Home Youth Leaders Articles for Youth Leaders Family Ministry Should Be Separate From Youth Ministry: Here’s Why

Family Ministry Should Be Separate From Youth Ministry: Here’s Why

family ministry

Family ministry is important. Let me make that crystal clear. I believe the family is the No. 1 influence on children’s spiritual development. Deuteronomy 6:6-9 is a powerful reminder to all parents that spiritual development starts at home.

If the teens in your church have believing parents, it’s on them to “bring [children] up in the training and instruction of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:4). Parents should never delegate this sacred duty to a 25-year-old youth leader straight out of seminary. In a perfect world, parents would work in conjunction with youth leaders to build teenagers who are fully committed to and maturing in Christ.

But we don’t live in a perfect world. We live in a world of broken dreams and broken families. Many teens who attend our youth meetings don’t come from a Christian family. And sadly, too many who do lack models of solid, solvent Christian faith.

Youth Leaders Change Lives

In these common situations, youth leaders can become the primary spiritual influence on teens. They serve as key role models and mentors. They become game-changers in young lives.

I was one of those kids. I never knew my biological father, who abandoned us before I was born. Until I was 15, my mom wasn’t a Christian. But the adult leaders in our church poured themselves into me and the other youth group members. Many of them also came from broken, unbelieving families.

So what’s the danger of dropping youth ministry for a family ministry approach? It’s not just that many teens come from unbelieving or spiritually immature families. It’s that, far too often, once this switch takes place, the youth ministry becomes internally focused.

My friend Mark Matlock brought this to my attention. From his experience, after churches exchanged youth ministry for family ministry, outreach usually slowed down or stopped altogether. Why? Because ministry became about “their kids.” Soon reaching “those kids” (the not-yet-Christian ones) was off the grid.

I don’t meet lots of family ministry leaders at our annual training events. At Dare 2 Share, thousands of youth leaders become equipped to gospelize their youth ministries. But, at best, only handfuls of family ministry leaders attend.

Why Family Ministry Isn’t Enough

After churches switch from youth ministry to family ministry, the temptation is to turn inward. They spend time equipping believing parents to engage their teenagers spiritually. Evangelism becomes something moms and dads lecture on instead of actually do and equip their teens to do. There’s no longer a full-court press to reach unbelieving teenagers as much as a push to train Christian teens in the faith.

The flaw is the belief that our kids need more information. The assumption is that if we can teach them enough of the Bible, then everything will be OK. But if Bible knowledge were the key, then Jesus never would have rebuked the Pharisees.

Of course teenagers need Bible teaching and theological information. But they also need hands-on activation. And there’s nothing like relational evangelism to activate a teenager’s faith. When young people are trained to embrace the Great Commission as the ultimate cause and begin reaching peers with the Gospel, it creates an unstoppable spiritual momentum.

Now, I don’t believe an inward focus due to a family ministry approach is inevitable. I’ve seen powerful exceptions, especially with my buddy Derwin Gray. At Transformation Church in Charlotte, North Carolina, he and his team have mastered the art of integrating teenagers into the larger church. They equip parents to lead their own teens and mobilize youth leaders via small groups to invest in kids’ lives.

But this exceptional church is Gospel advancing to begin with. These teens haven’t turned inward because the church is always pointing upward (to God), inward (to each other), and outward (to reach the lost).

Avoid This Danger of Family Ministry

In a less exceptional setting, the danger of family ministry is to become an inwardly obsessed “it’s all about our kids’ spiritual health” approach. But like fresh milk poured into a sponge,  teens who grow up in these settings often spoil. Why? Because they don’t wring themselves out to reach others.

And that’s one reason I love my friends at D6. They recognize the benefits of both youth ministry and family ministry. Instead of an either/or approach, they challenge church leaders to embrace the best of both worlds while keeping their gospel edge.

So before you exchange youth ministry for a fully family ministry approach, be aware of the dangers. And whatever you decide, keep your teens fully immersed in both the message and mission of Jesus.