack of interest. Several believed the content of our Sunday School curricula are not applicable to the shifting culture our parents are facing. Other readers think we need to stay the course and push harder to make Sunday School meaningful again. While still others are lamenting we are still talking about this issue. Then there are those who blame parents for not taking their parental duties seriously and taking their children to Sunday School.
In my research on this topic, I have run across four primary strategies to family ministry. Notice at this point we are leaving the term Sunday School and shifting to family ministry. I am doing this understanding that many don’t offer a traditional Sunday School program anymore. You can take these insights and apply them however to your Sunday School program.
To challenge your rationale today we will explore four different family ministry models, and their distinctions and their similarities within the local church.
The first thing to point out for this discussion is that family ministry is an emerging term in modern churches. What is a family ministry and how do you use it effectively to minister to parents, youth, and children? So, let’s dive into the four models.
Model 1: Integrated Family-Friendly Model.
This model does not separate children in different age groups. Instead, families are in an atmosphere where they are encouraged to worship, study, and grow together. Parents are called to disciple their children. The church is friendly to the needs and desires of the family. By bringing all generations together, you don’t add to the already chaotic schedule of families. By limiting the activities, the demand on the family is reduced. Families do things together.
For example, a family picnic or a family retreat. Events bring the church together as one big Christian family. This model puts the emphasis on creating a fun environment for families. The purpose is to draw families and parents outside of their regular daily lives and provide a break from their busyness and crazy schedules to play and laugh with their children. One caution in this first model, where is the opportunity for discipleship? My guess is your goal is to build relationships with those families and integrate them into the life of the church.
Model 2: Family-Based
The second model is a family-based. This model appeals to the smaller congregations. The smaller church tends to operate more as the family system already. In this setting, the foundation of the church is the family unit. What is gone is the age appropriate classrooms or Sunday school divisions. Everyone is together and functions as a family. The teaching emphasis is entirely intergenerational, and the whole church experiences spiritual formation together.
Model 3: Family-Sympathetic
The third model is a family-sympathetic model. The church is very aware of the complexities of today’s families. One revelation of urban ministry and now nearly every community is that there are many different family structures and needs. The breakdown of the family has led to dysfunctions within our households in the 21st century. The church has an opportunity to take on the role of assisting these complicated new family systems to become spiritually healthy.
This ministry will be challenging because ministering to those needs will take on different forms than those of our traditional ministry models. You may find your church starting ministries such as divorce recovery and not just for the parents but also for the children. Or a 12-step recovery program for people and families struggling with addictions. Many will have financial classes like Peace University to help people to become financially healthy and better stewards with their money.
If your church has a passion for guiding people through life’s treacherous highway, this is the model for you. The church comes alongside, counsels, guides, encourages and supports families where they are in life while being an advocate to bring spiritual, mental, and family health.
Model 4: Family-Equipping
And the final model is the family-equipping model. This is the model where families and parents are empowered to be the spiritual leaders in their home. You might say this goes back to the model that our spiritual forefathers championed, where the primary people responsible for teaching their children the faith were their parents. In this model, there may be different age groups on Sunday and they may worship separately from their parents. The primary focused is on equipping and encouraging parents to take leadership roles in their children’s spiritual development. While there are still opportunities to have fun and there are activities and programs of the other three models, this one is focused on parents becoming equipped to be disciple-makers of their children.
The pastor’s role in this model is to guide, encourage, train, and equip these parents as they take on the role of primary spiritual leader.
In conclusion, I know I have given you a lot to process and think about here. It is my goal to get the brain juices flowing so that we can truly reclaim the church’s impact on this generation of families. Let’s keep the conversation going. Feel free to share with those seeking to join the conversation. Stay tuned, more to come next week.
The first post on the topic: