Rethinking Sunday School: The Family-Equipping Model


What is the one thing the church can never have too much of?  Answer.  Young families!

How do you go about making this wish a reality?  Well, probably not by using the approach below:

It started with Rent-A-Wife, a small Petaluma, California, company created by Karen Donovan to help clients decorate their homes, balance checkbooks, run errands, etc. Donovan, who launched her business through a small ad in the local newspaper, is already thinking big after four months of operation. She wants to hire her father to initiate Rent-A-Husband and her two teens to start Rent-A-Family. “We can do what any family does,” the newfangled entrepreneur joked. “We can come over and eat all the food, turn on all the lights, put handprints on the walls, take showers and leave the towels on the floor. When clients are finished with Rent-A-Family, they’ll have to call Rent-A-Wife. – Campus Life, October 1980.

 Family-Equipping Ministry Model

A Family-Equipping church begins with the mindset that we will intentionally equip parents to be the primary disciple-makers in their children’s lives.  The idea of having parents take responsibility for the instruction and discipleship of their own family is not some new-fangled concept but a time-honored tradition.  Martin Luther in writing the Small Catechism in his introduction said, “The deplorable, miserable condition which I discovered lately when I, too, was a visitor, has forced and urged me to prepare [publish] this Catechism, or Christian doctrine, in this small, plain, simple form. Mercy! Good God! what manifold misery I beheld! The common people, especially in the villages, have no knowledge whatever of Christian doctrine, and, alas! Many pastors are altogether incapable and incompetent of teaching [so much so, that one is ashamed to speak of it].”

The Origins of this Model

 Timothy Paul Jones coined the term family-equipping ministry to describe the family ministry paradigm that he and Randy Stinson developed for the School of Church Ministries at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Soon afterward, Randy Stinson located and brought together an informal coalition of ministers who were doing in practice precisely what he and Jones had sketched out in theory. Leading early practitioners of the family-equipping model included Jay Strother at Brentwood Baptist Church in Tennessee, Brian Haynes at Kingsland Baptist Church in Texas, and Steve Wright at Providence Baptist Church in North Carolina [1]

In many ways, the family-equipping model represents a middle route between the family-integrated and family-based models. [2]Semblances of age-organized ministry remain intact in family-equipping contexts. Many family-equipping churches even retain youth ministers and children’s ministers. Yet every practice at every level of ministry is reworked to champion the place of parents as primary disciple-makers in their children’s lives. Because parents are primary disciple-makers and vital partners in family-equipping ministry, every activity for children or youth must resource, train, or directly involve parents. [3]

Whereas family-based churches develop intergenerational activities within existing segmented-programmatic structures and add family activities to current calendars, family-equipping churches redevelop the congregation’s structure to cultivate a renewed culture wherein parents are acknowledged, trained, and held accountable as the primary faith-trainers in their children’s lives. As in family-integrated churches, children whose parents are unbelievers are connected with mature believers in the types of relationships that Paul described in his letter to Titus (Titus 2:1-8). Every level of the congregation’s life is consciously recultured to “co-champion” the church’s ministry and the parent’s responsibility.[4]


In a future post, I will lay out the benefits of this model in supporting families while also strengthening the spiritual formation of our young people. Below are some of the benefits I will explore in depth.

Steve Wright, who’s making the transition to church planting missionary in South Florida but who for years served as a family minister at Providence Baptist in Raleigh NC notes:

  • Family-equipping ministry seeks to make Christ above all else beautiful and declares an uncompromising Gospel to those who do not know Christ (Galatians 1:6-9).
  • Family-equipping ministry is measured by lasting disciples rather than attendance campaigns and focuses on the glory of our matchless Savior (John 15:1-15).
  • Family-equipping ministry truly partners with parents and prioritizes the task of resourcing, training, and involving parents as the primary disciplers of their children (Deuteronomy 6:4-9).
  • Family-equipping ministry prioritizes and champions equally the two institutions that are God-given: the Family and the Church (Acts 2:42-47).
  • Family-equipping ministry seeks men who are biblically qualified pastors rather than charming activity directors (1 Timothy 3:1-7).
  • Family-equipping ministry develops a ministry environment that is healthy for a student pastor and his family; an environment where pastors will desire to stay long past today’s destructive, brief tenures (Matthew 10:10).
  • Family-equipping ministry seeks to mentor students for adulthood, marriage, and family rather than seeking to develop lifelong youth group attendees (1 Corinthians 13:11).
  • Family-equipping ministry invites, teaches, and expects older generations to invest in those younger in the faith (2 Timothy 2:2).

[1] For the model as practiced by these ministers, see Jay Strother, “Family-Equipping Ministry: Co-champions with a Single Goal,” in Perspectives on Family Ministry, ed. Timothy Paul Jones (Nashville: B&H, 2009); Brian Haynes, Shift: What it Takes to Finally Reach Families Today (Loveland, CO: Group Publishing, 2009); Steve Wright with Chris Graves, reThink: Is Student Ministry Working? (Raleigh: InQuest, 2007).

[2]Much that is found in Think Orange: Imagine the Impact When Church and Family Collide (Colorado Springs: Cook, 2009) fits in the overlap between the family-based and family-equipping paradigms, at least from an organizational and programmatic perspective; many of the associated publications may be helpful in resourcing the development of family-based and family-equipping ministries. The content and approach of materials from The reThink Group seem in many cases to be driven more by ecclesial pragmatism than by substantive theological or biblical considerations.

[3] (3) For the “resource, train, involve” principle as well as the term “co-champion,” see Steve Wright with Chris Graves, reThink: Is Student Ministry Working? (Raleigh: InQuest, 2007).


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13 thoughts on “Rethinking Sunday School: The Family-Equipping Model

    1. flightministries says:

      Your family is your support system they contribute to your spiritual well being more hen anyone if they are around. Other then my mentor Youth Pastor my family showed me the way to finding the Lord. Great post 🙂

      Liked by 2 people

  1. Robert Lambert Jones III says:

    I think it’s right for any church with children. My wife and I ran our youth ministry for 10 years (unpaid volunteers), and we were frustrated by parents who expected the church to be the sole provider of their children’s spiritual training. What happens at home is of primary importance, and nobody can equal the influence of a parent.

    Liked by 2 people

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