Nature of 'family' is changing, report finds

18 September 2015

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THE definition of family is changing, as is family ministry, a new study led by the Methodist Church suggests.

The report We are Family, commissioned by the Consultative Group on Ministry among Children (CGMC), in partnership with the Methodist Church, found that the nuclear family was “no longer representative” of the present day.

Key findings, published on Friday of last week, encourage churches to adjust their ministry to recognise the needs of “diverse and fluid” modern families.

The Office for National Statistics reported in 2014 that, of 18.6 million families in the UK, about two-thirds (12.5 million) were headed by married couples. The data also pointed to a 29.7-per-cent increase in cohabiting-couple families since 2004. Households containing two or more families, including stepparents and children, were the fastest-growing in the decade to 2014, increasing by 56 per cent to 313,000 households.

The Family Ministry Development Officer in the Methodist Church, Gail Adcock, said that the Church “must treat each family as unique, and provide relevant support to them in the circumstances that they are in”.

Research for We are Family began in November 2013, and has culminated in hundreds of responses from members of the Church of England, Salvation Army, United Reformed Church, and Methodist Church. Most responses suggested that the Methodist Church’s mission regarding family ministry should be expanded to nurture faith within households, the authors found. They encourage the Church to take “social action” to support the needs of families within the community.

The Moderator of the CGMC, Penny Fuller, said: “Family ministry . . . [is] not just happening on a Sunday, but is taking place in a range of different contexts. . . It is essential that the Church provides suitable training and support.”

In the survey of 50 Methodists, 96 per cent said that they were unsure how to develop their faith together as a family. Many expressed an interest in developing a closer relationship with their church, however.

The report suggests that the main challenges to achieving this closeness are: negative perceptions of church; other social activities competing with churchgoing (leading to time constraints); and the varying success of church ministry in supporting families and family life.

Research on leadership in the Methodist Church concluded that a combination of paid workers — including trained and volunteer youth workers — church leaders, and the congregation, would provide the best support for every form of family.

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