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
2. It deprives the older of the ministry God means them to receive from the younger
3. It reinforces the immaturity of the younger by depriving them of adults as their peers
ð We are peers of those we spend time with.
ð We become like our peers (Prov 13:20; 2:20; 22:24; Ps 119:63; 1 Cor 15:33)
ð Those older provide positive models for those younger
4. It creates a generation gap
use for senior citizens and other adults, so become intolerant of them.
ð 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
ð It reinforces to children their "passive" identity rather than their "contributing member" identity
ð It teaches kids to see themselves as "outsiders" -- that the main service is for adults and not them.
ð It reinforces to young people a "youth subculture" identity rather than a family identity.
ð 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
ð Minimizes the growth opportunities of being with those of dissimilar values and interests.
7. It limits the vision for outreach
8. It divides up families and contributes to their breakdown
ð Multiple activities for different ages mean family time is minimized.
ð The external social groups create gratifying relationships and friendship bonds which hamper family cohesiveness.
ð Preeminence of the family identity is increasingly weakened as social groups grow in importance.
ð 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
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.