How Children are Left Out in a Family Integrated Church
I am confident that worship and fellowship in a church should be age integrated, following the biblical patterns. There are many benefits… For example, in churches where this is practiced there is a heightened relational depth. The fellowship times last longer than in many churches. People get very connected. In most family integrated churches, the whole congregation eats lunch together after Sunday worship. It’s wonderful! The people stay around. It creates a relational fabric in the church that is a blessing. The pastors can get better connected with the flock. Families end up sharing dozens of meals together each year… It’s great!
But something often happens in the midst of this kind of wonderful setting. Parents can get so absorbed in their fellowship and their ministry with other adults, two things often happen.
1. Children are left to themselves.
The children are simply left out of the conversations the adults are having. Result: there is a de-facto youth culture running underneath the adult fellowship culture. Parents take little effort to involve the younger ones in their conversations. What do you get: an age segregated family integrated church… You get disinterested uninvolved children because the parents are so focused on their peers… It creates a peer driven church under the guise of family integration.
2. Children can be neglected.
The children are sometimes just waiting for their parents to finish their conversations. They wait and wait and wait while their parents are engaged in their lively conversations with their peers. I wonder how many children eventually become resentful because their parents are so wrapped up in their fellowship binge. They wait patiently. They have nothing to do. They just wait until their parents are done. Not very exciting - for the children.
What should we do?
We ought to be far more caring for our children. We should love them enough to engage them. I realize it takes more work to engage them… it requires fore thought and actual love for parents to be sensitive of their presence.
Here is my advice:
- Keep your children with you as much as is practicable and engage them in your conversations with other adults. Be aware of them and bring them into the conversations. Make these conversations valuable and interesting. Make them a joy.
- Don’t neglect your children and allow situations where they are waiting around for you all the time. I realize it may be necessary from time to time, but don’t make them wait… It’s not something that you would do to your friends, and it’s not something that should be done very often to your children.
- Adults, seek out the children of your brothers and sisters in Christ. We are brothers and sisters. Seek to minister to the young people. Pray for them. Engage them in conversation. Prov. 27:9-10 speaks of the way families should operate regarding friendship. "Ointment and perfume delight the heart, And the sweetness of a man's friend gives delight by hearty counsel.10 Do not forsake your own friend or your father's friend, Nor go to your brother's house in the day of your calamity; Better is a neighbor nearby than a brother far away.” Here, Solomon recognizes a level of friendship and/or familiarity between a young people and the friends of their fathers.
If we are going to have a family integrated church, we must remember to love the children as well.
Scott T. Brown is the director of the National Center for Family-Integrated Churches and elder at Hope Baptist Church in Wake Forest, North Carolina. Scott graduated from California State University in Fullerton with a degree in History and received a Master of Divinity degree from Talbot School of Theology. He gives his time to expository preaching and local pastoral ministry, as well as conferences on Biblical doctrine and church and family reformation. He and his wife Deborah have four grown children. Scott helps people think through the two greatest evangelistic and discipleship institutions God has provided — the church and the family.