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Strengthening Marriage and Family Ministries in Your Area

Nurturing and healing relationships, strengthening families, and developing supportive communities that serve as extended families effectively undergird our mission to “make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.” [The Book of Discipline of the United Methodist Church 2012, (Nashville: The United Methodist Publishing House, page 91, ¶120.]

The church has long affirmed the primacy of both our relationship with God and our relationships with other people. In fact, the structure of the cross is used to symbolize the intersection of these vertical and horizontal commitments.

Jesus condensed the law into two commandments: love God and love your neighbor. Learning how to relate better with others strengthens our relationship with God and assures spiritual growth. Looking beyond self with empathy is central to both commandments and, in my opinion, one of the most important teaching emphases of the church.

Often, our family is, for better or worse, an incubator to how we interact with others. The church needs to equip, support and heal family stability for the good of interpersonal relationships within and outside the family.

Yet trainers I know in marriage enrichment, parent education or divorce recovery express frustration that congregations, districts and conferences show little interest in relationship programs. Sometimes it seems churches even pull families apart by encouraging laity to take on demanding leadership roles.

Many of us who feel called to marriage and family ministries are motivated by gratitude for experiences that have helped us overcome childhood and adult experiences of broken and dysfunctional relationships. Together, we can help annual conferences make marriage and family ministries a priority for the good of family, church and community.

I’ve been working in my native New England Conference to discover ways to make this happen. Here are suggestions for you based on my experience.

  1. Contact conference staff responsible for marriage and family ministries. Express your interest and inquire about current strategies and tactics.

  2. Volunteer to promote and support these ministries or offer to take on the role in your conference. Ask for a title -- Marriage and Family Ministries Coordinator? Team Leader? Consultant -- and create a job description. Be sure to have conference-designated contact. 

  3. Find out how to post information in the conference e-newsletter or newspaper. Write a brief article about your interest in marriage and family ministries. Invite people to contact you with information about their interest, training and experiences. 

  4. Read the United Methodist Marriage and Family Ministry Directory to find people in or near your area trained in programs relevant to marriage and family ministries, ie Better Marriages, Marriage Encounter, Active Parenting, Divorce Recovery, etc. 

Invite them to work with you to strengthen marriage and family ministries in your area. The resource persons in the directory are listed by annual conference and jurisdiction. Be sure to look at nearby areas as well. When you discover others in your area not listed, let me know so I can invite them to be listed. 

  5. Inquire of conference churches about their effective family programs. Keep your eyes and ears open. Search the websites of your conference and local churches. Scan church newsletters. Ask churches what they’re doing to strengthen families. Build a database of interested people and expert speakers who are willing to provide leadership or consult. 

  6. Depending on your training or experience, volunteer to lead workshops or speak about marriage and family topics like parenting, relationship education for youth or divorce recovery. Find out if there will be learning centers or workshops at annual conference or district events. Offer to provide or recruit leaders for relationship-related topics. Use these opportunities to build your database of interested people, recording their names, addresses, phone numbers, email addresses and specific interests or experiences.
  7. Enlist someone to create a poster and display for use at annual conference, district events and workshops. Always include a sign-up list for those interested in receiving more information.
  8. Find out how the conference sends its mailings. If there’s a mailing database, see if you can send (or piggyback) a letter inviting people to contact you if they’re interested in family ministries. If a conference agency uses an email service provider, ask for permission to set up a marriage and family ministries interest segment within their account.
  9. Check with the annual conference resource library for available materials suitable for small group study, programs and individual study. Review and share your thoughts on the conference website. These can also be placed on display tables as described in #7 above. If there’s a seminary in your area, check their resource center as well.
  10. Request permission to post information to the conference website. Ask for a link on the conference site where you can share information about upcoming events, resource persons and materials available through the conference resource library and other organizations in your area.
  11. Regularly contribute information about upcoming events and training opportunities in or near your area through the conference channels you establish.
  12. Keep cycling through these steps, recruiting new people to take responsibility for different tasks. As you increase awareness of the need and possibilities, share stories of churches offering effective marriage and family ministries. You might create a document describing “Marriage and Family Ministries Around the Conference,” for example. Refer individuals and churches to the “Best Practices” documents and the annotated lists of resources posted at www.marriagelovepower.net or elsewhere on this website.
  13. Finally, let me know how things develop in your area so that I can share that information to inspire and encourage others.