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A New Twist in Family Ministry

By Larry Thomas

LIKE MANY churches today, Oak Cliff Assembly in Dallas, Texas, was concerned about its overall ministry to families. How could it effectively reach families, provide instruction, and at the same time keep in close touch with the many families that attended their church?

Family Minister Christopher Weise developed a unique family ministry plan. It was decided that the family ministry should consist of two divisions. One would be the basic church family and the other the individual family unit. Although each division would have different goals and would require different strategies, they seemed inseparable if the church was to offer the quality of family life ministry that Family Minister Weise and Senior Pastor Tom Wilson felt the church needed.

To ensure that church families–whether established, newcomers, or families with difficulties–would stay in the church, a network of family ministers was established.

These family ministers were laypeople in the church and were qualified as family leaders through the church’s training program.

The goal was to assign no more than seven families to one family minister. The family minister’s responsibilities included staying in touch with his families, maintaining a dose watch of their attendance, and follow-up. A prompt visit followed a missed service.

This structure provides all the benefits of a small group environment. Even though the church has several hundred in attendance, through this plan no family is lost in the crowd or drops out without being missed.

This division of the church family ministry provided the perfect setting for the second division–the family unit.

By providing this personal care and accountability, a family that needs ministry finds support and friendship until they are well established in the church.

Couples who wish to be involved in the family unit ministry of the church are placed into marriage enrichment groups. These groups meet on a monthly basis in an informal setting, usually in the home of the group leader. The session lasts for about 2 1/2 hours.

The couples are asked not to bring their children to these meetings. It is felt that the couples need this time alone with each other.

Each meeting is conducted by a group leader. These leaders are laypeople who have gone through the training and feel a need to help other couples in the church.

The family unit program begins with a video retreat. The church sponsors this retreat which lasts Friday night and Saturday.

This is a standard event on the church calendar and is promoted by pulpit announcements along with other methods of publicity to encourage couples to participate.

At the retreat couples view videos that deal with a variety of family-related topics. They are assigned to one of the home groups that will meet for the coming months.

In their home groups the couples are taken through a marriage enrichment course entitled "The Home Builders Series."

These enrichment groups meet for 7 to 9 months. This provides time to finish the course work and allows each group to be self-paced.

At the completion of the studies the cycle begins all over with another video retreat. New families are recruited to join in this ministry.

The program carries a self-perpetuating concept. From those who are completing the training some will begin to lead training groups of their own. Through this resource the church hopes to see, a number of new groups added each year.

For couples who are not involved in the enrichment groups the church provides two classes on marriage and family. "Close Encounters" is a class designed for young marrieds and "Partners for Life" is a class for the older couples.

The program is successful. The church is equipping their families with the ability to disarm potentially dangerous situations that could destroy family units.

Family ministry is vital to the full operation of the church. After all, churches are made of families, and strong secure families make strong churches.