Family Ministry...Is It Working? New Research Reveals the Truth

Family's been a buzzword in churches for well over a decade.  It's restructured the way many churches staff, caused conferences to spring up, birthed curricula and books, created apps and caused countless churches to shift their programming to a new paradigm.

The family ministry philosophy has influenced churches to turn more of their focus on equipping parents to lead their children spiritually.  And that's a good thing.  It's Biblical.  It's strategic.  It's much needed.

I'm a big proponent of the family ministry model of ministry.  In my local church, we champion this and go all out to help parents make the hours they spend with their kids during the week a time of intentional discipleship.  We also provide experiences inside and outside the walls of the church for parents and children to grow in their faith together through teaching and serving opportunities.

Lots of tools and resources are being used by churches to encourage parents to lead their children spiritually...but the nagging question that we all think, but seldom ask is this.  Is it working?  Are parents actually using the tools and resources we're working so hard to create?  Are the take home papers ever actually used?  Do the apps ever get opened on parents' phones and tablets?  Are parents really being influenced to have spiritual conversations with their kids during the week?

As far as I know, a definitive study has never been done.  But there is research that I believe can give us the truth.  And it's found in how parents engage with their child's school world.  You see, I believe that parents' engagement in their child's school world parallels their engagement in their child's spiritual world.

I know it's an assumption, but I believe it's a very valid assumption.  Bottom line...parents' engagement in their child's school world reflects their involvement in their child's other activities as well.

That being said...let's examine the facts.
One in five parents are fully engaged with their child's school.  That's 20%.  Correlate that with parents' engagement with their child's church experience and it means about 20% of parents will engage and use the tools and resources you provide for discipling their kids.
When it comes to parents engaging in their child's world across the board, there are 3 categories they fall into.  
  • Fully engaged parents are emotionally attached and engaged with their child's church experience.  They extend what their child learned at church into the home during the week.  They are the ones who use the materials and resources you provide.  As stated above, this group represents 20% of parents.
  • Indifferent parents are emotionally and rationally neutral.  They lack the positive energy that is found with fully engaged parents.  You might see them occasionally engage when you offer a big family event or special program, but that's the extent of it.  They rarely use the weekly resources and tools you provide.  This group represents 57% of parents.
  • Actively disengaged parents are emotionally detached from their child's church experience.  Spiritual growth and conversations are quarantined to Sunday morning and not mentioned the rest of the week.  The extent of their spiritual engagement is no more than dropping off and picking up their child at the classroom on Sunday.  This group represents 23% of parents.
Though it may be frustrating that such a low percentage of parents are fully engaged, parental engagement is not fixed.  It is something that church leaders can intentionally measure and improve over time.

And it is worth our time and effort.  Drawing from the school parallel, we know that children whose parents are fully engaged will experience more meaningful spiritual growth.

So the big question we must do we move parents from the actively disengaged category to the fully engaged category?

First, we must emphasize the spiritual benefits.  We must help parents see that when they invest time in their child's spiritual growth, the impact is exponential.  This means constantly casting vision for the positive results of parental involvement.

Secondly, we must set expectations.  No...we can't force parents to move up in the categories listed...but we can communicate expectations.  Parents won't meet expectations that we don't set in place.  We must consistently encourage parents to become more involved in their child's spiritual development.

Thirdly, we must provide clear steps.  We must guide parents to specific steps they can take to lead their child spiritually.  Parents, can't take steps they can't see or don't understand.

Fourthly, we must communicate effectively so parents can hear us.  Parents are bombarded with information all day long...just as you are.  If your message is not brought to the forefront, it will quickly be drowned out by the noise of the hundreds of other messages coming at them.

How can this be done?  The starting point is asking the question, "How do parents communicate?"  The answer is technology.  Let's again glance into the parallel of parents involvement in their child's academic world through technology.

Studies show that most parents use technology to check their child's grades and academic progress.  This enhances parents' communication with their child and with their child's school.  Studies show it also improves children's performance and grades.
Let's follow this logic into the church world.  What if parents could use apps or other technology to access reports about their child's spiritual growth and progress?  Would this result in online spiritual growth tools actually being used by parents during the week?  I believe it would. 
For this to be a viable option, parents would need technology that is simple and easy to use.  A short training video tutorial to introduce and explain the tool to parents would be immensely beneficial and greatly increase participation.

Who will step up and create this technology for the family ministry world?  I believe it can be groundbreaking.

Fifthly, we must invite parents into their child's world at church.  Parents can't extend into the home what they don't understand or know about.  When you involve parents into their child's world at church, you open the door for...
  • Strong relationships between parents and church leaders.  When parents know that a real, breathing person cares about them and their child, they will be more likely to engage.  A piece of paper can't look a parent in the eye with love, encouragement and support.
  • Clear understanding of what their child is learning and needs to focus on.  When parents see and experience what their child is learning, it provides common, fertile ground for spiritual conversation seeds to be planted in during the week. 
This can be done by asking parents to attend their child's class a few times a year and by provided shared worship / teaching experiences on a regular basis.

Concluding thoughts...
Family Ministry is an essential ministry philosophy that is vital to seeing kids and their families grow spiritually together.  After a decade of different strategies, we continue to search for tools and resources that are actually used by parents and are effective.  Tools and resources that will help us move parents out of the 80% category into the 20% fully engaged category.  

The floor is yours.  What are your thoughts about family ministry?  Is it effective?  Not effective?  What is working for you?  What is not working?  How do we engage parents more effectively?  What ideas do you have for tools and resources that could be groundbreaking?  Share your thoughts with us in the comment section below.