OUR PHILOSOPHY OF AGE INTEGRATION

When I was in seminary in 1979 I received a challenge from a professor one day in class. This instructor made an observation about the effect of the modern church on the health of the family. He pointed out that typically, families rode to church together in one car, but the church divided them up with classes and programs once they arrived. And then Sunday evening and all week long, the church continued to divide them, with each member of the family going off to church-sponsored events planned for their respective age groups.  He noted to the class that most churches by virtue of their age-segregated programs did more to weaken families than to strengthen them. Then he looked at us and said, "Gentlemen, you are the future pastors of America. You will assume pulpits and plant churches. You have an opportunity to change this destructive tendency. Go out there and see what you can do." 

When I planted Hope Chapel in 1987 my goal was to create a church that strengthened families instead of weakening them. I subsequently, developed an approach that integrated families into almost all aspects of church life. This means that as a fellowship we are committed to strengthening families, so keep them together as much as possible. Therefore, almost all home groups and Bible studies are geared for families and everyone of all ages. We do have some meetings just for men and just for ladies (adults 13 & up), as well as two annual adults-only banquets, but overall we try to keep families and singles together. This is obviously in contrast to the popular approach, which divides up families and intentionally segregates meetings and ministries by ages and marital status. Our specific goal is quite the opposite -- to integrate all ages as much as possible.

Many are unaware that age segregation is a recent (150 year old) cultural phenomena which was adopted by the Church early in the 20th century. Although this practice now forms the basis for most modern church programs, we have concluded that it does not help, but rather hampers ministry by weakening the core unit of church and society -- the family. It is our goal to integrate the ages and avoid age segregation not simply because it is a recent experiment in church history, but also for the following reasons:

We consider age segregation harmful because:

1. It deprives the younger of the ministry God means them to receive from the older

The Scriptures tell us that those older typically have more wisdom than those younger (Job 12:12; 32:7; 8:8; Prov 16:31; 20:29; Lev 19:32)

Titus 2:4-5 teaches older women to train younger women

2. It deprives the older of the ministry God means them to receive from the younger

Young and old alike, if they are believers, have spiritual gifts, which God intends be used to bless one another. (1 Cor 12:1-27)

Little ones model for those older what it like to receive God's kingdom (Luke 18:17; Mat 18:3; Ps 8:2) 

Those older must welcome little ones into fellowship, because Jesus taught that to welcome a little one in his name was to welcome him. (Mat 18:5)

Jesus actually rebuked the disciples for trying to keep children away while the disciples were spending time in "adult" fellowship with him. (Mat 19:13-14)

3. It reinforces the immaturity of the younger by depriving them of adults as their peers

We are peers of those we spend time with. 

We become like our peers  (Prov 13:20; 2:20; 22:24; Ps 119:63; 1 Cor 15:33)

Those older provide positive models for those younger 

4. It creates a generation gap

Children and teens develop the idea that they have nothing in common with and no use for senior citizens and other adults, so become intolerant of them.

Older folks learn to be impatient toward children and become annoyed at their presence.

5. It warps children's and teenagers' view of their identity in Christ

It reinforces to children their "passive" identity rather than their "contributing member" identity  (1 Cor 12:1-27). 

It teaches kids to see themselves as "outsiders" -- that the main service is for adults and not them.

It reinforces to young people a "youth subculture" identity rather than a family identity.

It communicates to the young that they cannot understand pulpit teaching and need to receive instruction bathed in entertainment and fun.

6. It fosters a self-centered view of church life both in the older and the younger

Catering to specific ages with age-tailored programs communicates to the participants that the programs exists to satisfy them and cultivates the perspective "What will this ministry do for me?". It helps produce Christians who are more concerned about being served than serving. They develop the vision that they are "passengers" on a cruise ship, when in fact, the Bible portrays all believers as "crew members" on a battleship. 

Minimizes the growth opportunities of being with those of dissimilar values and interests.

7. It limits the vision for outreach

Segregating people by ages for the purpose of evangelizing the unbelievers who visit the church, is a modern church practice which we do not regard as the best one. For approximately the first 1900 years of church history, church gatherings were considered to be times for discipling and equipping believers for the work of evangelism in their homes and communities.  

Those who depend upon the church to draw in and evangelize the unbelieving friends of their children, often miss the opportunities they have to do a more effective job at home, with none of the side effects of age segregation.  

8. It divides up families and contributes to their breakdown

Multiple activities for different ages mean family time is minimized.

The external social groups create gratifying relationships and friendship bonds which hamper family cohesiveness.

Preeminence of the family identity is increasingly weakened as social groups grow in importance. 

Families come to believe the error that peer relationships are more important than the family relationship, ie: teens begin to identify with youth subculture more than parents and siblings; they choose friends over family. 

9. Its artificial dividing lines subtly foster competition and disharmony between ages rather than unity

Many parents assume that the sibling rivalry in their homes is normal and to be expected, but are unaware that it is often bolstered by age segregation in church and society.

 

Age integrated meetings require that children be trained to have self control. For them to participate in meetings geared for adults they must be able to sit still and listen. For this to happen parents must first know that their children can be trained to have control over their bodies. And then the parents must be equipped to do the training. Therefore, at Hope Chapel we offer free parenting books and tapes, and sponsor seminars for all parents within the fellowship. (Our goal is not simply to get everyone's children trained so that our meetings are peaceful. We simply desire for them the blessing of trained children. Besides, the Scriptures communicate that self control is the key ingredient of maturity, both moral and spiritual, and we know parents welcome help with achieving their child-training goals.)

At Hope Chapel we make provision for families to be together almost all the time, with one limited exception -- for 1 hour each week we provide an optional children's church during the sermon portion of our Sunday morning gathering. Parents are encouraged to keep their children with them in the service, but they have the option of sending them out (up to age 8) to allow the parents an hour of undistracted learning. During this "children's church," the children are broken into classes according to ages and/or family groups. Although it is against our preferences, this segregating of ages is done simply because we do not have classroom space sufficient to hold all ages together. Because we are committed to keeping families together, we are flexible with the ages of the classes, allowing siblings of various ages to be together if requested by the parents.