This toolkit will help you develop a vision for family faith formation in your congregation and equip parents and caregivers with family faith practices and resources. Includes dozens of helpful ideas organized by topic, such as "Devotions," "Prayer," "Technology, and more!"
Family Faith Formation Toolkit
Welcome to the Family Faith Formation toolkit!
Inside this toolkit you’ll find a wealth of helpful information and resources, including the following:
family faith formation essentials for church leaders
- seasonal and topical activities for families and churches
- tried-and-true ideas from churches
- recommended books, blog posts, and websites
- and much more!
These ideas are drawn from many sources: best practices of CRC congregations, good books, articles, blog posts, and more.
As new tools become available, we’ll add them, so check back often. If there’s a tool you need but don’t see here, we’ll try to find it. Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
How to Use This Toolkit
Family Faith Formation 101: If you’re new to family faith formation, read through the tabs of this toolkit in order. You’ll get a sense of the challenges facing churches and families as well as the opportunities for ministry.
Ministry Planning: Refer to this toolkit as you plan new family faith formation initiatives or evaluate old ones.
Resource Searching: If you’re looking for a resource to fit a certain season or topic, check out the section called Family Faith Formation Resources. You’ll find a wealth of materials and practices to use both at church and at home, organized by topics such as Advent, Devotions, Service, etc.
We're Here to Help!
For a personalized introduction to the resources and practices in this toolkit or for assistance with addressing any faith formation challenges in your church, contact your church’s Regional Catalyzer.
A Vision for Family Faith Formation
Remember the Roots
Our call from God to form the faith of our children is laid out in Deuteronomy 6:5-9:
Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.
In this message to parents, God tells us that family faith is formed in everyday life. Parents and children journey in faith together, weaving faith-shaping practices intentionally and seamlessly into the rhythms of daily living.
In our efforts to support parents in their primary role as faith-shapers at home, it’s important that we not forget our promise to partner with them in community. As Rev. Amanda Bakale (Community CRC, Kitchener, Ontario) explains,
Family ministry is congregational ministry. Each of us are brothers and sisters—from the littlest to the oldest. So [at baptism] parents don't just see their own son or daughter as this baptized child of God, but as a little brother or sister in the faith too. And the congregation doesn't just see that little baptized child of God as the responsibility of parents and programs but as their little brother or sister to whom they have pledged their help, encouragement, and support, as any good older sibling would.
And, of course, while our approach to family faith formation is sealed in baptism, it is rooted in God’s love and and extends beyond those who have been baptized.
Family faith is formed at home, but it’s also formed in community life as together we include, encourage, and equip families. In community we show by our actions that families are part of a bigger tribe—God’s family, their church—and that the body of Christ is with them every step of the way.
In this toolkit you’ll find tools to help your congregation create a vision for family faith formation that
- is rooted in God’s commands.
- is sealed in baptismal promises.
- builds on the unique strengths of each family.
- is nurtured in everyday practices at home.
- is formed in community.
Seven Family Faith Formation Challenges
Studies conducted in 1990 by the Search Institute indicated that parents are the most significant religious influence in the life of a child.
Their work motivated denominations and for-profit publishers to produce resources that focused on parents as primary faith-shapers. This research also spawned books, blogs, and conferences about the importance of faith at home. And it led many churches to rethink their approach to forming the faith of children.
All of this was, and continues to be, important work. But there are potential drawbacks in pointing solely to parents as primary faith-shapers. Here are a few of those challenges, as well as some ideas for taking a fresh approach to addressing them.
Challenge 1: Moving beyond a one-size-fits-all approach to family faith formation
Every household is unique. In our congregations, children and teens are being raised by the following, and more:
- parents who were raised in a household of faith, and parents who were not
- married parents, divorced parents, and single parents
- grandparents, other relatives, or foster parents
- parents who are struggling with their own faith or have differing beliefs
- parents who are engaged in family faith formation and parents who are not
- parents whose own faith formation emphasized biblical knowledge and who aren’t comfortable having conversations with kids who express wonder and doubt
Each family also has its own schedule and rhythms. Some are able to attend Sunday-morning programming, while for others midweek ministry works best. Some eat dinner together daily; others are quite busy during the week but set aside Saturday morning to catch up as a family. You get the picture.
As a result, some congregations are grappling with lack of attendance in programs that used to be filled to capacity with kids. Some church leaders are frustrated that a only handful of people are reading their family-focused social media posts, while others are shocked by the success of faith formation experiments they try.
“It’s not that people don’t value the content [of church programs], it’s that they value family time and aren’t able to commit to long-term attendance at things. We need to meet people where they are at.”
—Pastor Marc Hoogstad, Ebenezer CRC, Trenton, Ontario
Fresh Approach Ideas
- Determine what is working well, and build on those areas.
- Be open to ending programs you may have provided for years if they are no longer meeting the needs of families.
- Provide families with resources and practices in a variety of ways (for example, social media posts, parenting workshops, a “faith talk question of the week” in the Sunday bulletin, a featured book of the month, a seasonal newsletter, and so on. See the multitude of topical ideas under the Resources tab.)
- Ask families what types of support they are longing for, and then provide options that families can customize to meet their needs.
Challenge 2: Engaging families without inducing guilt
Parents are dealing with significant guilt feelings around family faith formation. They’re hearing “It’s up to you to pass on the faith,” but what they are internalizing is “It will be all your fault if your children are not believers.” This message puts increased pressure and guilt on families—many of whom are already feeling lost and overwhelmed where faith formation is concerned. That leads to a culture of shame among parents whose young adult children no longer attend church.
Fresh Approach Ideas
- When impressing on parents the importance of their faith-shaping roles, always include the reminder that as part of God’s big family, their church, they are not in this alone. Then provide support as promised.
- Avoid guilting families into attending the programs offered at church. Trust that they are managing their family’s schedule as best they can. Do provide families and children with the resources they missed (such as take-home pages from Sunday school). Don’t think of these actions as making it easier for them to skip; think of them as making it easier for families to nurture faith at the times that work for them.
Challenge 3: Rooting family faith formation in congregational ministry
Family ministry can be idolized as the most important ministry in the life of a church. But where faith formation is concerned, families are one part of the whole. As Robert J. Keeley and Laura Keeley, the authors of Celebrating the Milestones of Faith, point out, “By focusing too narrowly on families, we leave behind single adults as well as kids and teens whose families aren’t part of the congregation.”
Fresh Approach Idea
- Adapt faith formation ideas and practices for families into faith-forming activities for all households. Community CRC in Kitchener, Ontario, did this by providing all ages with “Lent in a Bag” resources. Grandparents in the congregation especially appreciated the faith-nurturing conversations they had when their grandchildren visited and saw them using the same resources. Oakdale Park CRC in Grand Rapids, Michigan, provided the whole congregation with an Intergenerational Advent Bible Reading Plan and age-appropriate Bible storybooks and translations. What might you provide in your context?
Challenge 4: Choosing curriculum that nurtures faith both at church and at home
In an effort to select resources that support family faith formation, churches may choose children’s ministry curriculum based on the parent pieces rather than on strong theology. As a result, the resources may feature a shallow, moralistic, or virtues-based approach to God’s story, rather than forming a faith that’s resilient, deep, and wide.
Fresh Approach Idea
- Focus on theology first for resources you’ll be using to shape a child’s faith. Then focus on providing families with resources and practices that help them tell and talk about God’s story well with their children. For ideas, see the Bible and Bible Storybooks, Devotions and Conversations pages in the Resources tab. Also check out our Ten Question Tool for Choosing a Children’s Ministry Curriculum.
Challenge 5: Resourcing already busy families
When we asked CRC ministry leaders from across North America to describe the families in their church, one word rose to the top again and again: busy (regardless of how old their kids are).
“The families in my church do not need more activities to do, more ducks to juggle. Nor do I.” says Austin Crenshaw Shelley (When Doing More Isn't Enough). “We need help setting aside all the doing that we clutch so tightly, so that our hands can be open to receive the gifts God has in store. . . . We need time to be. Time to reflect. Time to learn and grow and sing and daydream and stargaze. Time to love our neighbors. Time to seek justice and mercy. Time to draw close to a God who revealed God’s own name, which turns out not to have anything to do with doing, but everything to do with being: I Am Who I Am.”
Two things families don’t need are (1) an expectation that if a program is offered, they will (or should) attend, and (2) more things to do.
Fresh Approach Ideas
- Help families integrate faith-forming experiences, conversations, and practices into what they are already doing in their daily lives. In the Resources section of this toolkit you’ll find ideas to share for celebrating milestones, seeking justice, asking great questions, holiday rituals, parenting, and more, along with suggestions for ways to resource families without overwhelming them.
- Provide materials in addition to ideas: a baptism anniversary candle and a liturgy to use when lighting it each year, a devotional geared to the ages and stages of their family, Bibles and Bible story books (as milestone gifts or through a library), a curated playlist of songs, a printout of 5 Questions to Ask Kids this Summer, and so on.
Challenge 6: Equipping parents who are unfamiliar with faith practices
“Many Gen X and Millennial parents did not grow up in families where they experienced religious traditions and practices. . . . They lack fluency with the Christian faith or the confidence to share it with their children,” says John Roberto in Families at the Center of Faith Formation. This reality also applies to the parents in your congregation who may have been raised in homes with believing parents. Many of today’s parents lack the experience, knowledge, and confidence to tell God’s story and engage in faith practices with their children.
Fresh Approach Ideas
- Engage the help of older adults in your church. When theologian Phyllis Tickle was asked how the church should equip the current generation of parents, she pointed to adults over 60 years old. Listen to her insightful comments by downloading the webinar recording of Reclaim the Tent, The Future of Home and Faith from Vibrant Faith.
- Weave the teaching of faith practices into congregational life. Doing so requires planning, but it doesn’t have to be complicated. Some examples:
- End a worship service with a practice that can be repeated at home.
- Provide community service opportunities for all ages.
- At the start of every liturgical season give every household a colored table runner (made from a strip of fabric) or a colored plastic tablecloth along with an explanation of the significance of the color and a simple devotional guide to use during that time. At Advent you might use the cloth to wrap up a set of Advent candles.
Challenge 7: Shifting Our Ministry Paradigms
In the book Families at the Center of Faith Formation, Gene Roehlkepartain, a widely recognized expert in child, youth, and family development, suggests that in order to become an integral partner with families in nurturing faith in today’s complex and changing world, churches must make the following six shifts in their approach:
Shift 1: From an emphasis on programs to an emphasis on relationships
Roehlkepartain points out, “With few exceptions, congregations have assumed that the way to engage families in faith formation is to offer more or better or different programs that give parents the information they need to pass on the faith to their children,” but parents are interested in forming relationships with people who know and care about the well-being of their family.
Shift 2: From parenting as a strategy to parenting as a relationship
Parenting requires more than an accumulation of tools; it’s a relationship. As a community of faith, we can “engage families together (children, youth, and adults) in learning, service, and fellowship, providing opportunities for their relationships to grow within a broader community of faith.”
Shift 3: From pathologizing or idealizing families to tapping their strengths and resilience
Roehlkepartain cites two prominent but destructive narratives: that families are broken and in need of professional help, and that the family is not living up to what it should be. Although every family is different and has unique struggles, he points out the importance of focusing on the capacity of families to “learn, grow, and thrive.”
Shift 4. From “passing on faith” to “living into faith”
Faith isn’t a subject or a series of rules to learn, like history or math. Says Roehlkepartain, “The proposal here is to tilt the focus of family faith formation toward living into the commitments, values, and practices that emanate from a relationship with Jesus Christ.”
Shift 5. From serving families to empowering families to live their faith
This shift involves providing programs and congregational activities that focus on opportunities for families to “grapple with the challenges and opportunities they face in living their faith in a complex world” and engaging with others in the community of faith in “acts of service and justice.”
Shift 6. From congregation-centered to community-centered ministry
Noting that most faith formation activities happen within the walls of the church building and through the volunteer efforts of church and family members, Roehlkepartain points to an unintended result: emphasis is placed on what happens at church over what happens at home, at school, and within the broader community. He invites congregations to consider the benefits of shifting that narrative to emphasize what is happening outside the church walls. What impact might such a change have on families, the church, the community?
Making these changes isn’t always easy. But which shifts might be possible in your context? And what blessings might God’s family experience—both at home and in community—if those shifts are made?
Here’s Some Good News
It should come as no surprise that even though our churches are offering some of the best resources and programs for families, we are also seeing declining participation in church programs. After all, many families are dealing with the challenges described above. And have we mentioned they are busy?
Here’s the good news: families have many strengths upon which to build. When we polled ministry leaders about the positive qualities of the families in their congregation, they described families using words like these: vibrant, active, committed, caring, inclusive, thoughtful, loving, and more. Which words apply to the families in your congregation? What other strengths would you add to the list?
Three Essentials for Family Faith Formation
It takes a village—the whole congregation—to nurture the faith of its young people.
Robert J. Keeley, author of Helping Our Children Grow in Faith, describes the purpose and role of that village like this: “If we want our children to consider their faith a central part of who they are, if we want their faith to go beyond just their minds and hearts, then the community of faith needs to develop a number of ways to connect with young people and children.”
Here are some ways to do that.
Be in Relationship
Create a culture of belonging within your community by providing opportunities to develop meaningful relationships across generations and particularly among the children, teens, and young adults in your church.
- Look for existing opportunities for intentional relationship building within in your church. Read how one pastor found such an opportunity in the church nursery here.
- Download and print copies of the wonderful one-page tool Ten Ways to Connect with Children and Teens in your Church, and distribute them to everyone in your congregation. Or order printed copies on cardstock for a small fee from Faith Alive Christian Resources.)
- Encourage the adults in your congregation to form relationships in ordinary ways by sharing with them these practical blog posts: Simple Things and Be in Relationship.
- Check out the ideas under Conversations (as well as other topics) in this toolkit’s Family Faith Formation Resources section.
- Get inspired by the abundance of ideas and relationship-forming resources and practices in the Learning and Growing section of The Intergenerational Church toolkit.
As God’s big family, we can support each other by worshiping in a way that says to all ages, “You belong here.”
In addition to the resources you’ll find in this toolkit in the section called Family Faith Formation Resources, be sure to check out all that is available in these other toolkits from Faith Formation Ministries:
- The Intergenerational Church Toolkit
- The Professing Our Faith toolkit
- The Faith Storytelling toolkit
- The Welcoming Children to the Lord’s Supper toolkit
Encourage and Equip Families
In past generations, family faith formation happened around the dinner table through Bible reading, prayer, and conversation. But in our fast-paced and overscheduled world, that dinner hour is increasingly rare.
Compound that with the time crunch of single-parent households, economic stresses, or parents who have limited biblical literacy, and one thing becomes abundantly clear: these changing dynamics require a new way of thinking about family faith formation.
Handing parents take-home papers or signing them up for parenting classes isn’t enough; neither is hiring a youth pastor and expecting him or her to take all the responsibility for forming faith in the youth of the church. We need to encourage and equip parents.
Encouraging parents means being their cheerleader—letting them know “You’ve got this, and we’re here to help.” Equipping parents means providing them with resources, ideas, and practices that can be woven into what they are already doing as a family and from which they can select and adapt the things that work best in their home.
“I often want to skip the boring, daily stuff to get to the thrill of an edgy faith. But it’s in the dailiness of the Christian faith—the making of the bed, the doing the dishes, the praying for our enemies, the reading the Bible, the quiet, the small—that God’s transformation takes root and grows.”
—Tish Harrison Warren, Liturgy of the Ordinary, pp. 35-36
In the Family Faith Formation Resources section of this toolkit you’ll find easy and adaptable ideas to share with families in ways that make sense in your context and for your families.
Family Faith Formation Resources by Topic
In the following topical links you’ll find creative resources and practices to use both in community and at home. These ideas can be seamlessly woven into existing church programs and into family life.
Did you know: Faith Formation Ministries supplies churches with weekly family faith formation tips you can use in your church bulletin or on social media! Don't know where to find them? Contact us.
Here are some ideas for how to share these resources with families:
- Link to them from your church website.
- Post a “Tool of the Week” in your bulletin or online.
- Purchase items for your church library.
- Set up a Family Faith Formation display and lend families the tools they’d like to use.
- Purchase items in bulk and make them available for families to purchase at a discount or by donation.
- Develop a faith formation plan in which your church blesses families with particular tools as part of a milestone celebration (for example, a God Loves Me book and/or the Home Grown Handbook for Christian Parenting as a baptism gift, a copy of Parenting in the Pew when a child enters preschool, a set of God’s Big Story cards or The Jesus Storybook Bible when a child begins school).
- Provide families with a “Welcome to God’s Family” basket of resources when they have their first child.
Also helpful: the post Creating Burning Bushes: Supporting Faith at Home contains five guidelines to keep in mind when equipping parents for faith formation.
Topical Resource List
Bibles and Bible Storybooks
Death and Grief
Disability and Faith Formation
Check out the book Families at the Center of Faith Formation. It provides congregations with a plan for how they can engage and equip families toward the goals of deeper faith and discipleship. You can get a taste of the excellent information found inside the book by downloading and reading these two chapters for free:
“Developing the Family-at-the-Center Approach to Faith Formation” includes a list of goals to guide the development of a family faith formation plan and eight strategies for developing family faith formation, along with practical ideas for implementation.
- “Nurturing the Faith of Young People Through the Family” includes an informative list of the Seven Stages of Parents of Faith (pp. 105-107) in addition to excellent ideas for how parents, grandparents, and extended family members can nurture the faith of children from birth through young adulthood (pp. 109-153).
Other online articles you may find helpful:
Discover ten ideas for how congregations provide family faith formation in Best Practices in Family Faith Formation by John Roberto.
Find five research-backed ways for your congregation to make a difference in the lives of parents; see the article “Making Parents a Priority” by Jolene and Gene Roehlkepartain.
Gather five more ideas in this post from the Fuller Institute: Five Ways to Engage Families as Partners in Ministry.
Excellent books to add to your reading list:
- Helping Our Children Grow in Faith by Robert J. Keeley is designed for children's ministry and worship leaders, Sunday school teachers, and pastors—as well as parents—who want to nurture the spiritual development of the children in their lives. It shows how to integrate children into congregational worship, how to teach them the Bible but leave room for the mystery of God, and how to distinguish the difference between faith development and moral development.
Will Our Children Have Faith? by John Westerhoff. According to Westerhoff, instead of guiding faith formation within the family, the church, and the school, we relegate religious education to Sunday-morning classes. There, children learn the facts about religion, but how will they learn or experience faith? How can we nourish and nurture the faith of children, instead of only teaching facts?
Sticky Faith by Kara Powell and Chap Clark and The Sticky Faith Guide for Your Family by Kara Powell look at what it takes for families to grow faith that “sticks.” Based on research by the Fuller Youth Institute, these books are must-haves for ministry leaders and parents alike.
- Growing Young by Kara Powell, Jake Mulder, and Brad Griffin, based on groundbreaking research with over 250 of the nation's leading congregations, profiles innovative churches that are engaging 15- to 29-year-olds and as a result are growing—spiritually, emotionally, missionally, and numerically. Packed with both research and practical ideas, Growing Young shows pastors and ministry leaders how to position their churches to engage younger generations in a way that breathes vitality, life, and energy into the whole church.