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How Churches Can Engage in Family Discipleship: Q&A with Jay Austin

*Editor’s Note: Why is family discipleship something churches should care about? And how can churches do a better job helping their parents disciple their children? I recently caught up with Jay Austin, family discipleship minister at Harpeth Christian Church in Franklin, TN. Jay is passionate about family discipleship and has been putting together a package for churches to walk with their parents through Real Life Theology Conversations: A Guide to Essential Questions and Answers for Family Discipleship. This package includes launch materials, videos, graphics, etc. For this first round, we are looking for 50 churches interested in walking through RLT Conversations with their families starting in the fall of 2023. If you are interested in your church being one of the first 50 churches using this book as a resource for family discipleship, please contact info@renew.org and let them know you would like to know more! All attendees to the 2023 RENEW.org Gathering in Indianapolis (April 25-26) will receive a copy of RLT Conversations.

Q. What is the state of the Christian family? How are we in the U.S. doing when it comes to family discipleship?

Significant challenges and uncertainties mark the current state of Christian families in the U.S. Rapid cultural changes have created an overwhelming and fearful environment, with parents constantly evaluating how to raise their children while prioritizing moral values. Children are grappling with the long-term effects of the pandemic, including social separation and anxiety. A broader anti-Christian cultural context of moral relativism and individualism is placing a strain on family relationships and belief systems.

Christian parents are seeking guidance on how to help their children navigate and mature in an increasingly complex world while instilling faith and values. This is made more challenging by busy schedules, constant information flow, and conflicting messages from various churches about what are moral values and Christ-like living. It is essential to provide Christian families with the necessary tools and resources to establish a foundation of stability and discipleship in their homes.

Family discipleship is quickly becoming the most critical focus for the church in the U.S. One reason for this is the staggering statistics showing that most children raised in the church are not remaining faithful to their faith as they move into their young adult years. While portions return to their Christian faith, the majority reject it altogether.


“Family discipleship is quickly becoming the most critical focus for the church in the U.S.”


Over the past few decades, parents have predominantly believed that the church’s job was to disciple their children. As well, most parents didn’t receive a healthy example and understanding of family discipleship. Statistics suggest that less than 4% of Christian parents of preteens in the U.S. have a biblical worldview.

Churches are beginning to realize that parents need a clear path to follow regarding teaching their children what it means to trust and follow Jesus. As it stands, the focus for most Christian families tends to be on merely being good people and being happy. There is little emphasis on sin, our eternal destiny, or the Good News of Jesus. It is crucial that we equip the families in our churches to develop a family discipleship culture as outlined in Deuteronomy 6:4-9.

Q. Church leaders already have a ton to think about. Why is it important that church leaders focus on family discipleship?

Family discipleship must be the essential priority for the church. It’s crucial that churches provide a supportive community of believers of all ages that can stand arm-in-arm with parents to nurture and guide children toward faith in Jesus.

Although family discipleship starts at home, it should not be limited to just that. The church’s mission in this area is to equip families with the tools to disciple their children from birth to age 24 and beyond. Due to the breakdown of nuclear families in the US, the church can uniquely provide parents with guidance and support in all aspects of life.


“It’s crucial that churches provide a supportive community of believers of all ages that can stand arm-in-arm with parents to nurture and guide children toward faith in Jesus.”


It is important for church leaders to stand in defense of families against the Devil’s influence on the hearts and minds of children, especially during these uncertain and overwhelming times. The church can help provide the strength and stability families need to navigate cultural and societal challenges to their faith.

Q. Isn’t family discipleship something the children’s minister/youth minister takes care of? How important is it to get the senior leader’s buy-in?

Family discipleship is an essential component of a thriving church community. As someone who has served as an Executive Minister, Senior Pastor, and Family Discipleship Minister, I understand that the success of a family discipleship ministry depends on whether or not the senior leaders and elders believe it should be a priority for the entire church community.

While children’s and youth ministers must feel supported and empowered to focus on equipping families for discipleship, the message from senior leadership to parents and the congregation will ultimately determine success. Fortunately, I work at a church where our Lead Pastor understands the importance and impact of family discipleship.


“While children’s and youth ministers must feel supported and empowered to focus on equipping families for discipleship, the message from senior leadership to parents and the congregation will ultimately determine success.”


When senior leadership fully commits to family discipleship, it can shift the entire congregation’s focus and strengthen the church’s families. The ultimate goal is to lead children to trust and follow Jesus and create a resilient legacy of disciple-makers for future generations.

Q. What does it look like when a senior minister/pastor is fully engaged in family discipleship?

Here are some examples of what it can look like:

  • Prioritize prayer and fasting: Senior leadership can make a conscious effort to seek God’s guidance through prayer and fasting for family discipleship in your church.
  • Set a vision for a family discipleship culture rather than programs: Create a culture where families are encouraged and empowered to grow in their faith together. Instead of relying on programs or events to facilitate growth, the focus is on creating a discipleship culture that permeates all aspects of family life.
  • Share the vision church-wide, 2-to-4 times a year: Regular communication of the importance of family discipleship will keep the entire congregation energized, empowered, and engaged.
  • Develop a strong and equipped family discipleship team: This involves identifying and training a passionate family discipleship team.
  • Lead families to have a plan for family discipleship, including resources: This involves working with families to develop a personalized plan for their unique family.

Q. What might it look like for a church to utilize RENEW.org’s Real Life Theology Conversations for family discipleship?

As someone passionate about the spiritual development of families, I cannot stress the importance of RENEW.org’s new book Real Life Theology Conversations enough. For families seeking to grow in their faith together, this essential resource provides 52 questions and conversations that offer a comprehensive Christian worldview and practical daily life applications. It is specifically tailored for families with children between 9 and 12 years old but is also highly beneficial for teens.

I urge church leaders to make this resource a central part of their family discipleship plan. I recommend that your church gather a group of families and go through the book together starting in August 2023. Attendees to the Gathering on April 25-26 will receive a copy. RENEW.org will provide your church, at no cost, resources that include a planning guide, a launch party outline, section videos, social media resources, graphics, and links to Seeds Family Worship songs that relate to the conversations.

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