This is an article from the March-April 2012 issue: Is The Family God’s Prime Mission Strategy For World Evangelization?

God’s Plan Is to Reach Families

God’s Plan Is to Reach Families

As you read through this issue, prepare yourself for a paradigm shift in your thinking about what it means to do missions. Evangelicals from the West are so accustomed to thinking about reaching people with the gospel as distinct individuals—one at a time. Much of our theology and evangelistic practices are centered upon this individualistic approach apart from any connection people have with their family or community. Have we missed God’s prime strategy for world evangelization with this exclusive focus on individuals?

Don’t misunderstand me. Every individual must develop their relationship with Jesus Christ by faith in Him as his Savior and Lord. But that does not mean that he or she cannot be introduced to that relationship as part of a larger group such as a family. 

Our hyper-individualistic, freedom-focused Western culture has dramatically impacted the methods that we have employed in reaching the unreached peoples. Most of our mission strategies over the last 200 years of the modern missionary movement have been focused on extracting individuals from their families and gathering these remnants of the surrounding society into churches. In the process these individuals lose much if not all access to presenting the gospel to their family and community. As the Church goes forth to enter the various unreached peoples for the first time, would not the gospel spread more easily and rapidly if the church came as a friend to families and the community as a whole rather than being seen as a destroyer of families—extracting its various members—taking them “captive” to a foreign community and system of beliefs? 


As Alex Smith Points out, this individualistic approach to world evangelization is not based in biblical or historical precedent. It is a more recent phenomenon for the church in the West—a by-product of our history with the Reformation. Smith provides numerous examples of how the standard practice before the Reformation was for whole families and peoples to turn to Christ en masse. He presents us with many practical suggestions for reaching families and not just individuals. He also debunks many of the myths and mistaken ideas regarding the effectiveness of reaching family groups versus a focus on just reaching individuals.


Is Reaching Whole Families Really Possible?

The impact of one man’s passion to reach his family can be seen in this article. We present a story from Donald McGavran of one man named Ditt who persevered in reaching his whole family and created a people movement to Christ that impacted hundreds of thousands of people in India. In accord with common missionary practice, Ditt was urged not to go back to his family but to stay with the missionaries and they would give him a job. They were isolating him from his family and his community. How would his family ever hear the gospel this way? Instead, Ditt went against the mission methodology of his day and changed an entire people for Christ. Can that happen today?

With our focus on reaching just individuals we have overlooked one of the most effective ways to build God’s kingdom by impacting whole families and peoples for Christ. Because of our own Western cultural background, the idea of whole families and peoples turning to Christ is foreign to our thinking but not to God’s. It was His plan all along. 

T. and B. Lewis explain in their lead article that the family is God’s idea. He created it to accomplish His purposes for mankind—to spread His reign and rule to every family by using every family to fill the earth with His glory. God’s design is for the family to do battle against Satan by bringing the knowledge of God to every family. Even the failure of the first family did not deter God from using other families to fill the earth with His glory. He used Noah and his family and he made a special promise to Abraham and his family that through Abraham and his seed all the families on earth would be blessed (Gen. 12:3). This promise to Abraham is ultimately fulfilled when every tribe, language, people and nation stands before God’s throne in worship (Rev. 5:9, 7:9). This is no minor theme of Scripture, but the very heart of God’s plan for humanity. It is also no surprise that Satan would be attacking the family so viciously—he knows that it is central to God’s plan to defeat him. 

The Lewises learned firsthand from their church-planting experiences that reaching family units was the most effective way to establish churches. They tried for years to gather the remnants of families into churches. They found repeatedly that these churches were inherently unstable and prone to break apart because there was mutual distrust among the members—they had no previous committed relationships. The Lewises discovered by “accident,” when someone invited them to share Christ with an entire family, that family units are the best means by which to build home fellowships. There is much greater trust and commitment within the family than there is when you just gather some individual remnants of families together. The gospel also spreads more rapidly within the safety of the network of extended family relationships. You can read more about this in their article in the January-February 2009 issue. Reaching whole families not only rests on a solid biblical foundation, but it is also the most effective strategy in many cultures.


Rethinking Church Ministry to Families

How effective has the Church in the West been in equipping parents to disciple their kids and help them find God’s calling on their lives? In his article, Rob Rienow points to recent statistics that show that we are increasingly losing each succeeding generation in the West to unbelief. Only 4% of the latest generation claims to be Bible-believing followers of Jesus. 

Rienow identifies the root cause, “When it comes to youth and children’s ministry, we must acknowledge that the ‘new experiment’  has failed. The new experiment is age-segregated, church-building-based evangelism and discipleship of children. Parents drop them off. We split them up by age in different rooms in the building and ‘disciple’ them. In terms of Christian history, this is a brand-new idea.  Slowly but surely, we abandoned the biblical model of family discipleship and delegated the spiritual training of our children to ‘professionals’ at church.” One of the unintended consequences of this “new experiment” is, as Rienow describes, “parents were free to remain spiritually passive at home. After all, they were making sure that their son or daughter was involved in a ‘great youth group.’”

The biblical focus should be on equipping parents to do the job of discipleship, not attempting to do the job for them. The church has taken over the proper role of the parents while abandoning the role of training parents and others to do the work of the ministry. An unhealthy dependency has developed in the church. As the professionals have taken over more responsibility for discipling the young people, the parents have taken on less. 

As Rienow points out, this is in stark contrast to the way it was in centuries past, when the parents were expected to disciple their children at home and there was strict accountability set up to make sure it got done. When was the last time your pastor or someone at church asked you how your family devotions were going? Has it ever happened? First, having family worship has not become a priority or an expectation from the church. Second, accountability has almost vanished from our churches. The renowned preacher Charles Spurgeon was so concerned about this trend, clear back in the 1800s that he said, “How can we hope to see the kingdom of our Lord advance when His own disciples do not teach His gospel to their own children?”. Great question! How indeed?


Hello Rick. God bless you so much for that spiritual insight about missions, I agree with you that we would need a real paradigm shift in this regard and it has to begin with us leaders who are responsible as a sending body of these missioners who in the end become individualistic. I also agree with you that instead of plucking out people from their family settings. we would rather encourage and herald the good news in those families and when people and families are transformed, they can in the end transform there communities. I believe we do not ‘do’ church but we ‘live’ church. it is also important to remember that God did not first fellowship with man in the church but in his home (the garden of Eden) Bless you Rick


Hello, Brother Rick. Thanks for sharing this article. Thanks for devoting your whole issue to rethinking our approach to missions in terms of reaching whole families and mobilizing whole families to reach other families and nations. We are beginning to rethink and adjust our ministry strategies in that regard. Here in the Philippines - with our high family values and family-focused community structures - we became accustomed (as in the West) to reaching individuals. But now we are beginning to see God’s plan (as we go through the Story of God in the Bible in our sermon series in our church) to reach whole families and to bless whole families that they might be a blessing to other families also. Again, thank you for sharing this article. This will help me prepare for what I’m planning to preach this Sunday - about our church’s vision for missions, that we see our church as “a local church with a global vision.”

Pastor Rick! thanks so much. I have not been on the net for so long a time as I have been in the field. I shared with you that am a pastor in Rural western Uganda. I have had time to envision our Home cell leaders this week. The issue we are discussing is how Christians can live the life of Christ in the Home setting!! Then we also discussed the Children’s ministry in the homes. Here in Uganda, the Ministry of children is always given second priority, they call it the “Church of tomorrow” They do not regard it as a church of now!! Am convinced that the children are a church of now and there is no better place to grow them than the homes!! God bless you Rick!

Excellent article! Another great website on reaching families and people groups is

Some churches are reuniting the bodies of their families in the main gathering of church, but ceremony is all the same. Unfortunately, this is not reuniting the family except symbolically with little unifying function. When the main gathering of believers is dominated by ceremony oriented behaviors driven from a platform and dominated by one-way communication from a pulpit, there will be very little unifying function amongst anyone sitting there, much less including those in the younger age groups. This form of gathering has no basis in the N.T. and it contradicts many very specific scriptures calling for mutual, one another oriented participation by all including the children. This is all deeply imbedded in the mindset of American believers, so much so, that as they read what I say they are aroused in anger. Yet it is obvious to all that participation by 99% of the people there is driven down to zero. Each one present is a member of the body and thus is expected to participate by virtue of their identity and the Biblical instructions to “edify” or “build up”. Let us throw off our alternative gathering styles that contradict God’s design and take up that which matches our spiritual identity.

Just last night I gathered with the saints for prayer meeting complete with children down to age 4 participating going around the circle. Through their simple yet profound expression, everyone was admonished and encouraged. Many children demonstrated far greater understanding of thanksgiving, praise, and intercession than some of the adults. The instruction through modeling that occurred was fabulous.

All the requests are put on a sheet (5 pages) so that those as young as brand new readers can read the request, and add additional thoughts as they mature. No one has to be able to express a well thought out request in their own head right off the bat.

When spiritual life in our country is intergenerational and family unified in mutual personal expression, we are far better equipped to reach all nations with the good news.

Fantastic issue, Rick. It would be wonderful to see this approach taken on more regularly by the mission community and the church. We do underestimate the power of the family to bless and God’s intention for using the family in redemptive history.

This is so true for India. We have been preaching the gospel for many years in India and we have not reached more than 5% of Indian population and i would attribute it to the individual appraoch of evangelism. Often when one comes to faith from non christian background, they get isolated. Even they struggle to find a life partner. The journey is lonely and many get discouraged along the way as they realize even the one who brought them to faith are unable to stand with them, when they face trails and persecution from their family. So reaching family is the way forward. Even if one from a family comes to faith to send that person back to his or her family to live a Christian life is more effective than separating them. This paradigm of evangelistic efforts through families need more emphasis in mission circles. In India, Urban India Ministries ( has been trying to do this, but its strategy is little heard or even recognized in mission circles. I’m glad to have read this article and I’m encouraged.

We see this “family” response in USA as well as overseas! Our former neighbors are Muslims from a SE Asian country. They have “adopted” my wife as “pseudo-mother,” & by extension, myself as well. We are now separated by about 300+ miles, but we still keep in contact. We called them after 9-11-01 & indicated that as far as we were concerned, our relationship hadn’t changed! Now, with their real mother dead, my wife is even more their “mother.” What I think is the problem now, is I don’t know how to explain/direct them into a (is it C5?) relationship with our Lord & Savior. If anyone can help with a web link or other, please let me know. They now think that “we worship the same God”, when such is not the case at all.

Thank you so much for your article on family evangelism. I have been serving the Lord as a family minister for 4 years now after discovering my true calling during a season of being a Children’s minister. It has been a lonely and very often rejected ministry within the corporate body of Christ that has set its eyes in individual evangelism almost completely absent of any true family ministry.
Our ministry, Chosen Stones, based in the House of Prayer in Cincinnati, Oh is focused on disciplining parents to become their children’s primarily spiritual leader in their home. We hold once a month family gatherings which includes deep teaching with interesting object lessons that both the young and old love, and deep engaging family worship where we lead families into “acts of worship” that requires them to get into their own family tribe and places the ministry into the hands of the parents and children as a family (i.e. Parents lead their family into communion, the family lay’s hands on each other, they search, read, pray, and declare scriptures together, they listen for the voice of God together, receive words of encouragement from God and share it within their own family tribe, etc.). We also write deep meaningful family devotionals to help place tools in the hands of parents.
In reading some of your other commits, I agree with their frustrations and excitements pertaining to family evangelism. Our prayer is to encourage the body of Christ to embrace the model of ministry we are doing that engages both young and old together in ministry instead of the non-fruitful attempt of having “family” services which are really adult services that the kids are told to sit, be quite, and listen with deadly boredom. However, we have found this task very daunting, for the traditions of men have overcome the heart of God for whole families. We also believe that in modeling before families’ how to minister as a family to the Lord, it brings desperately needed healing, restoration, and Godly wholeness to broken families who become vulnerable to the Lord and to each other during family worship. This model of worship also encourages them to have the confidence and zeal to make worship a lifestyle and not just a place they go. This is turn I believe is the key to at least westernized evangelism if not the nations. When we can create whole, Jesus centered, non-compromised homes again we can reach family to family as they enter into the Lord’s house in our living rooms, on the baseball field, or in our neighborhood get-togethers.
We are just beginning our journey down this new paradigm of family evangelism and we desperately need leaders like you who are willing to challenge and encourage change to the way we have been doing things from one generation to another generation for the sake of the gospel.  Thank you again and may the Lord bless you.
Alicia White

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