After 18 years of leadership Mark and Christine are stepping back, and leadership of FamilyLife will move from the shoulders of Mark to Phil Keates. In this article, and accompanying video, we look back and celebrate what God has done and also look forward with hope.
Watch a video of a short interview with Lesley Cheesman (National Director, Agapé UK) HERE.
Why the change now?
A number of factors have led to Mark deciding this is the right time. On the personal side he and Christine have moved to Northumberland to be closer to their two daughters, and they have just become grandparents. Mark is taking a sabbatical in the summer of 2021 and in planning the leadership cover during his absence his thoughts developed: “succession planning has been on my mind for a while and I feel that the time is right now for a new leader to take over and develop FamilyLife’s strategy. Phil is clever and is a great thinker and I believe that Phil is the right man to develop and implement the strategic changes that are required moving forward.”
Phil Keates has been appointed Director of FamilyLife by Agape UK and will take over leadership on 15 February. Mark will continue as a Familylife team member, supporting Phil until the end of April.
Mark will be on sabbatical from May. When he returns after the Summer he plans to prayerfully explore new opportunities in FamilyLife, Agapé and Cru (the American arm of the international organisation that Agapé is part of). Whilst his role has changed, the desires of his heart stay the same; to help people discover, walk and grow with Jesus, and to help strengthen couples’ relationships.
What about Christine?
Christine has had a number of responsibilities in the FamilyLife team; training, communications and resource development being the main ones. Over the last few years she has slowly been handing off responsibilities to others, and for the time being she will continue as leader of the Toucan Together App development until a suitable project leader is identified.
Christine: “It has always been our plan to find another champion, and appropriate ‘owner’, for Toucan once development of the core content was complete, which will be later in 2021. It is our hope that the next champion will continue to develop this amazing, innovative resource and make it available in other languages, so that even more couples can benefit.”
Once a new owner for Toucan Together is found Christine will step down from full time staff: “I remain fully committed to FamilyLife, although at some point this will be in a voluntary capacity. I’ve recently become a grandmother and I’m looking forward to spending more time ‘living’ family life instead of FamilyLife ministry leadership.”
Christine also wants to spend more time helping people grow in their faith (Christine is a Spiritual Director), writing, speaking and painting.
Looking back at what has been achieved
When Mark and Christine took on leadership in 2003 they decided to develop a practical, Bible based small group discipleship resource for couples first and then to launch events (physical and online) to widen the reach of FamilyLife beyond church-goers. The majority of FamilyLife events are designed for people of “all faiths and no faith”.
- Together (FamilyLife’s Marriage small group resource) has been transformative for thousands of couples. It has been translated into 13 languages and is being used all over the world. People have come to faith in Jesus and their faith journey has included being part of a ’Together’ group. Mark: “Because the Together movement has spread out of control we don’t know how many are involved, but we estimate it is between 2,000 to 4,000 people”.
- A little over 16,000 people have been reached through FamilyLife events and other activities (excluding Together groups).
- In Spring 2020 we launched our monthly online webinar; ‘Couples Talk’. Couples Talk gives a platform to encourage and support relationships during the Pandemic, by sharing relationship skills and honest, open stories of ordinary couples, their highs and lows, and the difference faith makes to relationships.
- The Toucan Together App has had 5,000 downloads and the Toucan Together marriage devotional available on ‘Youversion’ Bible App has had nearly 4,000 subscribers in three weeks. Christine: “Toucan Together is a world first and we’re excited to develop very high quality relationship support via an app. Dating apps were considered strange only a few years ago and now are mainstream. With Toucan Together we are pioneering Kingdom Impact.“ “Mark: “We are very excited by the ‘extended reach’ that our collaboration with YouVersion has enabled.”
- A network of hundreds of volunteers has grown across the UK. Mark: “We have seen a movement of volunteers grow across the UK, who are passionate about supporting healthy marriage relationships by organising local events and seminars, as well as leading Together small groups.”
- FamilyLife ministries have sprouted up across Europe. Mark: “It’s been fantastic to be part of an international movement. We have loved sharing strategy and resources developed in the UK, and watching how these have been adapted in different countries.”
- Kia and Negin Hadaeghi, part of the UK team have started FamilyLife Farsi ministry. Mark: “I’m hugely encouraged by Kia and negin’s leadership; Together has been translated into Farsi, a volunteer group has formed, and the first Farsi Together discipleship group is up and running. They are also working with others to broadcast Farsi TV, a marriage series, via satellite.”
Hope for the future
Whilst FamilyLife has already launched an App and online webinars, the FamilyLife strategy needs to adapt to respond to the new world in which we now live. Mark says: “I’m excited and pleased that Phil will be leading FamilyLife through this ‘strategy pivot’, simply because Phil has attributes which suit him well to the task ahead. The FamilyLife team has grown a little smaller over recent months through people changes and the new team will be nimble and well placed to respond.”
Mark summarises his hope: “It is my experience that God has brought alongside us the right people, resources and partnerships, at the right time, and I’m confident that this will continue in the future. We are fortunate to be able to celebrate the past, and Christine and I look forward to seeing what God will do through the new team in the future”.