Making the choice at Cornerstone to become a family integrated church was the most foolish decision we could have made in the short run, for it indeed was costly, but it was the wisest decision we ever made in the long run. Here are 5 reasons why we are glad we did and will never go back and why you will be glad you took the time to look for a family integrated church near you to worship with.
- Generational Faith Transmission. Family-integrated churches, or age-integrated churches as we sometimes call ourselves, have a significantly higher success rate at transmitting our faith to the next generation. The statistics are piling in from every source. The typical neo-traditional church (by neo-traditional we mean the typical church today that has adopted the concept of age-segregated ministries including junior church, Sunday schools, youth groups and separate children’s ministries on Wednesday nights, traditions that are actually new or neo, since the 1950’s but absent from the church for the first 1800 years plus) is failing to capture the hearts and minds of the next generation to hold onto the faith of our fathers. Thom Rainer in his book, The Bridger Generation, posts these statistics: Among the Builder generation (1910-1945) in America, 65% attend an evangelical church, and among the Boomer generation, (1946-1964) only 38% attend, and among the Busters (1965-1976) only 16% and finally among the Bridgers (1977-1994) only 4% attend church. That’s the big picture showing Christianity will be extinct in our nation in another 20-30 years unless God brings a dramatic revival. As we fine tune our statistics to ask “why?” as Ken Ham and Britt Beemer did in their survey of twenty-somethings who used to attend church in the book Already Gone, we find that the evangelical church is losing upwards of 90% of our youth to the culture (45% in junior high, another 45% in senior high and the final 10% in college) because, wait, hold your breath, because of traditional Sunday School. In short, the traditional Sunday School curriculum has failed to give the students credible evidence that Genesis 1 is trustworthy and when biology teachers and professors give more credible evidence for evolution than what they have heard, students are drawn to this atheistic/humanistic worldview and drawn away from a Christian worldview.
As I unscientifically poll fathers who attend neo-traditional churches and ask them how many fathers in their churches are faithfully holding daily family worship in their homes the number keeps zeroing in on about 10%. In an age-integrated church where fathers are told and asked about their family worship activities the number is usually upwards of 60% and higher. We find that in a neo-traditional church, fathers are highly tempted to outsource the discipleship of their families to Sunday School teachers, AWANA workers and youth pastors, and do. In family-integrated churches there is no possibility of out-sourcing. It’s either they do it with our help, or it won’t get done.
How important is this generational faith transmission? How important is eternity in heaven vs hell for your children? And of all reasons to consider where one attends church, doesn’t this one rate right at the top? In other words, will the place you worship on Sunday be a place where you and your children will hear the gospel message plainly? Will it be a worshiping community where they can see the gospel lived out in genuineness as an example to them? And, more importantly, will the place and people you worship with on Sunday be a place where fathers are being taught to teach these truths at home around the dinner table daily, and are being held accountable to live that life out in front of their family? If not, aren’t you investing your limited hours in a church that is denying you and your family by being neo-traditional in its programming—with leadership that caters far too much to the lowest common denominator in terms of attenders who will only tolerate topics that will be the least offensive? What’s best for your family, Christian father?
- Generational Wisdom. In an age-integrated church, all ages worship together in every service or activity, whether it is worshiping together in the morning service or studying, praying, sharing communion, and sharing together in a second service. Children hear and observe Christians from all ages, especially grandparents, live out their Christianity in front of everybody. Children then get to see that Christianity works for adults and is not just about entertainment or dumbing down Bible stories for their “inferior” intellectual abilities. Dustin Guidry, pastor of Ridgewood Church in Port Arthur TX, was changing his 2-year old daughter’s diapers while she was clutching her children’s Bible and nonchalantly asked her daddy, “Daddy, would you open my Bible to Colossians?” She had heard in the church service the same instruction from the pulpit and wanted to follow along. She couldn’t read, but wanted to participate as best she could! We find it amazing in our church just how much our toddlers are absorbing when we might think they are getting nothing at all. Oh, and at Cornerstone, everyone over 60 is Grandpa or Grandma to everyone under 10. Do you know how important that is for those parents whose parents live too far away to have weekly interaction with their children? It’s huge.
- Better Behaved Children and a Welcoming Atmosphere for Tots. When parents send their children off to junior church to be entertained, the tendency is to keep the kids corralled as best as possible and hopefully get a Bible truth and verse across in the midst of minor chaos. In a family-integrated church, children sit with parents and if possible, with grandparents. And of course they will be better behaved sitting with mom and dad. But, there is not the rigidness you might imagine in our worship or may remember from your childhood. Family integrated worship resembles a family gathering in many ways. We love the noise of babies crying! I love it when my grandson Wyatt escapes his grandmother’s grasp and races to the platform while I am preaching to be held there in “Bapa’s” arms for several minutes, until he (Wyatt) has had his fill and then returns to sitting in “Nana’s lap. No one in our family integrated church is upset by this informality, in fact we love it! It creates a very inviting atmosphere for families.
- Fewer Programs Means Less Burn-Out. Most churches struggle endlessly with finding the enormous numbers of volunteers to staff Sunday school classes, AWANA or similar ministries, and youth advisors along with all the other committee work necessary to staff a program-driven church. In an FIC church, there is essentially no programming compared to an ASC (age segregated church). We worship together, study together and do home groups together and we encourage families to evangelize their neighbors through biblical hospitality. By streamlining church activities to match the New Testament model, we allow our families the free time to do more Kingdom work and to do the kinds of things and ministries they enjoy doing rather than being pigeon-holed into doing something they don’t enjoy. Life is more fun this way and a whole lot less stressful.
- The Benefit of Being Biblical and God Pleasing. Now don’t get your pants in a wad when I say this. I am not saying that age-segregated churches are filled with non-believers and are not Christian, I am simply pointing out that age-integrated churches are practicing church just like they did in the Old and New Testaments (see Deuteronomy 29:10-12, 31:12-13; Joshua 8:34-35; 2 Chronicles 20:13; Joel 2:15-16; Ezra 10:1; Matthew 14:14-21; Acts 21:5-6; Ephesians 6:1-4; Colossians 3:20 and Mark 10:13-16). Ask yourself the questions, “how is the church supposed to practice all the ‘one another’ passages so prevalent in Scripture if whole sections of the flock are not withone another? And, “how are children supposed to take their place in the body (Romans 12 and 1 Corinthians 12) as Paul instructed if they are not fellowshipping ‘in the body’”. And how is the church to sing and admonish one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs if a third of the flock is singing somewhere else in the building or on another campus? I am saying that age-segregated churches are not practicing church like they did in both Testaments, just in case you missed this point. And if you object that we (neo-traditional, age segregated churches) know better how to “do” church than the saints before us, I would say that might just be a tad, maybe even tiny bit presumptuous. It would also reflect a mistrust in the sufficiency of Scripture to be all we need for faith and practice as 2 Timothy 3:17 boldly claims.
There are more benefits for your family that perhaps I will get around to someday addressing, but for now here are some resources to get you started in this journey. The most important one is this link https://ncfic.org/network/ where Scott Brown points out the 7 most important qualities to look for in a church and you will be surprised to see that age-integration is the least important among the 7. Topping that are 1) is the true gospel preached often?, 2) is Christ at the center of all that is done?, 3) is the Bible the sole authority for faith and practice?, (if so it should be heading towards age-integration) 4) does the pastor preach expositionally?, 5) is the church elder-led with multiple elders?, 6) and does the church practice church discipline? While you are at the NCFIC.org web site you can download the movie Divided and order Scott Brown’s book A Weed in the Church, two excellent resources to provide a biblical foundation for age-integrated worship.