The Christian family is the engine of exponential growth for the kingdom of Christ. For this engine to be running smoothly and at full throttle, families need the church to provide them with knowledge, skills, attitudes and support. Ethiopian Evangelical Church Mekane Yesus (EECMY), the largest Lutheran church in the world, understands this biblical principle. They have a desire for every family in the church of 9.1 million members to have the knowledge, skills, attitudes and support. The leaders of EECMY asked Concordia Center for the Family (CCF) on the campus of Concordia University, Ann Arbor, Mich., to help them integrate family ministry into their entire church body over the next 5–10 years. Concordia Center for the Family is honored and ready to meet this challenge. The church has a system for growing an individual’s faith in Christ. We invite individuals to church so the church can:
T – Teach them the faith
O – Help them Outreach with the Gospel
U – Uplift them through fellowship
C – Help them Care for others
H – Help them honor God through worship.
This is right and good. However, if families are key to exponential kingdom growth, then would you think most churches have an intentional marriage and family-forming system? God has placed a desire in my heart to raise the capacity of the church to help families thrive for the sake of the Gospel. I believe the church is designed to be just that — an intentional place for Christian marriage and family formation, but most churches have yet to make this a focus of ministry. Let’s look at what some of the leading experts in Family Life Education and Ministry have to say:
- Dr. Bergman writes: “No other social institution has more lifelong contacts with families and individuals than the church.”
- Dr. Baker writes: “No other institution is present during the family milestones of childbirth, baptism, confirmation, Holy Communion, death, the crisis, celebrative and faith-building periods during the life course of individuals and their families.” (1994)
- Dr. Garland writes: “No other institution is moved by a richer or more powerful vision of human community than the church. A congregation can be the leaven that raises the consciousness of the whole community about needs and vulnerabilities of families.” (1994, p. 380)
- Dr. Barbour writes: “No other institution is granted the right to be in touch with every generation of a family simultaneously.” (1994)
The church must build a deliberate and intentional Family Life Education System that supports homes and marriages for the sake of caring for our children and their faith; a system that equips families to live a life that reflects God’s will and ways and passes on their love for Jesus to the next generations.
Why should the Christian Church be concerned about this? The statistics below show that the number of adults who demonstrate faith in Christ continues to exponentially decline:
- BUILDERS born before 1945: 50–60% demonstrated a commitment to Christ.
- BOOMERS born between 1946 and 1965: 40% demonstrated a commitment to Christ.
- GEN XERS born between 1966 and 1985: 25% demonstrated a commitment to Christ.
- MILLENNIALS born between 1986 and 2005: 4% demonstrated a commitment to Christ. These are the parents of the next generation.
I believe that if we want to change this decline, we must reclaim the family as the exponential engine for kingdom growth, and we must address the following: (There are four changes or challenges.)
First, millennials are having babies. Is the church prepared to provide training and guidance for their marriages and families?
Second, family structure has changed. Is the church prepared to address these changes?
Third, stepfamilies or the non-nuclear families are a growing norm in the American culture. Is the church prepared to walk with them?
Fourth, children are being born into “single mother families” at a faster rate than those being born into a “one mother one father family.” Is the church ready to walk with these moms?
Fifth, our overall population is aging. In fact, this is the first time in the history of the world that there are more people over the age of 65 than under the age of five, and America is leading this population trend. Is the church ready to support families with members in their later years?
Concordia Center for the Family is addressing these very issues in the LCMS Mid-South District’s family initiative called Generation to Generation. They have formed two networks of congregations that are committed to a series of seven family ministry training modules. These cover topics like marriage preparation and enrichment, parent education through the family life cycle and shaping parents as faith influencers. These modules that I have written are designed to empower churches to raise their capacity to help Christian families thrive.
I invite you to join the webinar on June 21 from 1–2 PM Central time, where we will address the five challenges and share more information about the LCMS Mid- South District’s Family Initiative. Another opportunity to address family ministry in the church would be at the 2018 National RSTM Conference. One of the speakers will be Tessa Brasheer, the chairperson of the LCMS Mid-South Family initiative and a church professional working in a rural congregation, who will be sharing how her congregation is implementing family ministry.
Contributed through the LCMS Rural & Small Town Mission monthly newsletter by Dr. Ben Freudenburg. Dr. Ben Freudenburg serves as director of Concordia Center for the Family, Ann Arbor, Mich.
LCMS Rural & Small Town Mission supports and encourages rural and small-town congregations in engaging their communities and growing together in Christ through Word and Sacrament. Learn more about RSTM at lcms.org/rstm or by calling 888-463-5127. “Like” us on our Facebook page at facebook.com/lcmsrstm.