Viable Family Ministry Models Part 1 of 4

[This is the first of a 4 part series discussing different models of family ministry.]

After serving as a youth pastor in a small church for half a dozen years, Bobby received a call from the church of his childhood. They were replacing their previous youth ministry leader and thought he would be a great fit. The change seemed right for both Bobby and the church so he accepted their call.

Shortly after Bobby started his new ministry, he called me. The transition was going well, but there was something about his new title that had been bothering him. Rather than going with a straight title of Youth Pastor, the new church had written it as Pastor of Youth and Family Ministries. In our first conversation Bobby said, “the youth part I understand, but I have no idea what ‘and Family Ministries’ means.” I asked him if the leadership or his job description had helped him to know what they had envisioned.  To his dismay, all he could say was that people seemed to think that the family needed to be addressed, but no one was sure what that meant.

Family ministry is a growing concentration in churches. Several well publicized studies have created the path for groups like the ReThink group, Sticky Faith, and D6. Many more churches are seeking to develop their family ministry. Now, with the development of the 4/14 Window initiative, it seems that this trend will only grow.

For most, family ministry is a shift in paradigm. With any change of this nature, church leaders need to understand the possibilities and different aspects of ministry. Change always comes with difficulties and a learning curve. Churches considering a change from traditional ministries to family ministry should think about the paths that they may take- from low-impact changes to current ministries to more drastic philosophic changes- these all adjust the way a church may think about programs and relationships.

Analysis of Family Ministry Models

The definition of family ministry is still wide open and up for debate. Timothy Paul Jones of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and Denise Kjesbo of Bethel Seminary have both attempted to identify specific models of family ministry. Both have used overlapping language in their descriptions. Looking at the definitions of either will help church leaders  clarify their thinking about family ministry.

Jones has clearly identified three models of family ministry. He calls them Family-Integrated, Family-Based, and Family-Equipping. The Family-Integrated model is a dissolution of age-graded ministries so that church gatherings, whether public worship or  discipleship, would become intergenerational. Family-Based ministry is a form that keeps the same ministries that are common in churches today–children, youth, young adults, etc–but do so with the addition of certain intergenerational elements. Finally, the Family-Equipping model is a form of family ministry where the parents take the primary responsibility for the spiritual development of the children, and the church’s role becomes more directed towards equipping the parents to do their work at home.

Denise Kjesbo identifies 5 models of family ministry. She calls them Educational, Home-Centered/Church supported, Counseling/Therapeutic, Family of Families, and Family in Service. She acknowledges a 6th model called Age-Graded ministry, which is typical of churches that facilitate most of their discipleship through separate programs offered to children, youth, and adults. She does not accept it as a true form of family ministry.

Churches following Kjesbo’s Education model would provide for parent and marriage seminars as their basis for family ministry. The Home-Centered/Church-Supported model is essentially the same as Jones’ Family-Equipping model. The counseling/therapeutic model addresses the psychological and emotional health issues that come with family dysfunction. The Church as Family model seems to be Kjesbo’s name for the intergenerational church, with flexibility on the amount and style of generational interaction. The Family in Service model is an intergenerational model that focuses on placing families in missional endeavors.

Denise Kjesbo

Timothy P Jones

Steve Johnson

Age-Grade1 Family-Based Level 1 Relational Ministry
Educational Family-Equipping Level 2 Education
Home-Centered/Church-Supported Level 4 Home-Centered/Church-Supported
Counseling/Therapeutic Therapeutic2 Therapeutic
Church as Family Family-Integrated Level 3 Intergenerational/Family of Family
Family in Service  

1–Kjesbo’s opinion is that age-grade ministry should not be a true form of family ministry as it does not have a family perspective.

2–Jones’ opinion is that the Therapeutic model should not be included as a family ministry model because it does not have a true discipleship element.

The goal of a family ministry is appropriate and consistent discipleship of young people. There are many possible definitions of family ministry, but for this paper, it will be defined as the ministry philosophy or movement that focuses on the discipleship of young people, and bridges the church and home in doing so.

The problem that many churches, families, and young people face is that churches have given over the biblical models of discipleship for systems that attract large crowds (often by creating fun), or they have developed structures that focus on one aspect of spiritual formation. Those churches mean well and usually desire real spiritual growth in the children and youth, but as understanding of discipleship develops, many have realized there are elements that can be more intentionally developed to help youth thrive in their faith and to maintain a growing faith into their adult years.

In our next post, we will discuss the elements of Etchea’s model more specifically.

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