Family Ministry Today

The Center for Christian Family Ministry at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary

Book Review: ‘Family Integrated Church: Heathy Families, Healthy Church’ by J. Mark Fox

by Lorrie Francis with W. Ryan Steenburg – Oct 5

Family-Integrated Church: Healthy Families, Healthy Church. By J. Mark Fox. Camarillo, CA: Xulon Press, 2006, 188 pp., $14.99.

Family is a key theme throughout the text of the Bible. And family is a key theme throughout Mark Fox’s book Family-Integrated Church. In his book, Mark Fox shares the journey of his congregation that grew out of meager beginnings in an effort to encourage families, to provide some instruction, and to awaken a desire in his readers to see the fruitful benefits of a family-integrated church (10).

Fox’s self-published book contains twenty chapters plus a Foreword and an Afterword. Chapters one through seven provide an historical overview of Antioch Community Church, describing the birth, relocation, and shift to a family-integrated church in rural North Carolina. The remaining chapters describe various aspects of the church’s philosophy and polity including home groups, elders, church discipline, discipleship, and evangelism.

Antioch Community Church was born as a church plant in March 1987 with five families meeting in the building of a local Christian organization. The young church held traditional Sunday school prior to the worship service, Wednesday evening cell group Bible studies, and Thursday evening outreach (12). In 1993, the church was asked to hold weekly Sunday morning services at Elon University (34-35), an on-campus ministry that lasted for nine years.

Fox shares that with the campus ministry, the church’s heart began to change and strived to be more family-focused. He writes, “God was changing the vision of the church … We began to see that the heart of the church was family” (44). The final step of Antioch’s shift to a family-integrated church took place when the unsuccessful search for program teachers led the elders to discontinue age-organized programs. From that point on, Antioch abandoned the age-organized approach and became a family-integrated church.

One of the most refreshing aspects to Fox’s book is the position he takes on programs within the church. His position, unlike the position of The National Center for Family-Integrated Churches (NCFIC) is that there is nothing wrong with a church having programs (58). What Fox demonstrates throughout his eighth chapter is that programs in a church should exist to serve a specific purpose and will most-likely tarry for only a season (56). The purpose will be for the needs of the people in the church. His critique of age-organized church programs is that they too often drive the church when it should be the people driving the church (52). Again, in certain contradiction to NCFIC, Fox does not suggest that “any church that offers a Sunday school program is outside the will of God and therefore disobedient” (55). He does offer, though, that too many churches are deceiving themselves thinking that these programs are the best way to reach the children of the congregation (55).

The collection of illustrations and philosophical discourses do not tell how to establish a family-integrated church model in an existing church or in a church plant. Readers should keep in mind that Fox’s book is descriptive and not prescriptive. Fox shares his experience, and that of Antioch Community Church, as an example of what God can do when the hearts of the people are aligned and unified (138). As with any text, readers should be cautioned against reading this treatise as a handbook for planting a family-integrated church and rather identify the key components that allowed the leadership of the church to best meet the needs of the congregation and apply certain practices accordingly. Church leaders will need to consider differences in context, demographics, and resources before presenting Antioch’s journey as the means to transition and grow their church.

Fox’s book is saturated with Scripture references. Eighteen of the twenty chapters of his book provide ref- erence to Scripture in some way. Fox’s presentation of direct scriptural support for a family-integrated church, however, could have been stronger. Scriptural support for worshipping together as a family would have strengthened the text and would have made the text more useful for pastors and church leaders seeking the same type of changes Antioch Community Church experienced.

[Editor's Note: This article originally appeared in The Journal of Discipleship and Family Ministry 2.2.]