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Heather Dunn

Heather loves Jesus and her family. She has worked in all sizes of churches and seeks out the preteens first. They bring joy and many good questions to worship and life in Jesus.

There are as many models for family ministry as there are ways to make pizza. Most every church wants to bless families and grow them in their faith. Some are elaborate gourmet pizza versions; others are simple cheese versions. And there are hundreds of versions in between. Each one is flavorful and effective in feeding families’ faith appetites. Whichever one is yours, you should celebrate it! Promote the way you craft it. Savor the flavor of it and experiment to improve it. You should also be okay with the versions that are found elsewhere. God loves every flavor and each one reaches another family.

Family ministry isn’t very effective unless it’s engaged across all age levels. The more ministries you partner with, the more effective your family ministry will be. Your family ministry model will vary greatly depending on your students and their families. In some areas families are tight, and in others they’re torn apart. In some areas families appear to have all they need, while in others families struggle for the necessities. In some areas, preteens are tech savvy, socially connected, and independent. In other cases, preteens are more protected and prefer having their parents heavily involved. Your ministry may include all of these scenarios. And, as you know, all these dynamics affect your ministry decisions.

Include Parents

Parents make great chauffeurs to and from events. They can provide snacks or crafts on Sundays or Wednesdays. They can create décor and welcome new parents. They can help with administrative and organizational tasks whether one time or ongoing. They can help with setting up and tearing down events, too. If you offer small groups during the week, they can open their homes where a group can meet.

There are some instances where including parents can put a strain on their relationships with their preteens. Evaluate parent volunteers when it comes to overseeing competitive events, leading worship, and leading small groups. Some parents can fill these rolls with great effectiveness, but realize that these roles require giftedness and maturity. In all cases, communicate your needs and expectations clearly. Do you want them to own their piece and run with it or do you want them to carry out functions under the guidance of a staff person or lead volunteer? Do you want them to pay for their expenses or submit to your budget?

Resource Parents

Helping parents understand your ministry is also a good thing. Introduce new parents at an info meeting before preteens move up to your ministry. Include parents on a Sunday or Wednesday during a parent night. Whenever you have a parent meeting, provide opportunities for them to get to know each other. This helps them and your ministry in many ways. Many curricula have great options for at-home applications. If yours doesn’t, you can send a discussion question home with preteens. Make sure it’s open-ended—without a predetermined answer. Sensitivity to parents’ comfort with biblical knowledge and time is also important if you want them to participate.

Educate Families

Sometimes you need to feed your families by offering classes. Preteen parents (especially first-time ones) want to know how to handle technology and social media with their students. Another helpful class explains the social, emotional, physical, intellectual, and spiritual changes happening in their preteens. Consider classes on preteen culture or parenting. Many of these classes are aimed at parents alone or could be for parents and students to take together. These joint classes could focus on a spiritual milestone that’s appropriate for preteens. Coming of age, purity, sexuality, and spiritual disciplines all fall into this category. Take these opportunities to develop memories and habits that will last a lifetime.

Encourage Parents

There are plenty of ways to encourage family faith growth and some great models for faith milestones. Giving families a framework for thinking through healthy faith growth can be extremely helpful within the greater context of your church. Parenting is tough and most parents feel inadequate. Look for ways to encourage them. Tell parents what they’re doing right. Include encouragement for the parents in your email blasts. Suggest resources that would be encouraging and helpful. Greet parents at the door and take a genuine interest in them. Use positive family examples in your lessons. Be the family advocate at all church meetings (staff, budget, event planning). Grant parents permission to miss an event to do something as a family. Recognize that every family is unique. Don’t expect them to all operate in the same way. Pray for families and give preteens the same opportunity. Encourage students to ponder the good in their families and be grateful for them. Point out when they’re contributing to their families.

Leader Evaluation 

The things we’ve talked about are all good and some should be included in your ministry. I’ve been practicing family ministry for several decades and am wrestling with some questions I don’t have the answers to. Maybe you can help me. If my goal is for faith growth to happen at home, how am I facilitating and rewarding that? If I’m serious about parents leading the faith charge, how am I handing them the baton? How much should I program and how much should I provide space for parents to do things with their family? I’m passionate about faith growth, but how far should I go in prescribing what faith growth is important for all families at any given time? Am I telling families what to do or coming alongside them in their journey and what does that even look like?

Going back to my pizza analogy, should I tell them what pizza to order? Do I offer the best cheese pizza in town and know that God will work through that or do I try to be the gourmet pizza, being equally confident that God is faithful and at work? May God grant His rich blessing to you as you pick the “just-right” ingredients for your pizza … I mean ministry! 

Family MinistryRyan Frank