Traditionally, churches have divided their ministries into categories like Children's, Youth (or Student), Adult, Men's, Women's, etc. However, in recent years there has been more of an emphasis on Family Ministry. The Orange Conference is one of the most popular events that promotes this (though I myself have never attended).
Family ministry is centered on the idea that the categories of child, youth, men, etc, are fluid and arbitrary. Sure, we need to divided people into groups for the sake of ministry and programming. But when you make these divisions, churches often find themselves with ministries that have disconnected visions.
In that viewpoint, Family Ministry in a church is about unity -- unity within God, unity within the church, and unity within the family.
Unity with GodThe Bible outlines that God has a main purpose for people, that they would worship Him (Matthew 22:38; Luke 4:8). This lifestyle of worship is not static, but we should be continually growing in Him.
It is important that children understand this, that discipleship is not so much about being a "child" until 6th grade, then a "youth" until 12th grade, then a "college student" and then an "adult." Our maturation should be a continual and gradual incline, not a series of steps.
Family ministry can help a child to understand this, that his purpose is to continually know, pursue, and respond to Jesus throughout his entire life.
Unity Within the ChurchOne main danger with segmented ministries is that Ministry Kingdoms become common. Divisions and passive-aggressive battle lines form and solidify, as each ministry clamors for needed resources and attention.
And this division filters down to the the members of a church. People focus more on the ministry that suits their current needs and desires -- if they have children, they'll say that Children's Ministry is most important. But a single leader (or a ministry team) over a family ministry can eliminate these divisions, by giving unified purpose and direction to the various programs and initiatives.
Unity Within the FamilyMany churches have a programming structure in which they teach the same topic to all age groups on any given Sunday. This concept facilitates family conversations, as they can all discuss that week's lesson in the car or around the dinner table.
While this idea is useful in many churches, I do not think it is essential to promoting conversation. The church can use many other tools to assist parents in discipling their children. The important thing to communicate to children is that God calls them to follow Him at every stage of their lives.
ConclusionHaving a centralized family ministry can help a church be unified as it makes disciples of all ages. Family ministry can promote and foster our relationships with God, within our churches, and within families themselves.
Does your church have a family ministry? How does it "categorize" its members and attendees?
**image courtesy of donzeladef via sxc.hu