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We are family 246We are Family: the changing face of family ministry

From research by CGMC and The Methodist Church

How is the Church working with families today? What does this ministry look like? What training and resources are available for those working in this field?

The Consultative Group on Ministry among Children - a network of Churches Together in Britain and Ireland and The Methodist Church commissioned research to answer such questions.

Consistent themes and messages emerging from the research and these fall under four headings:

  • Understanding Family Ministry
  • The Spectrum of Family Ministry
  • Issues in Family Ministry & Support
  • Equipping for Family Ministry.

Here is a brief summary:

Understanding Family Ministry

  • The understanding of family has changed, the nuclear family is no longer representative of the only lived experience of many people and churches are recognising that families are diverse and fluid.
  • The church congregation, community or family is an important focus of family work.
  • The shift in family types can present challenges for churches, its work and ministry. Finding ways to increase knowledge and understanding is vital so that everyone receives an authentic welcome.
  • The appointment of ‘family’ workers illustrates the general direction of travel away from working with children or young people in isolation, and the recognition that a more holistic approach of working with children or young people alongside their family or extended ‘household’ is likely to achieve better outcomes for all.

The Spectrum of Family Ministry

  • Two main strands of church-based family work were identified; Family Ministry which nurtures faith in mainly church households and Family Support which provides services to meet the needs of local families, churched and unchurched, during life events and social action such as food banks and homelessness shelters.
  • There are different views on whether all services and activities delivered by church should have a missional aspect. Some people feel they should, particularly services like toddler groups and youth clubs where building faith in families should be a core component.
  • Family support services, it is generally felt, should be accessible to everyone in need, of all faiths or none.
  • It is often the same family worker delivering all of these services and workers report a lack of clarity in expectations in relation to missional focus on them and on families. The findings suggest that local context for churches is an important consideration for family work and possibly one that is not fully recognised if church leadership has an inward-looking focus.
  • The location and demographics of the local community within which the church sits is a significant factor. Ethnically and culturally diverse neighbourhoods require an outward-facing approach to enable the church to maintain a meaningful place in the community. In areas of high deprivation, the focus of family work is more likely in the current climate to be on meeting the needs on the doorstep, working to support both ‘churched’ and ‘unchurched’ families who are struggling. Where poverty is less of an immediate issue for the local community, more energy may be directed to develop the ‘church family’. The reflection is that family ministry and support should be defined in the context of each church community.
  • Three drivers for family work were identified; to focus the whole church community on supporting each other to have a lifelong relationship with Jesus, to meet needs in the local community and especially those most in need and a strategy to attract new parents, children and young people into the life of the church.

Issues in Family Ministry and Support

  • Parents are often the ‘missing generation’ in churches, where children are attending with grandparents, and even where parents are attending they are not expecting to meet God in church, where children do have that expectation. There is a general feeling that if parents do not attend, children and young people will not develop a sustainable relationship with God.
  • There is concern that traditional church models have become too differentiated in a bid to appeal to more people. The segregation has been exacerbated by a ‘consumerist’ approach on the part of church goers, with people feeling the church must meet their preferences, or their schedule, or they will not attend.
  • Specialist skills are being diluted where children’s or youth workers, for example, are being asked to extend their role to include family members of all ages, where they might not have appropriate skills or experience.
  • There is a sense that in some areas the church is the ‘last man standing’ able to offer support to families with rising levels of need, more complex needs and requiring more crisis intervention due to the impact of cuts in local authority services and welfare reform.
  • Increased levels of social action offer opportunities for church volunteers to get involved, however volunteers need to be managed, supported and trained to work sensitively with vulnerable families and often the structures to do this effectively do not appear to be in place.

Equipping for Family Ministry

  • Some family workers feel under-qualified to deal with some issues they are encountering in families in need, or that they need more training and support to be able to respond effectively. Many workers experience isolation and believe that children and families work is side-lined within the church. The view was expressed that some church leaders may feel that they have delegated family work to a paid professional with the necessary expertise and place confidence in the judgement of the family worker.
  • Some workers are actively involved in encouraging integration within the broader mission and ministry of the church by engaging people in dialogue to change attitudes, planning and organising new approaches, recruiting, training and equipping volunteers and reporting to management, as well as engaging in debate in the wider church through conferences and events.
  • Identifying effective training courses and pathways for study is a significant question relevant for all those working with families. More opportunities to undertake training encouraging the development of knowledge and practice at a greater depth is much sought after by family workers.
  • Enabling them to become reflective theological practitioners is a vital area to explore with potential to embed current good practice as well as cultivating valuable understanding for the future.

Download the full report or a booklet here.

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From research by CGMC and The Methodist Church, 21/12/2016

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