When I was growing up, my Church family felt like an actual extended family. We were close, spent a lot of time together and had each other’s backs. The adults in my congregation – since they were like relatives – could correct me as well as nurture me. Even though I haven’t lived in that city for decades, I know those people would treat me like any other member of their family if I saw them.
Many churches today have lost that sense of family. In fact, many families have lost that sense of family – leaving many children and teens struggling. One way to help young people be more resilient and feel more connected to the church is to give them that family they so desperately want and need. (Did you know that is one of the reason street gangs are so successful in recruiting? They create a family dynamic to fill a void in young people in their area.)
Creating a family type atmosphere in your Bible class or ministry takes a little bit of effort, but provides a lot of benefits for the young people involved. There are probably a lot of things you could do to create that sense of family, but here are eight of our favorites.
- Create a class name. Names give us part of our identity. Having your students create a name for your class can give your class an identity. Don’t just come up with a name and forget it. Use it as part of your decorations and call your class by its collective name periodically. Make sure you also create an understanding that anyone visiting your class automatically becomes a member of your class family. Otherwise what was meant to be healthy, could become toxic.
- Create class traditions. At our daughter’s elementary school, they all looked forward to the year they could be in the second grade circus or the fifth grade cultural fair. Your class members will change over the years. You can have some traditions unique to each group and some traditions that happen every year in your class for younger students to look forward to and for past students to have shared memories.
- Have class field trips and other shared experiences. Shared experiences help create a feeling of family. It’s the same dynamic that keeps you emotionally close to your freshman hall in college or the members of your high school swim team – even if you haven’t seen each other in decades.
- Participate in class service projects. Serving others as a group is technically a shared experience, but it also gives your class family a higher purpose. You are there not only to learn about God, but also to serve Him and share your faith with others. Strong, healthy families have a sense of purpose that reaches beyond the family. It can do the same for your Bible class or ministry.
- Reinforce family messages. Regularly point out that you are a family and the behaviors associated with being in a healthy godly, family. For example, ”We are a family in this class and we say kind things to one another.”
- Create a cozy classroom. Soft lamp lighting, pillows, fuzzy blankets, natural elements… making your class feel like a home instead of a sterile classroom can make it easier for you to create a feeling of family.
- Encourage interaction outside of class. Go to each others’ events. Have each other over to your ”real” homes. Text or call each other during the week. Relationships are closer when we spend time with each other and support one another. It takes time and effort, but it will make your class feel like a family much quicker.
- Encourage deeper ”heart sharing” discussions. Shallow conversations don’t do much to create a feeling of family. There was a study done a few years ago that found if dating couples asked each other a series of deeper questions, they were more likely to fall in love than those who had regular dating conversations. When your Bible class questions encourage sharing one’s heart, your students will naturally become closer than if everything is kept on a more surface level.
Every study I have seen on the topic has found that strong, healthy family type relationships benefit us all in so many ways. You may not be able to ensure your Bible students have that in their homes, but you can definitely give them those advantages in your Bible class or ministry.