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Evangelism with families

Posted by Lucy Moore on 30 Jul 2015

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Please take for granted all the usual caveats about being wary of what we mean by a ‘family’. For the purposes of this blog, I mean a group of people of all ages living together and more or less dependent on each other and that might mean anything from a single dad and three children from different relationships to a step family, to a mum, dad and six children to a widowed grandparent bringing up a grandchild. I’m currently in a family setting with a husband, no children (sob), a young adult back from uni and living at home for economic (and culinary) reasons, a 20 year old student who graces us with her presence when not on archaeological digs or when no better offer transpires and a worryingly dependent dog whose mission in life is to protect us from all invaders: postmen, delivery people, refuse collectors, guests...

Home is the best place to grow Christians. Church is the ‘whole’: greater than the sum of the parts, but wobbly and ineffectual if there aren’t solidly built ‘parts’ to make it up. It’s too easy to hide what our faith is or isn’t in a once-a-week church service, but there is no escape from observation by others in a home. We live out our beliefs in front of each other and demonstrate our values and our gradually transforming characters by what we do and don’t do, by what we say and refuse to say, and even, in the intimacy of a home, by what we think and by what doesn’t occur to us. People living together see the reality of each other in the heights and depths of life and in the humdrum daily ins and outs. Perhaps that’s why the Psalmist involved God in such an intimate way in his home life in Psalm 139. He knew how important little daily habits and actions are in his spiritual development:

You have searched me, LORD,
    and you know me.
You know when I sit and when I rise;
    you perceive my thoughts from afar.
 You discern my going out and my lying down;
    you are familiar with all my ways.

Our families watch us in a similar way and perhaps similarly judge us in love.

I don’t think evangelism with families is any harder than just encouraging all individuals in every family to grow closer to Christ. I don’t think it’s complicated. I don’t think there’s a magic course or formula or book to apply. I don’t think it’s about ‘doing evangelism at’ or ‘doing it ‘to’ families: that’s too easy and hasn’t worked yet...  As we’ve found in Messy Church gatherings, I think the most effective evangelism for families is simply about encouraging family members to live out their faith and articulate it in front of each other. A church strategy for evangelism among families might be as simple as making space for families to experience God together.

It helps to get into holy habits with children from the moment they’re conceived, of course, so that praying with them and for them and reading the Bible with them, saying grace and celebrating Christian festivals in the home are all part of family rituals they expect and may pass on to their own children. But those are the bones of ritual and habit that need fleshing out with the wobbly, messy bits of lived-out-faith. A bedtime Bible story about the Prodigal Son or a rendition of the Lord’s Prayer is good, but if ‘forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us’ at prayertime is counterbalanced by a vindictive refusal, in the hectic moments getting ready for school, by a parent to forgive another family member, or a grudging and niggardly acceptance of a child’s apology in the car on the way to swimming lessons, it’s hard to see how faith will be seen as anything but a hollow shell of hypocrisy. If we read a story about the kindness of Jesus towards those he meets but then whinge about the minister, the music group, the coffee team and the rest of the people we meet at church, something will refuse to compute in the mind of an observant younger or older family member.

Holy habits are good: the spiritual equivalent of twice-daily brushing of teeth, not because dental hygiene is an earth-shattering and inspirational experience, but simply because it keeps us healthy and whole. The more we can put faith habits ‘on automatic’, so that it feels wrong to do without them, the easier it is to stick to them when the going gets tough. Churches can encourage and equip parents to find ways of doing this if they haven’t been raised that way themselves, and can inspire parents to keep going when they feel like giving up. www.faithinhomes.org.uk is a great place to start.

But fundamentally, evangelism among families is going to happen most effectively as children, teens and adults live out their faith in front of each other in grace, truth, love and honesty. A bit like evangelism with anybody really.

  1. Encourage parents and carers to live out their faith in front of children and to talk about it together. And do it yourself.
  2. Equip families in your church to develop fun and memorable family rituals that involve prayer, celebration, Bible stories, food, symbols and all the senses while their children are young. And do it yourself.
  3. Celebrate and consolidate the extended family of the church by making space for singles, children and teens in every gesture of hospitality, gathering or meeting. (And…)
  4. Expect to learn and receive from children and young people: it’s a three-way relationship.
  5. Make space in gathered church for families to worship and encounter God together so that older and younger generations are truly the family of God.