Families That Stay Together

Real Answers February 23, 2011

Introduction for Seminar Leaders

Much has been said about the problems families face, and in the l990’s it is no secret that many families are in crisis. This program is designed to promote growth in the relationship between pre-teens/teenagers and their parents. It is a program of enrichment and education, rather than therapy. It has a positive focus and is primarily relational, rather than didactic.

The activities included in this model cover Friday evening through Saturday evening. However, the program may be adapted for use as a series over several days or weeks. Also, depending on local circumstances, a Sunday morning activity could be included in the weekend format, such as a special breakfast, a nature outing (a canoe or boating trip, a hike, a rock-climbing expedition), or any other type of activity that would build family cohesion and create memories.

Although this program has an admittedly narrow focus, one or more of the following outcomes could result:

  • The local church would implement a regular family night.
  • Families would be encouraged to set up their own family time activities (with ideas provided by church leadership or a group of members who are committed to family enrichment).
  • Other seminars/meetings would be held dealing with positive communication skills, conflict resolution, self-esteem, and understanding adolescent development.
  • The particular needs of a family or families would be detected and appropriate intervention or counseling provided for them by qualified individuals.

Before the weekend. To prepare yourself as a leader, we suggest you do the following:

  • Become thoroughly familiar with your plans. Practice your spoken parts aloud.
  • Take time for yourself. Schedule adequate time for rest, food, and contemplation.
  • Practice what you promote. Visualize yourself as the warm, enthusiastic, competent, dynamic leader you will be.
  • Separate your own feelings, thinking, and beliefs about family dynamics, and communication style from those who will be attending.
  • Be aware that you will set the tone for the meeting during the first three minutes.
  • Remember that it is okay to have fun while you facilitate.

During the seminar. Here are some tips for conducting a successful program:

Be sure to wait long enough for someone to answer when you ask a question. Make clear eye contact with several people. Remember that if you answer your own questions, others will not participate verbally.

  • Don’t be defensive if someone disagrees with you.
  • Practice the ground rules yourself.
  • Don’t feel compelled to respond or add to everyone’s remarks. It’s appropriate to say “Thank you” and continue.
  • Take the freedom to change the schedule if the energy level is down, if things are taking longer than you anticipated, or if it is obvious something needs to be addressed by the entire group.
  • If an individual, or a few individuals, want to go further into discussing something, remember your responsibility to the entire group. Suggest to them that you would be pleased to dialogue with them after the meeting.

Advertising the seminar. Use posters, bulletin announcements, phone calls to families who have teens. A suggested advertising poster might list the follwing goals:

  • To Celebrate the Family
  • Build Parent-Teen Relationships
  • Understand More of God’s Love
  • Build the Church
  • Learn Positive Communication Skills
  • Have Fun

Or consider creating a poster of ground rules for the seminar. Suggestions are:

  • Everyone participates
  • Everyone has the right to pass
  • All opinions and beliefs are honored
  • Mutual respect
  • Confidentiality
  • Take care of your own needs
  • No side conversations

Seminar preparation checklist. The following may serve as a check list of some of the major items needed for a successful seminar.

  • Appropriate seating (tables will be needed for some activities)
  • Podium or lectern (for leader’s notes)
  • Microphone (if needed)
  • Welcome poster (a poster similar to that used for advertising, as described above, may be posted in the meeting room to remind participants of the seminar goals)
  • Poster of ground rules (Contents are listed below; the poster is displayed as a continual reminder of the guidelines which govern the sessions)
  • Name tags
  • Paper flip chart
  • Felt-tip pens
  • Pens or pencils for everyone
  • Masking tape (for hanging paper on walls)
  • Words for songs (on overhead or in printed form)
  • Kleenex
  • Aspirin, other first aid items (depending on your location)
  • Drinking water

Part I – The Family That Talks Together

Friday evening – 7:00 – 9:00 p.m.

As Participants Arrive

  • Display a poster welcoming participants. Also, have someone at the door to welcome them.
  • Seat participants in family groups.
  • Provide materials for nametags. Instruct participants to decorate their nametags or write on them one thing they enjoy doing.


Welcome the group and share goals for the weekend. Suggestions are:

  • To celebrate the family
  • Build parent-teen relations
  • Understand more of God’s love
  • Build the church
  • Learn postive communication skills
  • Have fun

Present Ground Rules

Present and post ground rules for the weekend. They should remain in view throughout the meetings. The following points are suggested to clarify ground rules:

  • Every one participates in all of the exercises, at least mentally.
  • Everyone has the right to pass. If anyone does not wish to share or do an activity, he/she has that right and that right will be honored. However, that person should directly say to the others, “I pass.”
  • Because we are individuals, there will be differing opinions, maybe differing beliefs. These reflect how we have made sense out of our life experiences so far. We may change our opinions when we get new information or have new experiences.
  • The leader will respect the participants and invites participants to do the same. We can agree to disagree and hear each other without deciding that one person’s beliefs are right and another’s are wrong. When we disagree, we will not put down another’s ideas, and we will not change our own to please someone else.
  • Keeping a confidence is different from keeping a secret. There are no secrets about what we will be doing this weekend. However, it would be inappropriate for us to share another person’s opinions, beliefs, or experiences with others who are not a part of this group.
  • Taking care of your own needs means that if you aren’t comfortable, find a more comfortable chair if you can; if you need a drink, get one; if you are cold, see if something can be done about the temperature or if someone can loan you a sweater, etc. It does not mean you will get up and leave the rest of your family because you don’t want to participate in the activity.
  • It is disrespectful to get into a side conversation when someone else is talking, this is not practicing mutual respect.

Song Service

  • Select songs appropriate for the age group.
  • Make the words available in printed form or on overhead transparencies.


Introduction to the Program and Activity 1

What is a family ? Nuclear? Blended? Extended? Single parent? Family of origin? Married? Single? Church family? School family? Whatever its makeup, family is one of the most important parts of our lives for it gives us identity and a sense of belonging. Someone has said, “A family is where, when you come home at night, they have to let you in.” (Solicit definitions of family from participants.) Think about your own family. What are some things you know, without a doubt, that keep your family together and growing? (Participants may share as a group.)

Researchers study what builds strong families. They say that one of the most important components of a strong family is good communication. The family that talks together, the family that listens to one another, is a healthier family.

In this television age, a family “art” that should be on the endangered list is oral tradition. Family stories and memories, passed from one generation to another, are an important part of one’s heritage. (Leaders may want to share an oral tradition from personal experience.)

The point we need to consider is simply this! As families share together their experiences, memories, feelings, and needs, they build bridges to one another. Sharing the ways that God has led in the past is an important part of our faith development as well.

You will now have an opportunity to communicate with each other, first by completing the Family Fact Sheet and then sharing.

Activity 1 – Family Fact Sheet

Each person should be given a piece of paper large enough to accommodate the answers to the following questions: (see sample )

  1. Your full name (including middle and maiden names if appropriate)
  2. A favorite place in my house as a child . . .
  3. Three adjectives that describe me . . .
  4. A fun family memory I have . . .
  5. Something I know about my ancestors . . .
  6. If I could go anywhere in the world it would be . . .
  7. One of my first impressions of God or an early memory about God . . .

Directions: Each person will independently write his or her answers. After the group has been given five minutes or so to complete the task, instructions are for them to trade with one other person in their family. They are to read the other person’s sheet, then they can ask TWO questions in relation to something they read. Everyone should eventually exchange with each of the members of the family. They are not to ask more than two questions, and each person should accept the answers of the other person and not get into a side conversation. If only two family members are present, they can discuss their answers further, or the leader can suggest they join with another small family group after the initial sharing between the two of them.

Introduction to Activity 2

Family dilemmas? Family crises? Family concerns? These are all factors that can tie a family in “knots.” (Brainstorm with the group about typical “knotty” problems a family may face; write ideas down on a flipchart or chalkboard.)

Activity 2 – Knots

Objective: To untangle the “knot” created by six or more people without releasing clasped hands.

Directions: Have at least six people form a circle; you may need two or more families to work together. Pressing together, each person reaches for two different hands of those across the circle. (Note: avoid grasping the hand of a person next to you). After everyone is linked-up, the object is to once again form a circle without unclasping their hands. Verbal communication is fine, and some groups may end up with two circles. Some groups may not be able to untangle their group in the time allowed. If so, that’s okay.

Debriefing: Discuss lessons that can be learned about how problems can be solved. Who became the natural leaders in the groups? Are these the leaders who are usually listened to in the family? What was it like to combine two families for this exercise? What kind of circumstances might tie two families in “knots” in real life?

Introduction to Activity 3

Consider your family heritage. What makes your family unique, besides the fact that you belong to it? What does your family stand for? What do you know about your family name, its origins, the blend of cultures and peoples that you share in common? One reason the children of Israel focused on their origins and past history is because it helped them respect God’s calling and His leading. In some similar ways, we have been called and we are led. It’s part of what makes each family unique. (Leader/s may want to share from their personal history; ask others to share about their family’s name.)

For families of Scottish background, for example, you will know that major clans had a tartan and an emblem. In medieval times men wore a coat-of-arms which identified them in an important way. In Hebrew culture, first names were given to describe personal qualities. (Leaders may want to expand on coat-of-arms banner idea with some historical information.)

Perhaps today some of your cultural traditions related to your family’s identity have dropped away. However, your family is a unit, it is special, and it stands for something. In this next exercise we will give you each an opportunity to create your own family banner or coat-of-arms.

Activity 3 – Family Banners or Coat of Arms

Objective: To symbolize what really matters to you in your family.

Materials needed: Large sheets of paper or poster board for each family; felt-tip markers; tape for hanging banners. You can draw a coat-of-arms or banner shape beforehand, or have each family draw their own.

Directions: Each coat-of-arms or banner should be divided into six sections. Each person should have an opportunity to help with the drawing, using pictures, designs, symbols, or words in the appropriate sections. The drawings don’t need to look like artwork, and they don’t have to make sense to anyone but the family who is making them. The sixth question should be completed in words.

Questions for banner or coat-of-arms:

  1. What do you consider our family’s greatest achievement?
  2. What is one special thing we each admire about another family member?
  3. What are three family activities we enjoy doing?
  4. What are three family rituals or traditions that are meaningful to our family.
  5. What is at least one thing our family should try to improve?
  6. What is/can be our family motto? Write it in words.

Note: A sample with the six questions printed on it could be displayed at the front, or distributed. Families can decorate their banner or coat-of-arms as time allows.

Debriefing: Invite families to hang the banners around the room. This idea is adapted from the book, Helping Your Child Find Values to Live By by Sidney B. Simon and Sally Wendkos Olds.

Closing: Family Prayer Circles

Invite each family to gather together in a circle and suggest that each member offer a sentence prayer.

Part II – The Family That Prays and Worships Together

Sabbath morning – 9:30 a.m.- 12:15 p.m.

Welcome and Prayer

Seminar leaders may wish to invite one of the participants or participant families to offer prayer.

Song Service or Special Musical Selection


Opening Remarks

Remind the group of the goals and ground rules determined in the previous meeting. Share your hopes and plans for the day. Reassure participants that the day’s format, which will vary somewhat from the typical Sabbath School and Divine Worship, is a different but appropriate way to worship on Sabbath.

Introduction to Activity 4

We all agree that having family worship together is important. We are here to worship together this morning. But it is difficult for many families to have worship at home on a regular basis because of busy schedules, lack of time, lack of commitment. Some find it difficult to keep worship interesting and relevant.

Note to leaders. In the Valuegenesis Study of 12,000 youth from Adventist homes in the North American Division, it was found that there is a high positive correlation between family worship and such variables as a warm family climate, Adventism as a life goal, overall endorsement of church standards, church attendance, denominational loyalty, vertical faith, frequency of personal prayer, tithe paying, and intention to remain an Adventist at age 40. A suggested resource for further comments about worship is Valuegenesis: Faith in the Balance by Roger L. Dudley and V. Bailey Gillespie.

We will have an opportunity now to participate in an exercise similar to one a family could do at home in a family worship. We will discuss the story of Jesus stilling the storm at sea (Mark 4:37- 41) in a relational way and focus on how people deal with “storms” and stressors.

Activity 4 – The Storm at Sea

Objective: In light of the account in Mark 4:37-41, discuss in a relational way how people deal with “storms” and stressors.

Directions: After dividing the family groups into circles, the leader reads verse 37 and describes how the storm might have been. Each family group is then asked to discuss how it would have been for them if they had been in the boat, based on how they typically respond to stress or crises. Care should be taken to allow each person to respond or not as they wish, without interruption. In each family group, the person whose birthday is nearest to the seminar date may be designated as group leader. After allowing time for discussion, the seminar leader will ask for a response from each group leader. Then the leader reads verses 38-41.

Debriefing: What are some of the stressors or crisis issues that a family may face? What has this exercise illustrated about your family? What has it illustrated about the best way to handle family crises and family stress?

Activity 5 – Family Gifts to the Group

Each family is invited to work together as a group to choose a creative way to present a meaningful scripture or song. Families should be given 20-25 minutes preparation and practice time. The groups should choose one person in the family to introduce their “gift.” Note: It is hoped that each family will join in this exercise. Even small families should be encouraged to participate; it is suggested that people not combine themselves into larger groups.

Closing Prayer and Blessing on the Meal

Note to leaders regarding the noon meal. A potluck meal on the premises is suggested. Arrangements should be made for individuals other than participants to handle meal preparations, so that no one is taken away from the family group during worship.

Part III – The Family That Works Together

Sabbath afternoon – 2:00 – 5:30 p.m.

Introduction to Activity 6

What is the task of the family? To keep the children out of trouble? To make sure the bills are paid? To make a good impression? Some families consider these things to be their job. We believe the real function of the family is to be able to help its members to communicate, to be able to handle conflict, and to be committed to growth in all areas, forever . . . from here to eternity. That implies an ability to assess family strengths, to sort out roles and abilities. There was a popular poster a few years ago that said, “If you don’t know where you are going, you won’t know when you get there.” Now let’s spend some time to see where we are and where we want to go.

Activity 6 – Family Report Card

Objective: Researchers have found that strong families have similar characteristics. In our next exercise you will have an opportunity to see what those characteristics are and respond to how you would rate your family.

Directions: Distribute and administer the Family Report Card (see handout ) which has been duplicated, one for each participant. Read the instructions: “For each topic, circle the number that represents where your family is on the scale. Record that score in the box to the right of each scale. Add all of the boxes to get your total score.” Then direct them to the end of the exercise where it says: If you scored: . . .

(NOTE: Permission has been granted from Family Service America, Inc. to photocopy and use the Family Report Card , provided credit is given to FSA and no changes are made. No additions or deletions should be made, but permission is granted to imprint the name of the church or agency on the last page.)


Introduction to Activity 7

We often assume that if someone loves us, they will know what we need without our telling them. There’s a normal pull during the teen years to separate. What we need to do is learn to separate and give freedom in ways that are healthy. This is one of the important tasks of the family.

We will spend some time hearing from you, teens, what it is that you need from your parents and what you appreciate in them. Parents, we want to hear from you about what it is you need from your teens and what you appreciate in them.

Activity 7 – Family Needs Assessment

Objective: To discuss how needs can be met and how appreciation can be expressed in families.

Directions: Divide the group, with parents in one group and teens in another. If possible, have them in different rooms. Using a blackboard or writing on poster paper, have both parents and teens make separate lists, each referring to the other group, with the leader writing down their responses to the following:

  1. What we need from our parents/teens
  2. What we appreciate about our parents/teens

(Some NEEDS of teens may be: to be more a part of family decisions that affect me, not have to share everything with my sister or brother, be trusted, wish my parents would stay home and be with us more often. NEEDS of parents might be: teens pick up their things, help more with family chores, listen, be more open with us, not be suspicious that we don’t trust them when we ask them where they are going, do more things with the family.)

Debriefing: When the lists are complied from the two groups, get the groups back together and go over the appreciation list from parents first, then appreciation list from teens, then the needs lists. Then the leader should facilitate discussion (generally there is more in common between the groups than either expect) and discuss how needs can be met and how appreciation can be expressed in families. Encourage the family members to talk about their reactions to what was expressed in the next activity, “Walk and Talk.”

Activity 8 – Walk and Talk

Instruct each family to go on a walk and encourage them to talk about the previous activities. Each family should bring back one thing with them from the walk that symbolizes either what they have learned, what they have decided, what they need, or a new commitment they have made Upon returning, each family chooses one member to share the symbol and its meaning.

Notes of Appreciation (Optional activity):

Objective: Express appreciation for each family member in a specific and tangible way. Materials needed: Special notepaper, enough for each individual to write to each family member.

Directions: Invite participants to write a short note of appreciation to each other family member. In this note they should be specific about things they appreciate about this person. After the allotted time, have family members “deliver their mail.”

Introduction to Activity 9

Another work of the family is building a home. The symbol for the l994 International Year of the Family pictured a heart within a house. That’s a good illustration of what a home really is. It provides a shelter physically, emotionally, and spiritually. To illustrate the importance of a shelter to the family, and the impact communication has on how our family shelter stands, we will introduce you to the next activity.

Activity 9 – Shelter Game

Objective: Each family is to construct a free-standing shelter, large enough for all family members to fit under, using only newspapers and masking tape.

Materials needed: A large quantity of newspapers; masking tape.

Directions: After gathering materials, each family is given five 10″ [25 cm.] strips of masking tape. Families must spend at least three minutes planning and communicating about how they will build their shelter. They may not begin until the time is given to begin building. Once they begin construction, all verbal communication must cease. When the shelter is completed, they are to all “find shelter” and let the leader know they are done with their task. Debriefing: Discuss lessons learned about listening, about delegation of responsibilities and duties. Discuss the “shelter” concept. How can a family provide shelter, be a shelter? Have families discuss what they discovered or learned during this process.

Evening Meal

Part IV – The Family That Plays Together

Saturday evening – 7:00 – 8:30 p.m.

Introduction to Activity 10

We’ve discussed many things this weekend. However, the most important thing is that each family is unique and special in the eyes of God. That is worth celebrating. You will now have an opportunity to illustrate who you are and what you like, some of your values and goals, by making a family collage.

Activity 10 – Family Collage

Objective: To allow each family to express creatively their personalities, their interests, their values, and goals.

Materials needed: Provide each family with one sheet of poster board, at least one pair of scissors, glue, and a quantity of magazines.

Directions: Family members are to browse through the supplied magazines, collecting words and pictures that relate to them. These are to be glued to the poster board in a manner which they decide upon as a family. The ground rules apply: everyone in the family is to have opportunity to participate; the exercise should not be dominated by one to the exclusion of the others.

Debriefing: Each family group chooses a person to explain the meaning of their family collage to the entire group. To conserve time, the seminar leader can use the “burning matchstick method.” For each family, a wooden match is lit; as long as the match burns, the designated family member can explain his or her family’s collage. When the match is used up-the time is used up! The collection of collages can be displayed in the meeting room and taken home at the close of the evening.



  • Invite participants to share something they have learned.
  • Review goals and discuss whether or not goals have been met. Encourage families to continue reading, studying, and communicating in order to grow closer to each other.
  • Form a circle and sing, “Side by Side We Stand ” or “The Family of God.”

Let’s remember that the family that talks together, prays together, works together, and plays together is the family that stays together. Let’s keep working on it!

by Don & Sue Murray
Don Murray, Dean of Men, Andrews University
Sue Murray, Parents’ Services Coordinator, Berrien Springs Public Schools


Clarke, J. I. (1984). Who me, lead a group? Winston Press, Inc.

Dudley, R., & Gillespie, V. B. (1992). Valuegensis: Faith in the balance . Riverside, CA: La Sierra University Press.

Simon, S. B., & Olds, S. W. (1977). Helping your child find values to live . Values Press.

Reprinted from Karen & Ron Flowers, Making Families Whole. Silver Spring, MD: Department of Family Ministries, General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, 1995.