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The Family Centred Ministry

This article was first published in Elim Direction Magazine, May 2024

How can churches empower parents to nurture children’s faith at home? By taking a family-centric approach to church life, says Olly Goldenberg. Here, he shares four ideas to get you started.


“When you look at Moses leading a bunch of rebellious Israelites through the desert, my thought is, ‘Moses is the only one who wants to follow God – he should lead the Sunday school. Send the kids to him for an hour every Sabbath and he’ll sort them out!’.

“But no. God’s strategy is to teach their parents how to talk about him, however imperfect they are, because he wants them to raise the next generation in faith,” says children’s ministry expert Olly Goldenberg.

Olly is talking about why we need to take a family-first stance to children’s ministry and church life.

But doing this, he explains, poses a challenge for churches: how can we create family-focused churches which fully support parents as they invest in faith building at home?

He suggests starting by considering what we want our children’s ministries to achieve.

“The ideal aim is strong family units investing in children’s faith, with churches backing this up to help to make disciples of Jesus,” he says.

“That way, when children come together at church they already know some Bible stories, then we minister on top of that so they can be sent out to win their friends for Jesus.”

So how do you create an environment at church which empowers and supports parents as they raise their children in faith?

1.    Acknowledge and empower parents

Sometimes we agree in principle that discipling begins in the home, but in practice we present a different model in church, says Olly.

How often do we say something like this as we send the children out to their classes: “We’ve got a fantastic children’s programme headed up by our children’s worker. We’re so thankful for them. Let’s pray for the children as they go out.”

It’s great to acknowledge and value our children, but the message we give parents when we say something like this is that we’re the experts in discipling their children. In doing so, we unintentionally disempower them.

“What if instead, we said something like, ‘Mums and dads, we’re so thankful you’ve brought your children to be part of this community. We’d love to pray now as they go to their groups. Church – let’s bless the families as the children leave.’

“In saying this, we’ve done the same thing; bringing the children before God, but the message is totally different. It puts parents in the driving seat, acknowledges that they are the ones in charge of their children’s discipleship and shows we are there to cheer them on every step of the way.”

2.    Connect generations

“We’ve done a number of things to support families by building connections between generations. Things like ‘Adopt a Granny’ where families are encouraged to invite older members of the congregation round for a meal whose grandchildren who may live 200 miles away,” says Olly.

“It’s amazing how relationships begin to form when you do that. On Sundays I watch our kids run up to the older folk who come to our house and say hi to them before running off to play.

“It’s being intentional about making those connections across the generations so the wider church family supports each other.”

3.    Get kids serving

Whether it’s welcoming people, making tea and coffee or operating tech, every church has volunteer teams, so why not involve the kids in them?

Obviously there are health and safety considerations here – like not having a child alone welcoming people at the door – but team briefings can address these issues and allow children to be fully involved in church life.

“Getting kids on our rotas is a great way to help them feel a part of the wider church, but where this really works is where there is intentional discipling too,” Olly adds.

As well as encouraging kids on the door to welcome people, you can suggest to them that you pray together for people before they arrive, asking God if he has any pictures to share.

“Imagine a child had a picture of, say, someone in a red coat who they felt God was saying was special. When someone wearing a red coat arrives you can tell them you were praying earlier and share that picture. 

“These become real discipling moments for children and their serving becomes more than them simply smiling or holding plates of biscuits.

“Children don’t have a junior Holy Spirit! If anything, they have an advantage because they already have childlike faith – when they’re told God can do something they believe it, and we can learn from that.”

4.    Pursue the presence of God

Space doesn’t allow us here to explore how to meet additional needs or tailor programmes to suit individual children but one overarching aim in all our activities should be to pursue the presence of God, and this is hugely effective when catering for special needs.

“Some children do need a little more help and attention, but when the Lord shows up he works deeply in them,” says Olly.

“We’ve seen this time and time again. We had a big programme once with 80 under-fives. Sometimes in that age group practically every child was crying for the first five minutes, so we began with worship. As the children began to worship the tears stopped and they engaged because the Lord showed up.

“A lot of children with neuro-divergences, too, are quite sensitive to the things of the Spirit, so if things are unsettled in the room they become unsettled. But when the peace of God is there they find peace too. That doesn’t happen by accident – it involves us coming before the Lord and asking him to meet our children.

“We are called to bring the kingdom of God to this next generation, while Jesus is the transforming power to help them become all they are called to be.”

·       Olly and his wife Helen founded and run children’s ministry Children Can


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