I just watched a thought-provoking video called Divided that addresses the age-segregation church model - Sunday School, Youth Groups, etc. Agree or disagree, it raises important points about how the local church models itself and where it gets its model from. Just for the record, I'm not necessarily opposed to the existence of Sunday School and youth groups...I'm more opposed to the general philosophy behind many of them. Not all youth groups are run the same way, but by and large, many of them that I've encountered are flawed for the very reasons this movie brings up.
Watch the hour-long movie Divided for free by clicking here. (It's only free until September.). I highly recommend taking the time to watch it! My husband and I found it to be extremely interesting.
I believe that, in general, a family-integrated model of church is more biblical than age-segregation. Before I go any further, though, I need to clarify that I am not endorsing the entire family-integrated movement and everything that goes with it. There are elements to the family integration model I agree quite strongly with; however, there are extremes of the model that I completely disagree with. For example, I don't agree that the family IS the local church, per say. I believe that the family and the local church have separate but complementary roles in the body of Christ. I believe that the father is the head of the home but the elders are the authority in the local church body. It's important that the elders do not try to usurp the authority of the father in regards to the family and decisions made for his family but also important is that the father does not usurp the authority of the elders in goings-on of the local church. Family integration needs to ensure that singles are and those without children are not left out and that it still has a "go out" mindset with regards to being mission-minded.
What biblical family integration is in my mind is basically less age-segregation and children and babies are welcome in worship services. Sunday School would ideally be the entire family together. Youth groups probably wouldn't exist, but if they did, they would be more family-minded as opposed to separate from the family. Babies and kids who are overly noisy or need to be taken out would be welcome to be taken out by the parents. There wouldn't necessarily be scheduled workers for these areas as it's more the parent's job to discipline or take care of the childrens' needs, in my opinion. (I don't have a big problem with scheduled workers, though. I just personally think it's more the parent's job to tend to the child and then return with the child to the service if possible.) The local church we fellowship with, although not family-integrated, is not opposed to children and babies sitting in the service. From my understanding and what I've observed is that babies and toddlers are welcome in the worship service and can be taken out as needed. There is a toddler room and nursery available with workers but it's really the parents' decision as to whether or not to use these services.
My husband and I believe that family integration is more biblical than age-segregation based on the scriptures. Does this then make age-segregation wrong, per say? Well, I'm not willing to go that far, but I am willing to respond by asking what makes us think we can come up with a better model than scripture has already lined out? However, what is one to do when there is no family-integrated church to attend? Then, do you pull your kids out of Sunday School and youth group, while everyone else is attending and your kids are "left out" and you then appear like you are going against the church, in a sense? That doesn't seem like that great of an alternative to me. And yes, I realize many people do not share our views and think what we believe is crazy. And while I'm certainly open to hearing others' opinions, if there is no scripture model to back it up, it will be hard to convince me that the alternative is better.
One of the most interesting parts of this movies is when the history behind the Sunday School movement and age-segregation is explained. Obviously the idea had to come from somewhere - man or God.
Those are just a few of my jumbled thoughts on the issue. I have many more thoughts about the issue, but I'll leave it at that for now.
Here's an excerpt from the Divided the Movie website
As you look on the church landscape, youth are leaving the faith in droves. The modern church, overall, is struggling to reach the next generation with the gospel. What has happened? Whether for good or bad, men, for many years, have been inventing solutions or brainstorming ideas without fully relying upon the foundation of God’s Word. God, however, is greater than man, and as the heavens are above the earth, so are His ways higher than ours and His thoughts than our thoughts (Is. 55:8-9). We have substituted the greater for the lesser – God’s wisdom for man’s ideas. Jesus said that he who hears His Word and does it, is like a man that built his house upon a rock, and when the storm came, it stood firm. On the other hand, he who rejects His Word, is like a man who built on the sand and when the storm came, the house fell (Matt. 7:24-25). Shouldn’t the church, as a whole, abandon the sandy ideas of man and shamelessly return to the firm rock of the Word of God? God’s Word sufficiently identifies how youth are to be reached. For more information on this issue, please see the film Divided, which is a documentary on age-segregated youth ministry in America. Watch it for free (for a limited time) at www.dividedthemovie.com. For an in-depth study, the book A Weed in the Church delves into the topic and more thoroughly handles the Scripture passages that address ministry to young people. For other details or to help spread the message, visit www.dividedthemovie.com.