Ministering to the Modern Family

Youth Specialties
May 4th, 2016

Family ministry has long been a centerpiece for the church. Churches often spend a large percentage of their resources and time on programming geared toward the different pieces of the traditional American family unit—and rightfully so. These programs have long served our church families as well as families in our communities. Youth groups, children’s ministries, men’s and women’s ministries, and even ministries for senior citizens have been extremely fruitful in growing churches and helping each part of the family of God in their spiritual growth and development.


In recent years, there has been a significant shift in the makeup of the American family. The days of American families made up of a husband, a wife, two and a half kids, and a dog seem to be gone. Those days have given way to many different family types and a seemingly much messier approach to modern family life.

These changes are illustrated quite well by the ABC Network’s show Modern Family. From the grandfather who’s on his second marriage to a much younger woman, to the gay uncles and their adopted daughter, to the teenage girl running herself ragged to get into an Ivy League school, Modern Family offers a pretty solid caricature of the 21st century American family and all its quirks.


Even with all these changes, many churches continue to minister to American families in a way that still focuses on one type of family. Our programs remain inflexible and unable to address the needs of an extremely busy population of families whose lives are seemingly far more demanding and complex than in generations past.

We’ve probably all seen the effects of this disconnect at one point or another in our own youth groups. Wednesday night youth group attendance is often affected by students’ extracurricular schedules. Many of the students who do come regularly come with backgrounds and opinions that completely change the tone and focus of discussion times. The diversity of parental situations makes it hard to know how best to connect with and support students’ families.


With all of the inherent messiness in the modern American family, I submit this to you: our approach to family ministry may need to become a little messier as well. Before you completely lose your mind, I’m not suggesting that the gospel needs to change or that we need to compromise biblical principles to accommodate every lifestyle. What I am suggesting is that in order to minister to a much more diverse and messy population of families, our philosophies and methods may need to get a little more diverse and messy as well. Here are three suggestions for how to do that:

  1. We may need to think beyond our traditional Sunday or Wednesday family nights and look for other ways to minister to families. This may require us to ditch the program from time to time and put ourselves out there in our communities more frequently.
  1. While we may not agree with or embrace all the decisions that have led to this modern diversity in the American family, we’re going to have to begin to understand these diverse views of family—we need to learn to speak into situations that may be different from what we’ve experienced ourselves. It’s worth noting that there’s a lot of familial messiness in Scripture that may help to inform us as we take on this seemingly colossal task.
  1. We may need to relearn how to speak the truth in love. While some of the things we encounter as we minister to a diverse population of families may represent simple cultural differences, some of the things that drive these families may be unhealthy or harmful. For instance, the level of busyness many families experience may be slowly burning them out and causing significant conflict or strife. As youth workers, it may be our responsibility to look for appropriate opportunities to speak the truth in love in those situations (something that has become a lost art in the church).


When we’re ministering to the modern family, the important thing to remember is that the families God has placed in our midst are gifts. God has gifted us with opportunities to speak hope into desperate situations and to speak order into messiness. One of the really awesome things about the gospel is that its impact isn’t limited to one personality type or a single culture or lifestyle—the gospel can reach anyone. As we minister to a much more diverse group of families, we have an opportunity to be witnesses to the limitless impact of the gospel of Jesus.

MATT LARKIN serves as the Director of the Department of Student & Family Ministries for the Advent Christian General Conference (WWW.ACGC.US).In that role, he serves as a resource and consultant to youth workers and college students around the United States and globally. You can connect with Matt on Twitter via @MATTWLARKIN.

Youth Specialties

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