Below are nine considerations youth workers might employ to provide a more family-oriented approach to youth ministry.
1. See the bigger picture and start younger. A more family-oriented ministry cannot happen unless we work hard to start when our youth are children. This requires youth workers to have a broader perspective and definition of youth ministry and to be intentional about creating harmony with the church’s work with children.
2. Develop and commit to a theology of formation. A youth ministry that does not have a theology of formation often lacks the ability to see how others in the church might help them guide students into spiritual formation for the mission of God. I’m not referring to a programming structure as much as I am a pathway for developing teens and families toward becoming more like Jesus. Your programs can help this, but they can’t do this. You need a theology of formation to guide your efforts.
3. Understand family systems. Not every youth worker needs a degree in sociology or psychology. However, every youth worker does need to seek out and develop a working knowledge of how healthy families function and then help other families embrace those traits.
4. Lead by listening. Listen well. How aware are you of the various needs your families have? There will be many, and they will be unique, and you may need to ask.
5. Resource families with tools and practices. One of the easiest yet most helpful things you can do is provide tools and practices for families to use to engage spiritual formation. For example, my family has a prayer cube that we use before each meal. It was given to me by my youth pastor years ago.
6. Schedule fewer events/services and encourage the families in your faith community to use the extra time for family gatherings. You may want to offer suggestions for families of ways to use their time. My experience has been that families want to do this but don’t know what to do to engage all their children, who may be at various age levels.
7. Develop a team of parents who represent various families from various backgrounds. Let families speak into your ministry. This will help ensure that you are engaging families right where they are. This is hard to do for many reasons, one of which is age. If you are a younger, less experienced youth worker, you may want to delegate the leadership and coordination of this team to a more mature staff person or volunteer while you sit back and learn.
8. Create opportunities for the youth and families to experience the youth ministry together. This does not have to be elaborate or even often. However, your effort and willingness to do this will most likely be viewed by parents as helpful. Most will be grateful.
9. If you have a family yourself, lead your own family well, and others will learn from you. I know too many youth workers whose families come after the youth ministry. That sucks. Lead your family well and model family formation, and you will help others do the same.