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Who Comes to Your Church?

30 types of family units in your church

By Barrington H. Brennen, October 9, 2012, 2023

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Who comes to your church to worship each week?  Who are the members of your church?  What kind of individuals and families units come to your church for instruction, inspiration or healing?  Are you are aware of the different types of family units that come to your church each weekend; each one with their own needs and challenges and each with different expectations.   Knowing about these family units and learning how to meet the unique needs of each family unit, are important to effective ministry. 

 Unfortunately, even if we are aware of some of the unique family units that come to church each week, the language or rhetoric from the pulpit does not really match the needs of the every listener.  For example, although divorce is not ideal but often necessary at times, we forget that there are countless divorcees worshiping each week and the language focuses only on “healthy married couples or families.” 

 We know that it is not God’s plan for any one to drink or become an alcoholic, however, on many weekends there are countless of individual who are struggling with the desires to drink.  What do we do instead?  We condemn and criticize.  Too often the pulpit is used to push down people’s throats how to behave and not offering healing or encouragement.   These are “hell-fire” sermons that only talk about the importance of “not sinning” but never talks about helping the struggling sinner.  There are too many “hell-fire” preachers today who think they are actually spreading the gospel but instead they are creating “toxic faith.”   It is a pathetic approach to the gospel.  Too many preachers have forgotten that Jesus said “come to Me all who are heavy laden and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28-29.  See also Isaiah 58:3-12)


Below is a list of 30 types of family units that might be in your church each weekend.  Ask yourself if your church is truly meeting the needs of each of these units.  I created this list several years ago to help us to think how effectively we are reaching everyone.  Here is the list with brief explanations when necessary. 


Note that each type of family unit has it own unique challenges and opportunities that requires a sensitive, caring response from the church.

  1. Nuclear families (married mom and dad with children)

  2. One married parent with dependents while the other parent is in prison

  3. Never-married single adult families (mom or dad alone with children)

  4. Divorced with no children

  5. Divorced with dependent children

  6. Separated with dependent children

  7. Separated with no dependent children

  8. Widowed with dependent children

  9. Widowed with no children

  10. Step and blended families (One or both adults have children for previous marriage or relationship)

  11. Extended families (Adult relatives (not parents) living together with children

  12. Grandparent with dependent children.

  13. Teenager with young siblings.  This is surprisingly common in our country.

  14. Common-law relationship (long-term adults living together with no commitment or plans to marry)

  15. Seasonal (or nomadic) union.  When on partner lives aboard for extremely long periods or permanent only seeing each other annually or very rare occasions.

  16. Emotionally separated or divorced union.  This is a husband and wife who are living together but are going through severe problems and refuses to improve or refuses to divorce.

  17. Affair-compromised union.  One partner is aware that the other partner is having an affair and either tolerate or accept it.  Or the innocent partner finds it difficult to leave because of financial reasons. 

  18. Same-sex union/marriage.  Yes, some of these couples are in your church.

  19. Homosexual/lesbian adult living alone.      

  20. Transgender/transsexual individuals living alone or with other adults or family members

  21. Racially or ethnically mixed couples/families. (race, language or nationality)

  22. A single, heterosexual, emerging adult (age 18-25) living with other single emerging adults (all non married males and/or females) - Communal living.

  23. Single adults (one man and one woman-heterosexuals) living together before marriage (shaking up) 

  24. Senior family member (very old) who has Alzheimer's, or Dementia, or other mental challenges living with other family members.

  25. A family unit with a severely developmentally disabled child/adult (Autistic, Down Syndrome, etc) 

  26. A family unit with a wounded war veteran.

  27. A family unit with a member who has a long-term physical illness (Crohn’s disease, cancer, kidney failure and on dialysis, AIDS, etc)

  28. Aged retired couple living alone with severe limitations. 

  29. Spiritually single family unit.  One spouse is a Christian or religious or both partners are of different faiths or religions.

  30. High profile leaders’ family unit.  (This can include government leaders, pastors, or any one in a high profile position).  Too often children and spouses of high profile leaders are neglected. 

Did you find this list helpful? If you can think of another kind of family unit please send your suggestion to the email or address at the end of this article. Note that this list can multiply ten-fold when you add dysfunctional behavior. For example: alcoholism, pathological gambling, prostitution, drug addiction, etc. Each one of these dysfunctions can be applied to any family unit.

Do you realize that most of the sermons on Saturdays or Sundays are geared to the nuclear family unit only, which constitutes in many congregations less that one-third of all family units? Even the person who gives the main prayer often forgets to mention the singles parents, never-married-singles, divorcees, widows, drug users, recovering homosexuals and alcoholics, etc., who are members of the church. We love to pray for the “healthy husbands and wives” and “families” but we neglect to mention persons or family units in our churches who have also been “washed by the blood of the Lamb.” We say that the church is a hospital for sick people; so let us not keep them sick by not meeting their needs. This weekend make a special note of all those kinds of families units who come to church. Write me and let me know of the different family units you noticed in your church. I would really like to hear from you.

Barrington H. Brennen is a marriage and family therapist, and board certified clinical psychotherapist, USA.  Send your questions or comments to barringtonbrennen@gmail.com  or  call 242-327-1980 or 242-477 4002, or  write to P.O. Box CB-11045, Nassau, The Bahamas; or visit www.soencouragement.org 





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