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Moving Your Children’s Ministry to a Family Ministry
By: Dr. Scott Turansky and Joanne Miller

The trend in churches today is to move children's ministry to family ministry. We're seeing more and more "family pastors" on church staffs and programs tailored toward families. The key ingredient for moving a church in this direction is to involve parents in three ways.

First, churches can provide opportunities to integrate children into church life, especially through more involvement with their parents. Family VBS, intergenerational mission activities, parents and children together for at least part of the worship service are just a few ideas that equip parents and children to worship, serve, and fellowship together in the church.

The second way that churches help is to encourage parents to spiritually lead their families. Take-home Sunday School papers, family devotional materials, and seminars and classes on spiritual training help to provide parents with the skills and resources necessary to disciple their children.

A third component for equipping parents includes teaching parents how to parent most effectively. The lack of good role models and poor experiences in one's own family of origin are so common today that many parents lack even the basic skills to do parenting well.

The church is in an ideal place to help parents in all of these areas. In fact, many churches have found new ways to do the first two well. Providing parenting skills to parents though may be a little tougher. How do you help parents when there are so many ways to parent? Differing philosophies of parenting emphasize particular values. Parenting programs, both Christian and secular, come at family problems from different perspectives.

The reality is that parents need several things in order to grow and develop most effectively. You want to help them gain wisdom, insight, and support, without communicating that it will take more of their time.

Here are 10 ways you can support parents by further developing the parenting ministry in your church.

1. Provide short tips, hints, and ideas.
Parents are busy people. Many don't feel like they have the time to attend a class, read a book, or listen to a CD. Those same parents will read a succinct newsletter article, e-mail parenting tip, or idea in a church bulletin. Use the media available to you to provide short parenting tips to parents that stimulate their thinking and encourage them to move in the right direction.

2. Make it easy for parents to find biblical parenting resources.
Set up a table with parenting resources for parents to look at. Make books, CDs, and devotional materials easily available. Parents are often interested if those resources are sitting out for them to see. You might even take orders and then get those books to the parents to further make the process easier.

3. Schedule parent training classes and seminars.
A class to explore new parenting ideas provides an excellent forum for parents to learn new techniques and strategies for their families. Even a two-week class or a one-evening seminar can stimulate parents to learn more. You might have a local presenter from a Christian counseling center or one of the pastors of your church teach the class. Video training programs also provide parents with the ability to watch authorities in the parenting field share their thoughts and ideas. The class offers encouragement because parents see that they aren't the only ones struggling, a common problem that leads many parents to discouragement.

4. Offer a support group for parents.
Ongoing parenting support groups offer teaching, interaction, and support for parents. These groups may be targeted to a specific need or age group such as single parents, divorced parents, preschool moms, or parents of rebellious teens. Or, they may be general so that parents in different stages can encourage one another. These groups help parents by providing new ideas but also function as a place of support since many of these parents need the care and encouragement of others in order to hang in there and do their difficult job of parenting.

5. Set up a parent mentor program.
When one parent helps another parent do a better job, both parents benefit. We use the discipleship model effectively in the church in many ways. Applying it also to parenting can be a tremendous benefit. One parent doesn't have to be the expert in order for mentoring to take place, although it is helpful if one parent has a little more experience or growth in this area. The material they use, though, is very important because it will guide the process along. A 13 to 26 week commitment to a parent-mentoring program can go a long way to help parents integrate new ways of parenting. Mentoring adds the significant factor of accountability, and parents learn and grow more quickly with the support and encouragement of another parent.

6. Use parenting events as an outreach to the community.
People in the neighborhoods right around your church need help with their families. In fact, many parents who wouldn't normally attend a church are willing to come to a parenting event to strengthen their family. Choose material wisely so that parents are attracted to the practical, common sense approach and are also gently presented with the message that God offers a relationship as our Heavenly Father. Use the event to build relationships with people by caring for their children during the seminar and inviting them back to other family strengthening activities provided by the church.

7. Teach children how to do better in family life.
Training the parents is important, but don't forget to train the kids, too. Offer children specific solutions that apply to their families. During parent-training classes and seminars, offer a children's program that complements what the adults are learning. When you train the children at the same time that the parents are learning, you're doing family development. You might even use the VBS program to teach children how to get along better in their homes.

8. Provide parent-child discipleship resources.
Parents see change in family life when they teach their children at home. Often parents feel inadequate when it comes to discipling their kids, especially if they themselves were not taught biblical principles as children. Suggest programs and curriculum for parents to use with their kids. This kind of family discipleship helps set the stage for stronger interpersonal relationships in family life.

9. Consider the challenging family's needs.
Today’s family has many faces. The single-parent population is growing. More and more, grandparents are raising their grandchildren. Adoption and foster care are on the increase, and special needs children require specialized parenting solutions. As you have opportunity in your church, look for ways to support and encourage these parents in their most difficult task of raising children.

10. Talk about and pray for families.
From the pulpit, through the bulletin, posted on bulletin boards, and in regular communication to the church, talk about parenting and the importance of learning new things and practicing the principles that make families successful. These constant reminders provide parents with the motivation to continue to learn, grow, and work hard to do their jobs. When the pastor talks about parenting issues, parents feel understood and encouraged.

Maybe you're asking yourself the question, "Where do I start?" Our suggestion is that you start anywhere. Any of the above ideas can provide your church with new energy in parenting ministry. Pray and ask God to reveal to you what resource persons exist in your church already to help in this area.

The National Center for Biblical Parenting, www.biblicalparenting.org, began in 2002 under the leadership of Dr. Scott Turansky and Joanne Miller, RN, BSN. These two teachers and authors of the Effective Parenting ministry realized the need and opportunity to minister to families was growing rapidly.

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