Engaging the family in the act of serving together can be one of the most transformational and meaningful ways to connect faith with everyday life, Embree says.
Many churches are seeking to incorporate times in which the family can stay together to worship, grow and learn about God together in church, but they don't know where to start.
This has been confirmed to me by children's ministers and family pastors across the country with whom I've spoken.
"The predominant mindset in Christian education concerning families has long been that to 'strengthen the whole you must strengthen the parts,'" a recent article in Children's Ministry Magazine observed.
"But families need more from church life than segregated programs and the occasional all-church activity. Many of our church activities actually pull family members apart from each other. We know something's wrong with this picture but sorting out a solution seems complicated."
One reason for that is that each church has a unique culture and specific needs so cookie-cutter approaches and one-size-fits-all curriculum approaches just don't work.
But that doesn't mean that it can't happen. It just means we need to get a little more creative.
If your church is looking for a way to get the family together at church, here are five different approaches that could help make that happen:
1. Family worship Sundays
Many churches have begun offering times of family worship, often once a month or on fifth Sundays, where the family stays together and worships as a unit.
Don't confuse these Sundays with Children's Sundays or times where kids perform for the church. While these are special times for the church as well, they are more focused on children than they are families.
A family Sunday will incorporate ways for the family to experience worship together. That might be through communion, prayers said aloud with the whole church, worship songs that everyone know and can sing to or a sermon that is appropriate for all ages. Churches can also plan elements of the service that invite participation of parents/caregivers and children, such as Scripture readings by families and prayer as families.
Ideas for how to include families on Sunday mornings are available here.
2. Family worship experiences
A few subtle differences exist between a Family Worship Sunday, where the family joins with the whole congregation in a regular worship service time, and Family Worship Experiences in which families are specifically targeted and ministered.
Often these experiences take place at a time other than Sunday morning and incorporate a variety of interactive activities, worship and teaching.
Some great examples can be found here.
3. Family faith formation
For some, inviting the family to stay together takes place best in a midweek experience. This is what a church I served at did, and we had a lot of fun using these nights to explore the Bible together.
We wrote our own curriculum in five-week blocks based on what families have indicated they want to learn. Each family sat in chairs in a circle and explored Scripture, did activities and participated in a time of affirmation and blessing each night.
Kids absolutely loved spending this time with their parents. Of all the programs we had at church, this one got the highest praise from children.
4. Family activities
If your church isn't ready yet to host a Family Sunday or Family Worship Experience, one idea is to begin hosting family activities on a monthly basis.
These activities should have as their central theme the idea of having family spend time together either with or around the larger faith community, around service to the larger community, or around worship and the Word as a family unit.
Putting these focuses on a rotating basis can help your families begin to spend intentional time together around the topics of faith, community and outreach.
By offering a variety of ways for families to come together around the themes of faith, community and service, you can begin to cultivate times of faith formation for the whole family to engage in together.
5. Family service projects
What better way to bring the family together than in an opportunity to serve Christ and others as a unit?
There are many ways to engage the family in service. Check with your local food pantries and Salvation Army to see if there are ways families can work together stocking shelves or organizing donations. Many local soup kitchens or churches that serve meals will welcome family groups to serve together.
Check also with local mission and ministries that serve the poor, homeless or other marginalized groups to see how families can offer assistance.
Engaging the family in the act of serving together can be one of the most transformational and meaningful ways to connect faith with everyday life and create bonds in the family that last long after their time of serving has ended.
Christina Embree is a church planter with Plowshares Brethren in Christ in Lexington, Kentucky. She is a graduate of Wesley Seminary with a master of arts degree in ministry focusing on family, youth and children's ministry. A longer version of this article first appeared on her website, Refocus Ministry, and is used with permission. You can follow her on Twitter @EmbreeChristina.