Family Friendly vs. Family-Centric

It’s funny how being on a trip with a friend gets you to ponder things you normally don’t ponder…

On my trip to see RUSH, my friend and I were told by our wives to stop at IKEA since there isn’t one anywhere near Thunder Bay. I had to pick up some boxes for shelves that we have.

My wife and I have always been impressed by how IKEA is aware of families in their decorations and the little things they have so that kids don’t get bored in their MASSIVE stores. They’ve got play stations throughout the store. They even have a kids’ eating area in their restaurant.

This time around, I realized that there is a big difference between family-friendly and family-centric. IKEA is family-friendly. They are aware that families come to their stores, and they want those families to enjoy their time so they continue to shop and want to come back. They also have many customers that aren’t “families.” They have customers that are singles. They have customers who have no children. They have customers whose children have grown and leave home. These customers don’t in any way feel left out or alienated or ignored by IKEA’s family-friendliness. In fact, their family-friendliness is just there. It’s not “in-your-face.” If you have kids, you notice it. If you don’t, then you probably don’t.

When it comes to family ministry, I think IKEA has got something. When it comes to doing church, we need to be family friendly. We need to do ministry with the thought of how we can equip parents and engage kids and keep families coming back and growing without excluding everyone else.

What I am seeing in current family ministry trends is a push to make church family centric. Families, namely families with young children, are the ones that church is encouraged to program for leaving out everyone else. OK, I may sound extreme, but that is what it looks and sounds like. I am all for encouraging, empowering and equipping parents to be faith models for their children. My fear is, though, that we program so much on the side of “family ministry” that we make everyone else cater to that.

Our efforts need to go towards creating whole adults who realize that they are to be transformed beings created in the image of God. We need to help adults come to a point where they no longer compartmentalize their “spiritual life.” We need to do that in a family friendly way: encouraging people to live out their lives so that children catch what is being modeled, having programming and environments that engage children so that parents can be discipled as well as their children.

Children’s ministry is, and will always be, important. Hey, I’m a children’s pastor and like having a job 🙂 But we can’t make church family-centric and have it revolve around what we are doing in children’s and student ministries. What we do need to do is restructure what we do so that what we do is family friendly: is valuable and helpful to families while not excluding everyone else. I’m concerned that current conversations surrounding family ministry are too weighed towards the church becoming family centric rather than family friendly.

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