Building an Intentional Family Ministry

Robin Turner

With so many resources marketed to churches for children and family ministries, the task of the church is to discern how to say “no” to many good ideas to be able to focus on the resources that best fit the needs and vision of the ministry. How do you decide between curricula that promises to be the most fun, offer the best biblical literacy training or be the easiest for volunteers?

Your congregation wants all three! This market-driven mindset extends from congregations to local communities: Churches often use a children’s ministry to attract young families, offering “a break” to frazzled parents, fun for kids or lessons that will help children grow in character and good behavior.

But each of these considerations is downstream from two big questions, and if a congregation will take the time to answer them both theologically and pragmatically, they will have a much easier time sorting out the rest of their choices. Instead of leading a market-driven ministry, they will be able to lead a ministry intentionally crafted to meet their church’s vision and practical needs.

 1. What is our ultimate goal for children in our church?

Your congregation would probably answer this question in relation to adults with something about worship, learning, prayer and community; with children the answer is no different! The goal is not ultimately fun, child care or behaviorism. When we make the goal of children at church something as a means to the end of adults being able to engage in worship, learning and community, we’ve done a disservice to children and failed to see them as valuable parts of our congregation.

2. What is the nature of the reality we’re facing as a congregation?

Theologically, we face the reality that children are made in the image of God and called to be in right relationship with him—to worship, pray, learn and live in his community. Practically, the nature of reality might include both obstacles like issues with space or not having enough volunteers and gifts like enthusiastic leadership, a beautiful facility or eager families ready to engage with any resources the church offers. Recognizing and naming both the obstacles a congregation faces and the gifts God has given it allows for decisions to be made with eyes wide open.

Planning with clarity

With these answers in mind, it’s much easier to look at any program or planning decision with clarity: Does this support our goal as a church? Does it work with our reality? The task of the ministry leadership is to sift through options for solutions that best tick both of those boxes. Sometimes it means taking a “practically perfect” program and adapting it to fit the limitations of a congregation—a little less perfect objectively, but a much more sustainable fit.

Taking this approach allows leaders to have a non-anxious presence when new ideas come forward. When someone approaches with an exciting resource that doesn’t fit our needs, we can respond with something like, “That looks like a wonderful program; I don’t think it’s the best fit for our congregation’s goals or reality right now. What do you like about it? Is there an existing problem you see this as a solution for? I wonder if we might capture the best parts of what it offers for our context!”

This also allows us to articulate the needs of the children and family ministry areas more clearly. We might need more thoughtful ways to engage children in worship, more volunteers to keep the ministry running or more opportunities for children to fellowship with one another and build friendships.

The obstacles we face and decisions we make in welcoming children and teenagers into the worshiping life of the church are no surprise to our loving God who sees and cares for every person, of every age, in our congregations. The Lord is not surprised by our volunteer shortages, by a child’s desire for fun or by the reality that he has created us to worship. The Lord is also not surprised by the good gifts he’s given us: the skills of volunteers, a love for children and his Holy Spirit to sustain us with creativity, courage, insight and strength in ministry. Praise God for amazing tools and the wisdom to discern how to use them in our congregations each week.

Dr. Robin Turner and her family worship at All Saints Dallas where she served as the Family Ministries Director prior to stepping down to care for her growing family. She is the editor of Children’s Ministry and the Spiritual Child (ACUPress, 2022), founder of, and vice-chair of the Children’s Spirituality Summit. Robin completed her BA and MA in Christian Formation and Ministry at Wheaton College, and her DMin in Leadership and Spiritual Formation at Portland Seminary. Her writing and research focuses on children’s spiritual formation, intergenerational worship, and sustainable ministry practices.