The glory days of event-driven, program-focused youth ministry are over. Sad? Have a small funeral service if you wish. However, before you bury your beach-balls, youth ministry game books, and your calendar of events realize this change is going to take time and it doesn’t require an immediate purge of everything that has gone before. The number one way for a youth minister to lose their job is to try and make the youth ministry a family ministry overnight. Youth ministers are notorious for getting excited about something, but not thinking things through. Often they will take ideas that others have processed through for years and steal their conclusions in seconds. I believe that everyone must mentally process all of these changes and recognize it is a multi-year strategy in order to shift towards more family-focused model for youth ministry.
The purpose of this multi-year strategy is two-fold. (1) The church or youth ministry must CHANGE the expectation of parents to accept responsibility for the faith development of their own children and teens. Parents will not magically take on the role as the primary disciplers of their children if the youth ministry disappears. The church and youth ministry must slowly and patiently assist in this transition. (2) The church must CHANGE to embrace their role to become a community of faith that takes responsibility for a portion of the faith development of teens and children rather than assuming the youth ministry will handle it.
In this article, we will focus on how to change the routine of parents to take responsibility for the faith development of their children and teens. Here lies the tension: If parents continue to feel like the youth ministry/children’s ministry will take responsibility for the faith of their children, then they will not change their routine at home. However, if youth ministry vanished out of the lives of unchurched teens, many current students will struggle to find any connection to Christianity. Those who demand the immediate deletion of all things “youth ministry” don’t understand the culture of abandonment that exists within the lives of teens. The teenage world doesn’t need another available adult eliminated from their lives.
It is actually not difficult to convince families and churches that the way they have been passing down faith isn’t working. It has actually been refreshing to encounter so many families who freely admit that they must change the way their family approaches faith. The most challenging part is for families to TAKE ACTION to change their routine. Typically when a church wants to address an issue it will plan a seminar, lectureship, event, or sermon series to address it. These seminars are great in order to raise awareness to an issue, but don’t help much in the process of ushering people toward genuine change.
It isn’t enough to simply raise awareness that parents need to intentionally pass down their faith. It isn’t enough for parents to simply understand that the youth ministry isn’t the primary method for the faith development of their children. Their awareness must lead them to action. If youth ministry is serious about equipping families to change the way they pass down faith, they need to consider a unique way to spark the type of change that is necessary. When people are faced with the option to change, they can generally be placed in several different stages.
The following information is an adaptation of a well-researched model of change. The Trans-theoretical Model of Behavior Change1 includes five major stages. In order to help families take the action required to pass down faith, it is necessary to understand this process of change and for churches and youth ministries to work within each step.
5 STAGES TO CHANGE
Each family will go through each of these stages as they take more responsibility for the faith development of their children and teens. Several families will be motivated and will quickly implement changes into their daily routine that reflect their commitment to pass down faith. These families need very little to get started. Others need more time to change, and the church will need a multi-year strategy to patiently walk parents through these different stages.
Stage 1: Pre-contemplation
Stage 2: Contemplation
Stage 3: Preparation
Stage 4: Action
Stage 5: Maintenance
THESE ARE THE 4 ROLES FOR YOUTH MINISTERS/CHURCHES TO WALK PARENTS THROUGH THESE STAGES
Stage 1: AWARENESS: Raise awareness through education & information.
Stage 2: SELF-REFLECT: Help families self-reflect through discussion groups and self-evaluation.
Stage 3: PLAN: Assist families in developing a plan for creating a healthy spiritual environment.
Stage 4: COACH: Equip, remind, listen, and encourage families to continue faith activities in their homes.
YEAR #1 RAISE AWARENESS AND COMMUNICATE
In the pre-contemplation stage parents will need to learn more about the importance and benefits of passing down faith to their children in an intentional manner and begin to recognize how their current approach may be insufficient. Raising awareness about the problem and the solution is very important here and a gentle influence is key. These parents should not be pushed to make big changes in their regular routine, but to simply become more aware of the the problem, and how a better approach about how faith-at-home will impact their children in the long-term. If a parent in this stage feels pushed to change before they are ready, they are likely to become defensive and begin avoiding faith-at-home discussions or activities. Leaders will be more effective with parents in this stage if they listen empathically and try to understand where the parent is coming from or what they have already attempted in their families. Once the parent accepts that intentionally passing down faith is important for their family and feel some fear that doing nothing is worse than remaining the same, they will move on to the next stage.
Helping parents from the pre-contemplation stage to the contemplation stage is one of the few stages that can be done in large groups. Increasing awareness through education is one of the best ways to get parents between the pre-contemplation stage and the contemplation stage.
YEAR #1 WHAT THE CHURCH/YOUTH MINISTRY SHOULD DO
- HOST A SEMINAR: Having a sermon series to communicate the problem, the solution, and the expectations of families is a great place to start.
- WRITE IT DOWN: Provide something written to communicate the problem, the solution, and a brief description of expectations.
- DISCUSSION GROUPS: Start discussion groups to get parents talking about the change they must make within their homes.
AWARENESS THROUGH EDUCATION: ONE-ON-ONE
One must also realize that not everyone will move from pre-contemplation to contemplation via group education. It will be helpful for the youth minister to follow up with families to identify those who have not begun to consider making this mental shift. Not everyone will be familiar with faith-at-home because there are always families absent on a Sunday for a seminar, or during a class. Getting coffee, lunch, or dinner, with families who haven’t begun actively thinking about making changes is a great way to help in this process. I have found if a minister asks to get coffee or a meal, that family begins to think about what the minister wants to talk about with them. It is a little like being called into the principles office. Many times just asking to meet starts the contemplation stage. During these conversations with families, ask how their family is doing and listen for about 15 minutes to 30 minutes while asking clarifying questions to understand where they are coming from. This will help build rapport and trust. They are more likely to accept a different point of view from someone who truly understands their situation. Youth ministers are there to serve families and to help in whatever way they can. Many times families will become apologetic if they haven’t begun faith-at-home activities. I generally express that it is normal for parents of teens to struggle to do faith-activities in their homes. I will talk briefly about its importance and generally let them reflect upon the conversation. Conversations like this are effective in helping those who have not yet begun thinking about doing faith-at-home. The goal of conversations like this is not to get families to do faith activities immediately, although, it would be great if they did. This conversation is just to get them to begin thinking about doing faith-at-home and considering making the change that is necessary in their family.
Our church introduced these faith-at-home principles to our entire congregation. This is important because the younger the family the more receptive they are. After 4 years we are just starting to graduate families into our youth group who are used to doing faith things with their parents. After 1 year about 60 percent of families of children infant- kindergarten had been doing faith activities regularly. 40-50 % of families who had 1st graders to 5th graders had been participating in faith activities regularly. Only 26% of youth group parents were doing faith activities on a regular basis. Many had not yet begun.
Imparting faith is a non-profit company that we started in the beginning of 2012. We saw a need to provide churches with the resources to guide their families through the stages of change. Imparting faith has produced several resources: a 50 page book for communicating faith-at-home expectations, a 3 lesson seminar (available on DVD or to host one live at your church), a discussion groups guide, a book that helps families evaluate and plan to create a spiritual environment at home, and a DVD of families describing their experience with faith-at-home. You can find these resources at impartfaith.com
No matter who does the seminar or what resources you use, follow up is important to get families to the next stages of change. Once parents know what faith-at-home is, and begin thinking about it within their family context, then they are ready for the contemplation stage.
YEAR# 2 GETTING FAMILIES TO SELF-REFLECT AND PLAN
STAGE 3 CONTEMPLATION
In the contemplation stage, parents recognize passing down faith to their children is important; however, they may not feel confident in their ability or they see many obstacles in their way. They may doubt that they can do a better job than the church leaders and teachers. They need to be provided with a clear vision of what their family can look like if they begin imparting faith with more intentionality. They may need to evaluate their own faith and commitment to living a Christ-filled life. They need to see how overcoming their initial obstacles or worries about this process can provide a more meaningful family life and ensure the future faithfulness of their children. Furthermore, parents also need to learn more from people who have already begun intentionally passing down faith. Parents need to know that other families have made significant changes amidst challenges and have found faith-at-home to their children a rewarding endeavor that is not as impossible as it may seem.
SELF-REFLECTION THROUGH EVALUATION
The youth ministry’s goals within the contemplation stage is to help parents consider becoming more active with faith in the home by evaluating how they currently pass down faith. The youth minister should help families slow down and think about the state of their family. Families must accurately see the way they currently interact so they can see how it affects their family’s spiritual life. Once they understand the link between the way their family currently passes down faith and the faith development of their teens they can begin to reconsider their family routine.
YEAR #2 WHAT THE CHURCH/YOUTH MINISTRY SHOULD DO
- HAVE ANOTHER SERMON SERIES/SEMINAR: Remind parents and the church of the important of faith-at-home.
- DISCUSSION GROUPS: Host a second round of discussion groups for small grouping of parents to talk about successes and failures in their attempts to pass down their faith in their family.
- SIMULATION GROUPS: Provide a time for a small group of families to do a faith activity as family at church. It allows families to do a faith activity as a family in an environment where they are used to talking about God. It allows some families to get over the discomfort of having their first faith activity as a family at home. (some will not have started their first faith activity even after a year)
- FAMILY INVENTORY: Provide a inventory to your families for them to evaluate how they are doing in creating a spiritual environment conducive for growth in their family. Imparting Faith has created one called E4 Families (E4 stands for Ephesians 4). It is a family inventory that serves as a starting point for families to understand the strengths and weaknesses in their current faith-at-home approach. E4 Families allows the youth minister and family to talk about things in a positive way. It avoids a negative tone for these conversations between young ministers and parents. The E4 inventory also leads families into planning phase for their faith routines. Within the E4 inventory the youth minister has the chance to help families evaluate and troubleshoot what they are doing as well as make future plans about what they should do
If your families are offering significant resistance to doing faith within their homes it may be wise to implement E4 Families or other inventories in year 3 instead of year two. It essential that families get to the preparation stage .
YEAR #3 COACHING FAMILIES TO ACT, AND PULLING BACK THE YOUTH MINISTRY
In the context of faith-at-home action stage, parents have begun intentionally passing down their faith. They need to remain committed to their new mindset and routine as they combat the impulse to stop trying or become casual and/or idle. People in this stage need to learn more techniques for keeping up their intentionality and purpose in imparting faith. Seeing positive benefits in their family will help them keep their commitment to faith-at-home.
In the action stage the youth minister will become a coach to help families troubleshoot through the problems they may have within their home. The youth minister needs to begin to think about what families need from them in a coaching role to continue. There are many things that families may face that will discourage them from continuing faith-at-home. There is no one-size fits all manual for their family, that is why a youth minister is there to guide them through the various challenges that they may face, especially during the early months of the action stage.
Most families need someone to listen to them and encourage them. Listening is one of the most important things a youth minister can do during this stage. It allows one to slow down, and without another agenda, simply understand where someone is coming from. Most of the time ministers aren’t good at this. Many times one’s first inclination is to step in and solve problems when a family may just want someone to listen to how they feel. Failing to listen frustrates those who are being helped. Families also need encouragement to continue with this process. They need someone to tell them what a great job they are doing with the things that they have been doing well. It is better to avoid pointing out all of the things they may not be doing well, if it is clear that they need encouragement.
Once many of the parents understand their responsibility to pass down their faith, every youth ministry must make it unmistakably clear is that the youth ministry will not be taking over the parents responsibility to pass down faith. Even if parents know the truth about Deuteronomy 6, many parents will not take this responsibility upon themselves until the youth ministry gives it back to them. The youth ministry must empower them and inspire them about the opportunity God built into parenthood and how rewarding faith in the home can be. The student ministry can no longer enable parents to shirk their faith responsibility, but it must help them take ownership of it. It can be hard for some youth ministers to let go and let families do what God intended for them to do. Families do not need to be babied once they get past the early part of the action stage. If the responsibility to pass down faith is going to rest on the parents shoulders, the youth minister at this point needs to let go and leave the parents to experience their own successes and their own failures.
This leads many to ask what is the youth minister to do after families take ownership of their responsibility to pass down their faith?
(1) Families never stop needing coaching to pass down their faith. There are new families that move in, and family difficulties that can easily derail good intentions. There is always room for the youth minister to support and coach families. (2) Create a youth ministry environment that has a direct parent involvement, but room for teens to have their own time. Our youth ministry has a weekly parents and teens class on Sunday morning. We have been doing it for over a year now and it is going great! Parents hear the announcements, the lessons, the comments, and are given faith-at-home ideas that correlate to the lesson. The teens still have a weekly time apart from their parents on Wednesday nights and many events that are teen-only. We do have family events that further support the idea of faith being a family affair. The youth minister widens his circle of influence to become the go-to minister for teens, parents, and sometimes younger siblings of the families who are a part of the youth ministry. (3) The youth minister must become or recruit faith mentor(s) for those students whose parents have a faith-at-home inability. Parents with a faith-at-home inability include those who struggle with their own faith, or have substance abuse, psychological issues, or are contributing to an abusive environment in their home. If the youth minister has created an environment where parents are a regular part of the youth ministry routine he will have a much large pool of quality mentors to choose from. (4) On top of these 3 significant responsibilities the minister will still be teaching classes, organizing events, and outreach opportunities.
COACHING IN THE MAINTENANCE STAGE
In the maintenance stage parents need to be aware that consistency is the key in passing down faith. It is recommended that parents continue to seek support from other families who have been pursuing the same change. It will be important that they share experiences and ideas with each other in order to renew their commitment and feel encouraged to continue. If a parent finds themselves falling back on their commitment to passing down faith, becomes less involved in their children’s lives, encounters personal faith challenges, or simply feels too busy to intentionally impart faith, they need to seek assistance from their church family and church leaders.
If families are going to successfully navigate through the stages of change, it is during the maintenance stage that the church and the youth ministry must take the training wheels off and allow families to discover a routine on their own. During the maintenance stage the youth minister needs to check-in every few months to see how it is going. The greatest tool a faith-at-home youth ministry has during this stage is educational reminders. It is helpful for the youth minister to continue to send articles or ideas to families within the maintenance stage to keep faith-at-home from feeling stale. Tools that educate or motivate parents are ways to remind and reshape the way they do faith-at-home on a consistent basis. There are plenty of articles on faith-at-home that are on the web that are easy to share. If the church is open to having yearly campaigns, this can be a great way to keep families going with faith-at-home. Families still need to be supported and encouraged, but they require much less time and energy than families who are in the early stages of this transition.
It is within these 5 stages of change that a clear path emerges for a shift between a teen-focused ministry to a faith-at-home focused ministry. This gives youth ministers a concrete plan of action for each family within their group. Unfortunately, there is no one-size-fits-all strategy for youth ministry regarding working with families. The families in each student ministry are different. Some student ministries work with an abundance of healthy families, some struggle to find one family that is healthy. Most youth ministries, however, see families with a combination of unbelievable strengths and glaring weaknesses coexisting together. The youth ministry that can support the family and the church at the same time is a youth ministry that will contribute toward making mature disciples.
1The Trans-theoretical Model Behavior of Change is an well known psychological model. General information can be found here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Transtheoretical_model, accessed March 2014.