When I was a child, my family attended church together. I fondly remember sitting in the pew with my mother and father, my sister and my grandmother, actively engaged in church. Everyone who attended our church was present during the worship service. Somewhere along the way, that changed. Today, a very large number of evangelical churches have adopted an age-segregated model. They divide families up. We believe this is a counter-productive practice with little basis in the Bible.
A Biblical Basis for Families
We believe that the family is one of the basic societal units created and ordained by God. We believe that biblical order and the unity of the family are crucial to the stability and health of the Church of Jesus Christ and even to the health and prosperity of nations. From the Bible we see that families are vitally important units. For example, God established the family and gave it a purpose and charge (Genesis 1:28; Genesis 2:24), God established Israel in groups of families (or tribes), and nations were established out of these extended families (Genesis 25:23, Genesis 49:28, Numbers 7:2). We see that much instruction is to take place within families (Deuteronomy 6:7, Proverbs 1:8), extended families are considered a blessing (Psalm 128:5-6)), and children are a blessing with a multi-generational, familial purpose (Psalm 127:3-5).
Because the Bible has so much to say about families, we teach that Christian families ought to joyfully conform to all of the Biblical commands regarding families such as gender roles, duties and responsibilities with the household, fruitfulness, love and respect between spouses, obedience of children, submission to authority, discipleship, etc. We believe and can testify that obedience to God’s Word regarding the family leads to peace and joyful contentment in the home.
We Worship Together
Since we believe this Biblical ideal, we worship together with our entire family – children and adults alike – both in the home and in the congregation. We intentionally program our church after the Bible’s examples of the various gatherings of God’s people. We see children present in the congregation and during teaching in many places, such as the Old Testament’s gatherings of the congregation of Israel (Deuteronomy 29:10-13, Deuteronomy 31:12-13, Joshua 8:3-5), Jesus’ rebuke of the disciples when children were brought to him (Matthew 19:13-14), and the Apostles who addressed children directly as their letters were read to the congregation (for example, Ephesians 6:1. These examples give us a Biblical precedent to keep our families together for worship. We believe that segregation during the worship service undermines the most profitable application of scripture. By keeping our programming simple, we have found that families are strengthened and discipleship is nurtured.
This makes us a “Family Integrated Church” (FIC), and sadly, our kinds of churches have been criticized sharply over the past many years. Some have said that FIC churches over-emphasize the family or that we have a false view of the church. They have charged FIC churches with maintaining an ecclesiology that, if true, would indeed be in error. They correctly say worship is for individuals inclined toward God because God has saved individuals, not families. They correctly say that the church is not to be made up of families, but of individual believers, each bringing particular gifts an talents to the body. We agree! But we do not agree with the idea that church should be so individualized that families are divided and sent in various age-segregated directions.
Age Segregated Worship IS a Re-Definition
Our lack of age segregated programs (Sunday school, youth groups, singles studies, seniors fellowships) is not an effort to redefine or over-emphasize anything. Instead, we would say that age-segregation itself was a re-definition of what ought to be normative in Christian churches. Age segregation is a relatively new concept and has its origins in humanistic education models rather than the Word of God. While there are surely exceptions, exceptions do not establish doctrine and practice. In general, age-segregated worship has not produced good fruit in the churches of our nation. Worship is most normally seen in the Bible as a singular event for all people. Because families attend churches, families worship together.
While we do teach on family roles and responsibilities, and we do disciple our members in Biblical family life, we believe that it is merely a facet of a well-rounded, doctrinally-inclusive approach to balanced Christian living. We are saddened to see that much of Christendom has abandoned the doctrine of the family, and believe that reversing the effects of this loss is one of the great battles of our day. We are saddened by the corrupting effects in the church of cultural statism, feminism, humanism and their tactics of undermining the Christian family. We do not desire to make concessions to ‘changing times’ or to a morphing, ethically evolving modern culture. We do not desire to employ novel ideas and godless education theories to Christ’s flock. Because much of the church has left the doctrines of family out of its teaching, it is only natural that such teaching would seem unusually strong when it is proclaimed. In reality, a healthy family integrated church preaches the full counsel of God’s Word, including those portions which deal with families, gender roles and responsibilities.
We worship together, old and young, because we believe it is the most normative model of worship, it honors the Word of God, and it bears great fruit.