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All in the Family

Larry Shallenberger

The Family-Equipping Model might be called The Family-Friendly Departmental Model, Version 2.0. This model contains every feature of the Family-Friendly Model with two important innovations.

First, all ministries that impact families are organized into a single team. This team works to make sure all departments communicate a single parenting strategy to all the families of the church. The team also works to guarantee they aren't exhausting families with excessive programming.

Second, the church presents a single and simple parenting strategy to all families across all departments and through multiple communication channels.

Strengths This model empowers families to own the spiritual leadership of their children. At the same time, it accommodates families who "don't fit the mold."

Weaknesses This model requires a high amount of ministry alignment between all departments. If your church has separate departments that operate as independent silos, your first task isn't building your family ministry; it's building a collaborative team.

Final Assessment The Family-Integration Model stresses the family as the sole faith influencer of children. The Family-Equipping Model strikes a balance: Parents are God-ordained as the primary champion for developing vibrant faith in their children, and the church is an empowering co-champion.

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Armed with this comprehensive guide to the various family ministry models, you're ready to determine what'll work best in your church. Begin by studying your church's culture, and watch as you assist families in their spiritual growth. You'll be helping families grow in faith in no time.


One popular strategy many churches use is to attempt to unite families around common curriculum. Working within the traditional age-segmented Sunday school model, all the children in the family study the same Scripture in their separate classes. The presentation of that lesson is adapted for the developmental level of each family member. Some curricula go as far as offering adult Sunday school classes where parents study the same Scripture as their children. All of these curricula supply take-home resources for parents to lead faith conversations in the home.

Strengths A common curriculum makes the task of continuing the faith conversations that started at church much simpler. Imagine having four children who learned three different Bible lessons at Sunday school. You'd need an organizing system just to keep the faith conversation straight. A common curriculum lets a parent talk to all children at the same time, and each child is able to add a unique perspective.

Weaknesses Some Bible lessons are more teachable to older children than younger. Some curricula attempt to walk entire families chronologically through the Bible. This means that tough Bible teachings like "The Stoning of Stephen" have to be adapted for 2-year-olds when exposure to this particular lesson could wait several more years.

A second strategy is to host shared family worship experiences. This model draws from the Disney approach of creating compelling experiences that appeal to parents and children.

Churches that use this strategy create an extravagant and fun hour of worship, learning, and drama that engages the entire family. Quality worship and drama teams pull families in and teach a Bible truth, which, if applied, has the potential to strengthen everyone. When the experience is over, the parent is given enough take-home resources to continue the faith conversation at home until the next shared experience.

Strengths Having a shared experience helps parents bridge the "What'd you learn at church today?" question because the family was together. The high-energy shared experiences are momentum-builders that can elevate the value of children's and family ministries in the church.

Weaknesses It takes a lot of time, financial resources, and volunteers to pull off these events with regularity and keep the excellence level high. With the "show" aspect of this shared experience, families rarely-if ever-have an opportunity to share a conversation, which would be a great addition to this model. Some churches struggle to find a common time where most of their families are free to attend these productions.

A third strategy within the Family-Equipping Model is to unite families around common faith milestones. There are a handful of times during the raising of children where families have high interest in spiritual input (Baby Dedication, Bible Presentation, Preparing for Adolescence, to name a few.) At these strategic junctures, the church provides families with training and celebrations to help parents lead their children through these spiritual transitions.

Strengths This strategy acknowledges how families are different, and at the same time, enables the family ministry to position itself to provide aid at the time of greatest need. This model capitalizes on the times that parents are most open to training-right before a milestone celebration. The milestone strategy is sustainable and won't burn out parents. It helps parents catch a vision for parenting over the long haul.

Weaknesses Vision dwindles and needs to be replenished every 30 days. However, the milestones are years apart from each other. Pastors who use this strategy will need to consider additional means of keeping the vision for spiritual parenting in front of parents. cm

Larry Shallenberger is a pastor in Erie, Pennsylvania, and the author of Divine Intentions (Victor Books). Visit him at



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