Recently, there’s been a trend in some conservative circles toward family-integrated churches, or churches where everyone attends service together. That’s right. There’s no Sunday school, children’s church, or youth groups. Everything is done as a family, right down to including the infants.
Proponents of family-integrated churches point to statistics that say that about 85% of young evangelicals are leaving the churches never to return. They argue that much of the reason Christian young people are mostly indistinct from their peers is because youth groups only cater to their desire to have fun instead of constructively building up children’s lives. Proponents also point out that there is no precedent for age segregation in the Bible, and claim that Sunday school comes from evolutionary psychology.
There are two useful websites
advocating family-integrated churches, and one group even put out a movie
on this topic.
I can certainly see the pluses of the movement. Too many of my youth group memories involve eating pizza and duct-taping people to the wall, with not so much spiritual edification. Many parents do seem to assume that the church will train up their children, only to be shocked when their kids leave the faith.
Overall, however, I am a critic of how the movement is usually presented, because it tends to make the family unit an object of idolatry. The fiercest integrated church advocates are by-and-large anti-dating, anti-college, and homeschool-only. In other words, every single sphere of life has to be done by the family as a whole, and hence abolishing Sunday school is just another way of removing an outsider influence. This flies in the face of what Jesus said in Matthew 10:37 ESV, “Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.
” In other words, the family must come in last versus worshiping God!
I also feel like Sunday school is often used as a scape-goat for the church’s problems. To claim that the entire problem with the church is the youth group and that the only alternative is to get rid of Sunday school entirely -- as the websites imply -- is a bit of a stretch. One website claims that the church never has the right to teach to a family member without his or her family present, which goes directly against Jesus’ words. Often, the churches that advocate abolishing Sunday school aren’t having many children leave the faith in college because they weren’t able to draw many families with children to their churches in the first place!
In my experience, I’ve seen that family-integrated church is lovely in theory, but in practice people start feeling as if they are doing the "right" thing, or going the "best" way and then start feeling pride and superiority which turns into legalism very quickly. I’ve known families who have driven an hour to find a church that was “family-friendly” enough. I agree that parents need to start taking more responsibility for their children’s upbringing instead of leaving it to the church to do. But claiming that family-integration is the only biblical way to run church and elevating the family unit above all else isn’t going to keep people in the church -- it’s going to drive them out!What do you think? Have you ever attended a family-integrated church? Should churches start encouraging entire families to attend the main service? Are there mainstream family-integrated churches?