the shape of leadership

Partnering With Parents

Discipleship for church and home

Julie Pratt on February 26, 2024

Churches partnering with families to disciple kids is a great idea. It’s even a core value of some children’s ministries. But how many are actually doing it?

While children’s leaders believe in the importance of such partnerships in theory, we tend to minister to kids in environments detached from their home and family realties.

As a result, we’re missing out on vital ministry opportunities.

No one is more influential in shaping a child’s faith than parents and guardians. Home is the first and most important environment for discipleship. The Bible teaches this principle:

These are the commands, decrees and laws the Lord your God directed me to teach you to observe in the land that you are crossing the Jordan to possess, so that you, your children and their children after them may fear the Lord your God as long as you live by keeping all his decrees and commands that I give you, and so that you may enjoy long life. … These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up (Deuteronomy 6:1–2,6–7).

The Lord instructed the people of Israel to teach His commandments to children during their everyday lives, making it a part of the regular rhythms of home.

Today’s parents and guardians can also do this. They can teach their kids the truths of Scripture while driving, walking, sitting around the dinner table, tossing a ball, preparing for bed, and starting a new day. Virtually any moment of any day can be a time for training children to follow Jesus.

For children’s workers, our opportunities to reach these kids are much more limited. At most, we have two or three hours weekly with regular attenders.

We might be tempted to think we’re the most important spiritual leaders in the lives of kids attending our programs, but we’re not.

Children look first to the examples, habits, and teaching of adults at home. This is part of God’s design for families.

Therefore, children’s and youth ministries should seek to link the church and home.

In A Biblical Theology of Youth Ministry, Michael McGarry writes, “The church and home must not simply encourage each other to fulfill their ministries, they must work in harmony. This approach views [NextGen] ministry as a vital component of the church, which serves as a bridge between the home and the church-at-large.”

With that in mind, following are five ways to start partnering with families in discipleship.


1. Practice Inclusiveness

Today’s churches include all kinds of families. There are special-needs families, single-parent households, blended families, foster families, and grandparents raising grandchildren.

Approach parents and guardians believing they want the best for the children in their care. Don’t make assumptions about what they need. Take time to learn how you can support and partner with them.

This might involve locating special discipleship resources for the parents of a child with autism spectrum disorder. Or it may mean providing digital children’s lessons for kids who regularly miss church because of shared-custody arrangements.

View all parents, guardians, and children as God sees them: individuals whose needs matter.


2. Build Relationships

As the old saying goes, people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care. It’s certainly true of children. And it’s true of the adults in their lives.

Children look first to the examples, habits, and teaching of adults at home. This is part
of God’s design for families.

Making authentic connections is the best way to start partnering with families.

Start conversations with parents and guardians as they drop off and pick up their kids. Ask about their week, how work is going, or how they plan to spend the rest of the afternoon.

Ask parents, “How can I pray for you this week?”

Consider getting together for lunch with one family per month.

Attend the extracurricular events of children in your ministry. A baseball game, piano recital, or Junior Bible Quiz meet is a great place to get to know families better.


3. Listen

A common pitfall in ministry is developing a habit of talking to people instead of with them.

Especially in children’s ministry, communication is often one-sided and transactional: “Can you volunteer? We need someone to bring food. The children’s choir practice is at 3.”

Instead of just bombarding families with information and requests, we need to prioritize listening. Forming partnerships requires shifting from a monologue to a dialogue.

Intentionally take time to listen to the thoughts, feelings, and experiences of parents and guardians. Ask questions, expressing genuine interest in their responses.

Try calling a few parents each week simply to engage in friendly conversation and hear what they have to say.

Establish a regular time slot on your calendar weekly or monthly for one-on-one meetings with parents and guardians. Don’t wait for them to ask for a meeting. Invite them to sit down and visit with you. Hear their stories. Listen to their concerns, questions, and family needs.


4. Encourage Spiritual Habits

Rather than always positioning ourselves as experts dispensing advice, we should find ways to cheer on families as they develop healthy spiritual habits.

Parents and guardians don’t need us to have all the answers. They do need encouragement and support as they try new things.

Providing resources and ideas — while fostering connections between children, families, and ministry leaders — can go a long way toward contributing to a child’s spiritual formation inside and outside of church.

When providing resources for home, consider ways to make them interactive and user-friendly. For example, give each child an age-appropriate Bible, along with a bookmark of suggested passages for reading with family members.

Encourage parents to pray with their children by inviting them to sign up for bedtime group text reminders.

Create devotional or prayer initiatives encouraging spiritual habits kids can practice with their parents or guardians.

Offer families music playlists for creating a worshipful atmosphere at home.


5. Equip Families

Work with other ministry leaders to create a church culture that equips families for success.

Talk with your senior pastor about including parenting and discipleship language in weekend messages.

Work with the leader of your church’s growth track ministry to include an emphasis on discipleship in the home.

Start talking about these issues early by developing a baby dedication class where parents and guardians can learn the basic habits of leading spiritual formation at home.

Keep these interactions practical. Shift away from platitudes toward a healthier and more intentional collaboration with families.

Partnering with parents doesn’t have to be a daunting task or distant hope. By embracing a purposeful approach that is inclusive, relational, attentive, encouraging, and equipping, ministries can reboot their family engagement strategies.


This article appears in the Winter 2024 issue of Influence magazine.

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