Questioning the Age-Segregated Church

By Julie Roys
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Why do churches split up families the minute they walk through the door? The kids go to kids’ church; adults attend the adult service; and, in a growing number of churches, even teens are relegated to a service especially designed for them.

But, it gets worse. Many churches make it virtually impossible for families to spend time together. Consider the weekly schedule at my sister’s church – a large evangelical mega-church on the East Coast.

Monday night is men’s Bible study; Tuesday night, women study the Bible while junior high students have a separate study; Wednesday night, the high schoolers meet in small groups; the young adults gather on Thursday night; on Friday, the high school ministry does an outreach; and one Saturday a month, the men gather for breakfast.

Reflecting on this, my sister once asked some church leaders, “Are there any programs or activities here that families do together?” The leaders were dumbfounded: “Uh, well no – um, I-I-I don’t think we do that.”

No, we – the American church – don’t generally do that. We talk about parents being the primary disciplers of children. Yet, most church programs are designed so other people can disciple our children.

It appears the American church has followed the model established in the public school system. John Dewey, known as the architect of the American educational system, designed schools to compensate for the disintegrating family. He noted that because of industrialization, the home had been transformed from a “workshop into a simple dwelling place.” And, no longer were parents passing on life skills to their children at home. So, Dewey proposed a new school system to “give the child what he formerly obtained in his home and social life.”

You see, the family dropped the ball of providing life skills to children and the state stepped in. And now, families are failing to disciple their children and the church is stepping in. It’s even following the state model to the point of segregating children by age and providing so-called expert teachers.

Interestingly, the modern Sunday School – the precursor to children’s church – was never designed to educate children from Christian families. Rather, it was designed to reach children from unchurched families who received no spiritual instruction at home! The movement’s founders always assumed Christian parents would teach their own children.

The church needs to stop overfunctioning for Christian families. True, many parents have no idea how to disciple their children. But, the church needs to mentor these parents, not do their job for them. I also question the practice of segregating people by age. Scott Brown, the director of the National Center for Family-Integrated Churches, says: “This slippery slope of age segregation leads to the isolation of an individual’s perspective to one that only looks outward from within the confines of their age group. . . (It) excludes the lessons that can and should be learned from previous generations.”

Sure, there’s a place for some age-based instruction and activities in the church. But, those should be the exception. Instead, they’ve become the rule.

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2 thoughts on “Questioning the Age-Segregated Church”

  1. oh! I’ve found your blog! And you write so well (but I KNEW that! ;-)). VERY WELL said. We’re watching this happening in our “small-ish” church (<500) and are questioning WHY we have to imitate the “mega-churches.” We WANTED a smaller, more family-oriented church, not one that pulls our family in so many different directions.

  2. Hey Karen,
    Good to interact with you in cyberspace! That’s interesting about your church. I think so many American churches imitate mega-churches because they equate size with success. I wonder, though, what the result would be if we evaluated churches by their effectiveness at raising the next generation to serve Christ? But, at least you get to do Bible quizzing at your church! That was so key in my upbringing. I wish we did it at my church.

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