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The changing face of family ministry

Significant research exploring current family life in the UK, and how churches can connect with and support families in their community, was released last year. Sian Hancock, Director of the Centre for Family and Childhood Studies at Bristol Baptist College, assesses its implications for Baptists 


We Are Family‘Family’ is a term often used but what does it actually mean today? It is not easily defined because it is complex and often messy. It can have so many different dynamics depending on your perspective. When asked, church-based workers came up with at least 12 different family combinations.

It is not surprising then that ‘family ministry’ is also difficult to define. Churches use terms like all-age or intergenerational to try to capture the essence of it. We might recognise two distinct approaches to working with families. Firstly as a ministry that seeks to build relationship and grow faith both within the worshipping community and within individual family homes. Secondly to offer support in our wider communities, pastorally caring and responding to the needs of the neighbourhood through social action and working in partnership with others.

The Methodist Church in Britain and the Children’s Ministry Network (formerly known as, Consultative Group on Ministry among Children) commissioned a research project. This significant report is called We Are Family - The Changing Face of Family Ministry. It shows family ministry as it currently looks and is set within the context of other recent studies by the Church of England (From Anecdote to Evidence, a study in church growth, 2014) and Jubilee+ (The Impact of Church-based Parent and Toddler Groups, 2015). It identifies what is available and where there are gaps in provision of publishing, range of resources and training available. This report raises many challenges for the church to reflect upon in light of its ministry and mission.


The Report Findings

The Report offers four key findings for the church to respond to:

  1. Deepening understanding – family today is diverse and fluid.  Language within the church needs to be more inclusive to reflect this. The appointment of ‘family workers’ offers a more holistic approach to working with children and young people and is likely to have greater impact.

  2. A spectrum of family ministry – churches are engaging with families in a breadth of diverse ways.  Family ministry and family support offer inward facing blessing to the church community and outward facing service to the wider community.  This could look different for each local church in its setting.

  3. Issues faced – there is a missing generation, mostly of the 25-40 age group, that often includes parents.  Relationships across the generations need ways of coming together for them to be nurtured.  Working with local agencies can build effective partnerships, bring cohesion and strengthen the support being given to families.

  4. Equipping family ministry – often those working with children and their families feel isolated.  Some are more actively integrated into the ministry and mission of the church and its leadership than others.  Some feel under qualified and recognize their need to develop how they reflect theologically on the work they do.


What are the implications for Baptists?

The concept of family is important to us as Baptists, not just in the way we seek to be in relationship with others, valuing diversity and difference, but also how we value the concept of being a priesthood of all believers where all are included, equal and have a voice to be heard. I wonder how our structures and systems reflect the lived experiences of those in our neighbourhood. How does the profile of the local community impact on our priorities for family work?

Actively engaging with our local community as Baptists Together for mission, I wonder how well connected we are with the local agencies and key partners in family support and ministry, especially in the current economic climate where services are impacted by funding cuts. How might we be more intentional in achieving a balance between the responding to need and missional activity?

Our Baptist vision is to grow healthy churches in relationship for God’s mission. I wonder which elements of family work should be our priority? Investing in those leading this specialist ministry is important as is equipping those volunteers supporting it and making it happen. I wonder how this is resourced and encouraged so that it can be developed further. 

A good resource

This report is a helpful conversation starter about family ministry for local churches, regional associations and Baptists Together. You could use it as a resource to help think about your own understandings of family and family ministry. It might help you understand better your particular context and raise questions that will help you in your mission and ministry. It will affirm family workers and may help to ensure they are equipped for their role. It will help you to develop a strategy to support your vision for family ministry.

By sharing this envisioning process, the whole church can be shaped to cultivate the support of family wellbeing and to develop a deeper understanding of what God can do through their local family ministry. This in turn creates the opportunity to consider what new ministries emerge as a truly multi generational community grows.

Alongside the commissioned report, another resource was created to develop the key skills for church-based family ministry. Through a series of six sessions this course aims to:


  • look at biblical and contemporary understandings of family

  • recognize the importance of relevant work with families in a changing world

  • reflect on the different seasons of life for families and approaches to pastoral care

  • understand the role of family relationships

  • understand what helps and impacts family well-being and wholeness

  • consider ways the church can encourage, support and resource faith in families.

If you would like to know more about this or are interested in participating in it do get in touch. This would be a particularly useful way to bring together your family ministry team and can be delivered in a variety of ways.


Hard copies of We Are Family can be ordered, free of charge, from the available to order from the Methodist Publishing here 

Sian Hancock is Coordinator – Children, Youth and Mission (CYM) and Director of the Centre for Family and Childhood Studies at Bristol Baptist College 

This article appears in the Autumn 2016 edition of Baptists Together magazine

Baptist Times, 09/09/2016
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