The future of the church will largely depend on the success of family ministry and how discipleship is conducted within the four walls of the church and inside the home. While there are multiple approaches to family ministry and discipleship, Randy Stinson could not be more correct in his assertion that: “Family ministry is necessary and significant because families are under siege.” Timothy Paul Jones further emphasizes: “Every church is called to some form of family ministry… and each generation needs one another.” Unfortunately, healthy and biblical family ministry and discipleship is not the norm in most churches or families. Society has become dependent upon the church, essentially outsourcing the spiritual formation of children to ministry leaders, much like society has become dependent upon teachers for all means of learning and education. This is the reality most churches face today because previous leaders in the church have allowed it. Dan Burrell demonstrates, “The current greatest conflict in churches is usually found between youth ministry and family discipleship.” This is where kids’ wills and priorities attempt to supersede the parents’ role in becoming the disciple makers in the home, ultimately preventing the church to focus on equipping and training the parents to fulfill his or her God-given duties. The church must now answer, “What legacy will be left for future generations and how will they respond to the epidemic of moral therapeutic deism?”
MODELS AND STRATEGIES
Timothy Paul Jones exhibits four models of modern/contemporary family ministry: (1) Educational-Programmatic Ministry Model, (2) Family-Based Ministry Model, (3) Family-Equipping Ministry Model, and (4) Family-Integrated Ministry Model. Of these four models, the Family-Equipping Ministry Model is closest to what Generations United Church (GenU) strives to emulate and seems most biblical and relevant because as Jones illustrates, “Although age-organized programs and events still exist, the church is completely restructured to draw the generations together, equipping parents, championing their role as primary disciple-makers, and holding them accountable to fulfill this role.” The vision and mission of GenU is rooted in an environment where there is no age-segregation, allowing multiple generations to engage in worship, teachings, and life together. Since, GenU is made up of Abrahams, Isaacs, and Jacobs, for the mutual health of the church; it is vital to reconnect these segregated age groups to one another. Burrell strengthens this view by explaining, “Spiritual authority in the home is crucial, so application can be derived… [Furthermore,] the church could never and should never replace the role of parents who God placed as the primary disciple makers in the home.” Jones further demonstrates, “When evangelism, worship, and discipleship for children and youth occur in isolation from, and, at times, with disdain for, their counterparts, it is difficult to see how the hearts of parents and children can consistently be turned toward one another.”
In the past, GenU has used both the Educational-Programmatic Ministry Model, which forms various silos of ministry, rarely touching one another and the Family-Based Model, which takes a step in the right direction, by intentionally drawing generations together and encouraging parents to take a more active role in the lives of children, but falls short in still segregating the various generations. The Educational-Programmatic Ministry Model focused more on the convenience for the family’s schedules and needs than the spiritual formation of the next generation. GenU became five miles wide, with a multiplicity of programs and activities, but was only one inch deep, relating to discipleship and transformation. While using the Educational-Programmatic Ministry Model, GenU learned when a ministry was created that did not point back to the core vision and mission, silos were created and walls were put up. Jones further explains, “Whereas family-based churches develop intergenerational events and activities within current structures, family-equipping ministry reworks the church’s entire structure to call parents to disciple their children at every level of the church’s work.”
Adapting to a new model has taken time, planning, training, communication, promotion, and congregational buy-in and it is still a work in progress. The initiative GenU used is called First Generation and it was birthed out of a response to the crisis of faith youth are facing at an alarmingly early age. Steven Frye demonstrates the most widely used models encourage, “Religious organizations to emphasize work with adolescents, assisting them through the troublesome years of middle and high school with paid professional youth workers, organized youth groups, focused service and ministry opportunities, and a variety of offerings to build community.” However, despite these targeted efforts, the Barna Group has still consistently found that Millennials are still leaving the church and that the crisis of faith, which used to occur in the college years is now being faced predominately in high school, but in some cases as early as middle school. “Nearly six in ten young people who grow up in Christian churches end up walking away, and the unchurched segment among Millennials has increased in the last decade from 44% to 52%, mirroring a larger cultural trend away from churchgoing in America. When asked what has helped their faith grow, ‘church’ does not make even the top 10 factors.” These statistics indicate a change needs to occur in how the gospel message is being communicated to the younger generations, leading to GenU’s First Generation initiative. Barna further stresses:
The fact that Millennials continue to leave the church—in larger numbers than ever before—when they reach adulthood, suggests a need to either revise current approaches or double-down on efforts to equip and prepare today’s youth. The fact that teens lack commitment due to general busyness, and the broad scarcity of student leaders, suggests that relationships and engagement in church are not reaching sufficient depth. Youth leaders are right to prioritize discipleship and relationship building.
IMPLEMENTING FAMILY-EQUIPPING MINISTRY
The findings of the Barna Group were consistent with what was being experienced at GenU. Hearing and seeing firsthand what was happening after children went off to college was disturbing, but when it started happening during earlier years of development, the leadership of GenU knew a change was needed in the way discipleship was being acted out and taught. Andrew Burggraff defines discipleship as the process of learning Scriptures, internalizing them to shape one’s belief system, and then applying them to change one’s life. Burggraff proposes:
It is the church’s role to be actively involved in following the command given in the Great Commission (Matt 28:19-20), but contemporary research related to discipleship has revealed several concerns that the 21st-century church must acknowledge as it seeks to disciple believers. Today, more than ever, it is essential that the church develop curriculum that accurately and systematically teaches believers how to be a true disciple of Christ. To do so, church leaders must understand the process to develop and accurately design discipleship curriculum for the church.
As GenU began this process of developing a new curriculum and model of discipleship, strategic planning was used, making sure every area of ministry began to focus on training and empowering parents/grandparents to view themselves as the primary disciple-maker. Jay Strother explains the importance of this model because, “The home has the greatest impact on young lives; with few exceptions, and if we fail to impact the home, we will never make a lasting impact on students.” This paradigm shift of the parents/grandparents leading and teaching is still in process, much like learning is a life-long endeavor, but the fruits of this new approach are already being seen and areas of multi-generational discipleship are continuing to grow. The basis of this model and core ethos is making sure the church and families are working in tandem towards a common goal. The primary focus is no longer keeping children happy and entertained; it is now focused on getting the parents/grandparents involved and integrated. The catalyst behind this initiative is based on Scripture and God’s command for parents to disciple children.
Initially, there was some backlash, but the sad reality is most parents choose a church based on whether or not the children are happy and this is completely backwards. Parents should seek out a church where sound biblical preaching is evident and the litmus test is simply the transformation of disciples. Upon analyzing data and surveys pertaining to biblical illiteracy, Albert Mohler, concludes:
Christians who lack biblical knowledge are the products of churches that marginalize biblical knowledge and it is up to this generation of Christians to reverse the course. Recovery starts at home and parents are to be the first and most important educators of their own children, diligently teaching them the Word of God. Parents cannot franchise their responsibility to the congregation, no matter how faithful and biblical it may be. God assigned parents this non-negotiable responsibility, and children must see their Christian parents as teachers and fellow students of God’s Word.
Reggie Joiner explains, “Research shows that even active students [in youth ministry] receive only forty hours or so of biblical instruction each year from their churches. Parents, on the other hand, have more than three thousand hours a year in which they are constantly ‘teaching’ their children in some way.” Identifying the key issue was the first step, but implementing a solution required forming a partnership with parents. This was a delicate phase where the development and overall goal being conveyed was an initiative to bring the church and home together to form a biblical partnership. Without a plan in place, the younger generations would simply continue to fall away from a relationship with Jesus Christ. However, now children and parents alike are committed to loving God and fulfilling the Great Commission.
Since implementing the First Generation concept, which closely resembles the Family-Equipping Model, there has been considerable change that can be seen and felt. With a common goal defined, GenU is continually making sure all ministry efforts are centered on the partnership between the home and church. Training and communication are vital because if expectations are not clearly defined, there is no way to measure success. Some of the strategies GenU has implemented are teaching classes targeted to parents of teens and plans are underway to have a class for parents of middle school children. On a weekly basis, an emphasis is attached to the sermon on ways to apply the application of the message in a home or community setting. In the future, one of the best ways GenU hopes to grow the Family-Equipping Model is to embark on local/foreign family mission trips. Doing ministry together strengthens the bond within the family and brings immense glory to God. The ultimate goal is developing parents who become disciple makers, and with this goal in mind, GenU is extremely sensitive to the reality there are many young attenders who are spiritual orphans, meaning there is no biological parent to assume the role of disciple-maker. In these cases, a mentoring program has been created to help younger people navigate some of life’s hard decisions and harsh realities.
Jones concludes, “Although there is widespread agreement that churches ought to do family ministry, there is little agreement regarding what family ministry looks like. And there is even less agreement when it comes to the question of how to implement a family ministry.” Ultimately, as George Barna emphasizes, “The primary formation of a child’s faith is not a job for specialists; it is a job for parents.” This means the primary role of the church needs to focus on training parents to embrace their God-given primary responsibility for instructing children about God, in order for them to grow spiritually mature and reproduce disciples. Strother sums it up best: “Every ministry context should ground family members in worship, grow them in discipleship, and equip them to go on missions wherever God leads them. However, reversing the current trend will require a generation of convicted ministry leaders who see family-equipping as part of who they are – not as one more ministry that they do.”
Barna, George. Revolutionary Parenting. Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House, 2007.
________. “The Priorities, Challenges, and Trends in Youth Ministry,” Barna.com. April 6, 2016. https://www.barna.com/research/the-priorities-challenges-and-trends-in-youth-ministry/ (accessed March 29, 2017).
Burggraff, Andrew. “Developing discipleship curriculum: applying the systems approach model for designing instruction by Dick, Carey, and Carey to the construction of church discipleship courses.” Christian Education Journal 12, no. 2 (2015): 397+. Academic OneFile (accessed March 29, 2017). http://ezproxy.liberty.edu/login?url=http://go.galegroup.com.ezproxy.liberty.edu/ps/i.do?p=AONE&sw=w&u=vic_liberty&v=2.1&it=r&id=GALE%7CA429498261&sid=summon&asid=ade420579921909ec161d6995fadd701.
Burrell, Dan. “Why the Topic of Family Discipleship is Important.” Filmed , Liberty University Website, DSMN 610, Course Content, Week One Video Presentation, 11:17. https://learn.liberty.edu/webapps/blackboard/content/listContent.jsp?course_id=_343442_1&content_id=_16588837_1 (accessed March 21, 2017).
Estes, Daniel J. Hear, My Son: Teaching and Learning in Proverbs 1 – 9. Edited by D.A. Carson. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1997.
Frye, Steven B. 2014. “Becoming an adult in a community of faith.” New Directions for Adult and Continuing Education 2014 (143): 51-61. (accessed March 29, 2017).
Mohler, Albert. “The Scandal of Biblical Illiteracy: It’s Our Problem.” AlbertMohler.com. October 14, 2005. http://www.albertmohler.com/2005/10/14/the-scandal-of-biblical-illiteracy-its-our-problem/ (accessed March 29, 2017).
Pearcey, Nancy. Total Truth: Liberating Christianity from Its Cultural Captivity. Study Guide Edition. Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2005.
Renfro, Paul et al. Perspectives on Family Ministry: 3 Views. Edited by Timothy Paul Jones. Nashville, TN: B&H Academic Publishing Group, 2009.
Thompson, Tad. Intentional Parenting: Family Discipleship by Design. Adelphi, MD: Cruciform Press, 2011.
Tripp, Tedd and Margy Tripp. Instructing a Child’s Heart. Wapwallopen, PA, Shepherd Press, 2008.
Tripp, Tedd. Shepherding a Child’s Heart. Revised and Updated 2nd Edition. Wapwallopen, PA, Shepherd Press, 2005.
Wright, Steve and Chris Graves. ApParent Privilege: That the Next Generation Might Know… Royal Palm Beach, FL: InQuest Ministries, 2008.
 Ibid., 45-47.
 Dan Burrell, “Analyzing the Strategic Family Discipleship Efforts of the Church,” Filmed , Liberty University Website, DSMN 610, Course Content, Week Two Video Presentation, 14:38. https://learn.liberty.edu/webapps/blackboard/content/listContent.jsp?course_id=_343442_1&content_id=_16588842_1 (accessed March 28, 2017).
 Renfro et al. Perspectives on Family Ministry, 52.
 Dan Burrell, “Why the Topic of Family Discipleship is Important,” Filmed , Liberty University Website, DSMN 610, Course Content, Week One Video Presentation, 11:17. https://learn.liberty.edu/webapps/blackboard/content/listContent.jsp?course_id=_343442_1&content_id=_16588837_1 (accessed March 21, 2017).
 Renfro et al. Perspectives on Family Ministry, 19.
 Renfro et al. Perspectives on Family Ministry, 44.
 Steven B. Frye, “Becoming an adult in a community of faith” New Directions for Adult and Continuing Education 2014 (143): 52. (accessed March 29, 2017).
 George Barna, “The Priorities, Challenges, and Trends in Youth Ministry,” Barna.com. April 6, 2016. https://www.barna.com/research/the-priorities-challenges-and-trends-in-youth-ministry/ (accessed March 29, 2017).
 Andrew Burggraff, “Developing discipleship curriculum: applying the systems approach model for designing instruction by Dick, Carey, and Carey to the construction of church discipleship courses.” Christian Education Journal 12, no. 2 (2015): 397. Academic OneFile (accessed March 29, 2017).
 Renfro et al. Perspectives on Family Ministry, 143.
 Albert Mohler, “The Scandal of Biblical Illiteracy: It’s Our Problem,” AlbertMohler.com. October 14, 2005. http://www.albertmohler.com/2005/10/14/the-scandal-of-biblical-illiteracy-its-our-problem/ (accessed March 29, 2017).
 Renfro et al. Perspectives on Family Ministry, 24.
 George Barna, Revolutionary Parenting (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House, 2007), 12.
 Renfro et al. Perspectives on Family Ministry, 156 & 160.