One of the most unique and distinctive elements of Legacy Baptist Church is that we worship in a non age-segregated format. In other words, we do not split the church up into age groups for worship. We have no children's Sunday School, or youth group, or such. This conviction is at the heart of all that we do, and has been grown as a steady result of two important factors: (1) The Biblical and historical perspective on growth and maturation and (2) the obvious detriments of age-segregated worship upon the Western church of the 20th and 21st centuries.Each of these points necessitates elaboration.
Simply put, one will not find any indications of age-segregated worship in the Bible. Now, those of you who know your logic understand that arguing against age-segregated ministry because of its absence in the Bible is a logical fallacy known as an "argument from silence", but it is not the "silence" of the Bible that compels our reasoning. Rather, it is the statements of the Bible concerning children's growth and maturation that compel our convictions.
As Paul adjured the Corinthian church to "grow up" in their spiritual maturity by drifting away from a childish infatuation with sign gifts and adorning a mature stance of pursuing the gift of charity, he said this in 1 Corinthians 13:11, "When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things." In Paul's illustration, he conditioned his manhood upon the time in his life when his articulation, understanding, and thinking transitioned away from elements of simplicity and immaturity to those of complexity, discernment, and understanding. He rightly recognized that a person's age, or size, was not the essential factor of transitioning from childhood to manhood, but rather when he matured to a state of self-cognizance and personal responsibility. It is, perhaps, also worth noting that Paul implied no middle ground, not "teenage years", where he had the understanding and discernment of an adult but assumed no responsibility or accountability for his actions. Paul uses this illustration to exhort the church to "grow up" in their Christian faith, just as they had to "grow up" in their physical lives.
Ones age is a fantastic benchmark by which we, as individuals and a society, gauge a person's abilities, responsibilities, and expectations. There is an age where a person is legally able to get a license, get married, own a gun; all of which seek to formulate some organizational template by which we recognize mental and physical benchmarks and generalized human capability. In the Old Testament, the Levite began his ministry in the Tabernacle/Temple at age 30 (Numbers 4:3). Children were circumcised the eighth day (Genesis 17:12), etc. However, these benchmarks were never placed in a spiritual context, but only in the context of physical maturation and preparation.
The question that arises is this: how can one gauge a person's spiritual maturity by their age, or size? Why would be place at 40 year old new believer in an adult Sunday School class but place a 12 year old believer who has been saved for 5 years in a class that teaches only simple "bible stories"? The disconnect between spiritual maturation and age maturation is so definitive, yet so ignored in the modern church, that it is little wonder church youth rarely learn things of deep spiritual import. The teachers are so busy trying to help the spiritually immature that the spiritually mature get left to twiddle their spiritual thumbs. And in doing so, their spiritual growth is stinted, and they must wait until they are deemed "grown up" to receive any true meat and potatoes learning. Spiritual growth and education may be artificially inhibited by decades through this over-simplified method of age-segregation.
So the solution is to place them by spiritual maturity, not physical maturity, right? Unfortunately, this is logistically impossible. A church can "test" for Biblical knowledge, but not spiritual maturity and understanding. A church can gauge actions, but only to the degree that they see the "church" side of anyone. The question becomes, who can best judge the true, day-in and day-out spiritual condition of any child? And the answer is unequivocally: their parents.
So the parents should place them, right? Unfortunately, this too is logistically impossible. We parents are biased, and often find ourselves scrounging for every ounce of personal evidence that our children are on the correct path ourselves.
We propose a solution. It is simple, and it resembles the historical example of the church throughout history until about 60 years ago. The solution is this: teach to the mature, keep the family together, and allow the parents to guide their children into the level of theological and doctrinal understanding that is appropriate for their particular age and place in life. And to whatever degree the church falls short in teaching, the parents (because they know exactly what their children are and aren't learning can fill in the gaps. This means more work for the parents, but it also means that children aren't left to fend for themselves spiritually, or get lost in the shuffle, or fall between the cracks.
We live in a culture where the gap between child and adult is ever widening. The years of adolescence are now, in Western society, sometimes extended to men and women as old as 30. Family unity is meager. Parental authority is attacked. Family togetherness is seen as a relic of a bygone era before the advent of social media and technology. Children and youth are influenced more by their peers than they are their parents and authorities. Concepts of personal respect for elders and leaders has given way to a self-empowered culture of personal freedoms without personal accountability. Government and education institutions encourage community and collaboration, not as extensions of a person's familial support system, but rather as a replacement of a person's familial support system. In other words, the family is under attack, and God is not pleased.
The Bible is not ambiguous on the importance of family in the eyes of God. In Deuteronomy 6:4-7 God placed the responsibility of a child's growth upon the father of the home. This command is reiterated to God's church in Ephesians 6:4 - "And, ye fathers, provoke not your children to wrath: but bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord." That our society has become socially disconnected, hyper-busy, and authority-challenged is not God's fault, nor God's intent for His children. The father of any given home is responsible for the spiritual training of his family, and will one day stand before God to answer for his efforts.
Knowing the importance of family, how can we justify the contemporary church model? How can we justify sending our kids off to "youth" pastors or children's workers to make our children spiritually strong and godly? Is the "modern youth Pastor" really the kind of man you want your sons to emulate? Are children's Sunday School teachers, many of which are there because "there is no one else willing", some of which are new believers or immature believers, really the kind of people you want your children learning God's Word from? Does it help you train up your children by sending them away to learn "something", answer "nothing" when you asked them what they learned, and then go back out into a secular world that is bombarding them with false promises of happiness rooted in all things unrighteous?
What is the church really doing? The church is hiring spiritually-oriented babysitters for their children, while they "take a break" from their family to socialize and learn with other people who are their own age. At the risk of sounding overly harsh, what parents are doing is handing off their responsibility to teach their children to others, and hoping it all works out. If the teachers are actually qualified, and the curriculum is sufficient, the children turn out well. If the curriculum is insufficient, or the teachers unqualified, parents are playing "Russian roulette" with their children's spiritual futures.
Now, we are not saying that age-segregated ministries are wrong. We are not saying that you are a bad parent if you have your children in age-segregated ministries. In a similar fashion to sending a Christian child to a public school, the difference between success and failure can often be attributed to what the parents do with the time that they DO have the children, and how involved parents are in the growth and maturation of their children. If parents are actively involved and vigilant, age-segregated ministries can be very effective. But just like a parent who sends their child to a public school, the perpetual temptation is to expect the child to go out and come back educated. When this happens, the child typically, with exceptions based upon the individual circumstances, goes out and comes back indoctrinated. In like manner, the perpetual temptation in the heart of the parent concerning age-segregated ministries is to expect the child to go out and come back spiritual. When this happens, the child typically, with exceptions based upon the individual circumstances, goes out and comes back knowing how to look the part, act the part, and speak the part; but inside are full of dead men's bones.
Recent studies suggest that nearly 75% of churched youth leave the church. That is a huge number. We believe that non age-segregation is a big part of the solution.
There are many misconceptions surrounding non age-segregated ministries. These may even characterize other non age-segregated churches and models, but by God's grace we are determined that they will not characterize our church:
(1) Those who come without families (individuals) will be excluded. NOT TRUE!
(2) A non age-segregated church will never do anything for children. NOT TRUE!
(3) Children who come without parents will not be welcome. NOT TRUE!
(4) Non age-segregated churches are something new. NOT TRUE! In fact, age-segregated ministries is the model that is new.
We have yet to solve all of the logistical issues of being a non age-segregated church. How to help parents of young children listen and learn is a challenge. How to bridge the gap with parents of undisciplined children. How to train children without distracting others. These are things we are still working on in our church. If the model appeals to you, however, why not give us a try. Perhaps you might offer us the insight to solve these problems and make our methods of ministry even more effective.