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Prepping for Church Family Life Cycle Programming

Church program leaders will often put on a great event for parents or families, get great feedback, and then oddly, never offer that event again.

It seems as if they think “once is enough.”

Maybe they get caught up in the “been there, done that” perspective.

Or, perhaps they imagine that people will say, “Are they offering that again? Didn’t we do that program already?”

What is missed in this thinking is that effective programming for family life education needs to give attention to the family cycle in the church curriculum.


For example, if you offer a program for families with children in grade school, you can count on two things:

1. Families with preschoolers will not likely show up to the event. Their interests and needs are related to parenting pre-schoolers. They likely didn’t even notice your announcement. The learning principle in effect is: You learn what you need to learn at the time you need to learn it, and not before. People know this intuitively, and it’s why they are selective about what they attend, or not.

2. Some families who want to attend the event will be unable to because of scheduling conflicts. Those who missed it the first time around will appreciate the opportunity to attend the second time it’s offered. Program planners can get ahead of this challenge: get on people’s calendars as soon as possible. Schedule and advertise programs a year to six months ahead of time. As the event gets closer increase the frequency of the announcements (flyers, newsletter, announcements, mailouts, and personal invitations. Most people will not “pay attention” until they see or hear your announcements at least eight times, in different contexts and media).


The Family Life Cycle

Just like an individual, or any organic system, a family has developmental tasks and predictable transitions.

For example, the birth of a first child, the initial step of leaving home, joining families through marriage, becoming a family with young children (a key milestone, and one that initiates vertical realignment and family restructuring), families with adolescents (God bless them), launching children, and families in later life.

One key question is, “How well did the family do on its last transition tasks?”


Family Developmental Stressors

One of the things congregational programs for families can provide is help and support for dealing with developmental stressors.

Horizontal stressors are those involving transitional tasks (births, leavings, “firsts” and other nodal events); vertical stressors are transmitted mainly via multigenerational triangling.

Symptoms, anxiety, and crises tend to occur when horizontal and vertical stressors intersect.

For example, a divorce adds extra developmental challenges and transitioning tasks for all involved in the family.

There are several schemas of the family life cycle that can be helpful for church curriculum planning.

Here’s one from A Family Genogram Workbook by Israel Galindo, Elaine Boomer, and Don Reagan:


The Family Life Cycle

1. Pre-Marital Stage: Courtship, dreams, planning.
2. Establishing Stage: Up to seven years, with or without children.
3. Parenting Stage: Birth of firstborn.
4. Early Family Stage: Becoming a family. Birth of siblings.
5. Later Family Stage: Oldest child a teenager.
6. Launching Stage: Oldest child in college or leaves home. Other children preparing to leave (this stage may extend as adult children return to live at home after college before they get established on their own).
7. Empty Nest Stage: All children are gone from home.
8. Generational Stage: Parents become grandparents.


Rather than offer a string of one-time topical family events (workshops, seminars, etc.) churches can be more effective in serving their families by offering a three-year cycle family life curriculum based on the Family Life Cycle stages.

This helps in several ways.

First, congregational program planners do not have to come up with “something new” every year, often focusing on interest and entertainment rather than the developmental tasks of families.

Second, planning in a rotating three-year cycle will help ensure the church helps address the life cycle needs of most families in the congregation.

Third, the planning process can serve an educational purpose for church leaders and families as they intentionally focus on how they address the life and faith needs of the families that make up the congregation.

For example, this family life cycle schema can provide a more helpful perspective of perceiving each member in the congregation—from the single young adult to the mature “adults without children–as members of families rather than as individuals disconnected from the life experiences that shaped their identity, their faith, and their relationships.


To ponder:

How well does your church intentionally address the family life cycle needs of its members?
What approach does your church use for planning learning and religious formation events for families and their members?
What effective event has your church offered in the past that it needs to offer again now that the families in your congregation may have moved along their life cycle stage?


Israel Galindo is Associate Dean for Lifelong Learning at the Columbia Theological Seminary. He directs the Pastoral Excellence Program at Columbia seminary. He is the author of the bestseller, The Hidden Lives of Congregations (Alban), Perspectives on Congregational Leadership (Educational Consultants), and A Family Genogram Workbook (Educational Consultants), with Elaine Boomer & Don Reagan, and Leadership in Ministry: Bowen Theory in the Congregational Context.

His books on education include Academic Leadership: Practical Wisdom for Deans and Administartors, Mastering the Art of Instruction,The Craft of Christian Teaching (Judson), How to be the Best Christian Study Group Leader (Judson), and Planning for Christian Education Formation (Chalice Press).