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How To Help Your Church Engage Families Through Serving

by Joe McAlpine

Imagine taking your first born into a foreign environment for the first time where no one speaks the language and there is extreme poverty all around you. This is exactly what I had the opportunity to do with my son Elijah about a year ago. We went to Brazil to work with a group of young people. The mission was to spend time with them and help them learn how to dream for their future. These kids all came from extreme poverty and dreaming would actually be discouraged by parents because of the realities of their situation. Our goal was to help these children and their parents see other ways by creating realistic dreams and goals.

It was really cool to see my 11-year-old son engage these students. He was able to connect with the kids on such a different level than I ever could. It didn’t matter that he didn’t know the language. He was able to play with them and create relationship in a way that language didn’t matter. For me, as his dad, I will never forget the purpose I saw in my son’s eyes during that trip. It has helped mold him into the compassionate and kind person he is to this day.

Families that serve together grow closer in every way possible. I know that to be true in our family. We as church leaders spend a lot of time managing serving opportunities both inside and outside of the church. Many of us spend hours and hours creating programs to invest in the family as a whole. It is our passion to see the love of the family and the light of the church combine to create a strong foundation. We often miss the opportunity to engage the family unit as a whole through serving. What does that look like? How can we create these opportunities? How can we engage parents to make times of serving become intentional teaching and relationship moments with their children? Well, I am glad you asked because I have some ideas I would like to share with you.

We as church leaders have a great opportunity in front of us over the next couple of months. With the holiday season here, many of our church-goers have love and compassion on their minds. This is an open door for us to engage the family in an exciting way. Here are some ideas to help your church engage the family through serving:

  1. Holiday services. Most churches I know do a TON of Christmas Eve services. Consider asking people to sign up to serve as a family. They often attend together, why not serve together as well? There is nothing more heartwarming than having a five-year-old shake your hand with mom and dad on the way into church.
  2. Global opportunities at home. Programs like Operation Christmas Child offer a great opportunity for families to fill a shoebox with items for a child in poverty. This is great because parents can take their children to the store and pick out items to send. What a great way to teach our children the importance of giving. This is also a great time to sponsor a child through a ministry like Compassion International. For about $35 a month, a family can help a child in extreme poverty have access to food, medicine and education. Compassion International also has a holiday gift catalogue that families can browse and provide access to things like livestock and clean water. Parents can help their children earn money to give towards these things.
  3. Local opportunities. There are so many different serving opportunities for families during the holiday season. Opportunities can range from holiday dinners at homeless shelters to helping a family in need with gifts or groceries. As a ministry leader, it is important to let families know about what is out there and available. Look inside your own congregation. There are needs all around you. Consider creating a holiday serving guide for families so they know what opportunities are available in your community.
  4. Make it intentional. As a leader in your church who is passionate about engaging the family, I want to encourage you to create a sense of intentionality in addition to letting families know about opportunities. Consider doing something like creating conversation guides for parents. A conversation guide serves as a roadmap to help parents help their children process and learn from the serving experience. When I was in Brazil with my son, I used this time to be intentional with him on the importance of education. As a result, my son takes school a lot more seriously than ever before. The goal here is to help parents help their children think outside of their own needs and to see the needs of others. This gives parents a huge relational win with their children that won’t easily be forgotten.

What ideas do you have as a leader in regards to engaging the family through serving? We would love to hear your thoughts in the comments!

Joe McAlpine has been in ministry for over a decade, serving in staff leadership at churches ranging in attendance from 500 to 7,000. In 2015, Joe joined the team at Slingshot Group and works toward helping great churches connect with great teams. Joe has been happily married to his wife Christy for longer than he can remember and has four children, Elijah, Selah, David, and Elisabeth. In his spare time you can find him hanging with the family and playing his ukulele.

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