Family Integrated Worship
A recent book by Ken Ham and Britt Beemer (Gone Already), based on a survey of 20,000 young people between the ages of 20 and 29 who used to attend evangelical churches and no longer do so revealed numerous appalling trends. A strong majority of them have left the church. We are likely to jump to the conclusion that they were “done in” in college. Ham and Beemer’s research springs this surprise:
“…only 11 percent of those who have left the Church did so during the college years. Almost 90 percent of them were lost in middle school and high school. By the time they got to college they were already gone! About 40 percent are leaving the Church during elementary and middle school years!”
The first observation we make from this is that if the children who leave the church during elementary and middle school have Christian parents, the lion’s share of the blame must lie on those parents. They probably allow the children the choice of whether or not to attend. There is surely no biblical warrant for such negligence of parental duty.
Ham and Beemer attribute this soul drain to two primary things. The first is that young people are not taught the Bible as relevant fact. Instead we give them stories relatively free of spiritual principles and often completely free of application. At what age should we begin to inoculate our children against the errors of the culture? After all, they are receiving pro-homosexual indoctrination in public schools as early as kindergarten. At that age they are already being taught worship of the creation (“mother earth” or Gaia) rather than worship of the creator. At that age they are already being indoctrinated with evolution. We sell our children short of both their capabilities and their needs if the church restricts its teaching of them to infantile versions of Bible stories. They need teaching that will address the falsehoods being foisted on them by the culture and the schools (which are, after all, tools of the culture).
Ham and Beemer’s second explanation for the exodus of young people from church is that the church has failed to connect its teaching to everyday life. We have lost sight of the biblical functions and purposes of the church by grasping for an ever widening church attendance. The two most damaging trends in the church today are the church as theater (if you have the best entertainment you’ll get the most people) and the church as a business (all of the techniques used to build a business will work to build a church). Both perspectives leave God out of the picture. If it is your primary goal to have a large congregation each Sunday it is important that the fact and seriousness of sin be assiduously avoided. After all, if the man in the pew is told he is a sinner and that sin has its consequences, it may well damage his self esteem and he probably will look elsewhere for someone to tickle his itching ears. And, of course, if he doesn’t know he is a sinner he will not know he needs a savior and he will die and drop into hell, the church having totally failed in its God-given mission.
A third reason besides those given by Ham and Beemer for the abandonment of the church by young people is television. Since most television stories must reach a resolution in 22 minutes (the average amount of story in a half-hour program) or 44 minutes for an hour program, we have become conditioned to expecting a quick fix for everything. The problems of a real life are not resolved in 44 minutes, leading many to find the ways taught in the Bible irrelevant or at least inadequate. Even worse, television is the master mind-programmer. Owing to both time constraints and, in too many cases, malicious intent, the writers cannot afford the luxury of allowing the viewer to mull over the facets of an issue and make his own evaluation. The evaluation is done for you and implanted in your brain – hopefully without your ever evaluating its rightness or wrongness for yourself. The net result of this is that the viewer never learns to extrapolate from principles and make applications from them. This is a mental discipline that is only acquired by exercising it. Thus, even if godly principles are taught in his church the viewer never perceives that the lies he has absorbed from the culture are in conflict with those principles. Unfortunately, this problem is not confined to the ranks of the young. A whole generation of parents has already fallen victim to this numbing of the mind and the concomitant disintegration of spiritual discernment. Besides this, there are video streams, such as MTV, expressly designed to counter the values that parents have instilled (or are supposed to have instilled) in their children. A recent poll of young people revealed that 69% of teens watch MTV at least once a week.
The last of what we believe are the causes of the church exodus concern the way programs in the church are structured. The current paradigm has had the effect of not only causing young people to drop out of the church, but it has also widened the “generation gap” enormously. Church programs are structured so that from the time a child is born until he graduates from college (if he is still in the church), he is, for the most part, kept separated from his parents. This begins with the nursery, then Sunday School classes, Junior Church, youth groups, youth camps, college age Sunday School class and college group. All too often the emphasis in these groups is on “having fun” and certainly not on spiritual disciplines, solid Bible teaching or Christian service. Titus 2:1-8 speaks of not only the benefits, but the command for intergenerational contact and instruction within the church. Today it seems that young people and older ones in the church hardly know how to carry on a conversation with each other.
There are three things that are helpful in forwarding an enterprise, time, money and effort. God has placed all ages of people in the church because each age has something to offer the Lord through the church.
Seniors generally have the wisdom born of experience. They are also often more “mellow”, having had their “rough edges” smoothed off by the tumbling of life. Most important of all, they have time – time to be prayer warriors, time to listen to youngsters and time to counsel those who want to avail themselves of their wisdom.
Those in their working careers are pressed for time, but they have money and, however much we wish it were otherwise, the church needs money. But these folks often need counsel and they often need helpers to get through their to-do lists.
How many of us have marveled at the energy and strength of young people and wished we still had it? If this energy and strength were channeled into serving the needs of those unable to do for themselves what kind of example would the church be setting for the world? And those who have money but little time can hire young people and thus teach them the value of meaningful labor and the satisfaction of a job well done.
All of this desirable interaction is not going to happen without generational networking in church. That is why we support family-integrated worship. As the name implies, this means that families participate together in the worship service. The aftermath of every service then becomes a teaching opportunity in which the parents can determine how well the child(ren) understood what was said and done in the service and can answer questions and make life applications if they were wanting in the sermon part of the service.
We realize that this viewpoint represents a sea change in perspective for most people and that some children (and their parents!) may need a period of adjustment. Therefore, to the extent we are able, we will provide limited facilities for transitioning to integrated worship, but it will always be our purpose to integrate as quickly and completely as possible.