The New Testament describes the church in terms of being a family. If this is true, then having departments within the church doesn’t make sense. Having the children’s ministry department, the youth ministry department, and the adult ministry department separate the members of the church into artificial ghettoes.
This mentality comes out of educational developmental theory, which makes sense if discipleship is mostly cognitive- but it isn’t. Cognitive learning is only a piece of the discipleship process. It isn’t even the most important piece as most of us have been raised to believe. Modeling, exposure, and experience are at least as important as cognitively processing pieces of the Scriptures. Modeling happens when more mature disciples live their life in view of the less mature. Exposure happens when a disciple hears the gospel preached and sees the body worshiping together. Experience is the process of a disciple feeling the reconciliation of Christ passed on to them by other parts of the body of Christ. These are all better done in a cross-generational environment than in age specific groups.
At The Well, we are taking steps to recognize the cross-generational needs of the discipleship process. I present these steps as helpful examples for other churches to follow.
1. Modification of our worship service to include children.
We are working to merge the purpose between our liturgy and our children’s ministry. These are lead by two different teams, but recently we’ve begun to realize that our children’s program is an extension of our liturgy (public worship). As such, we are keeping our children in the public worship more of the time. Out of our 90 minute service our children participate with adults for 50 minutes and in age grade activities for 40 minutes.
We are also working to connect our children with adults by teaching parents to make this a time of togetherness. For us, that’s a big change. To accomplish this, we have created a space with tables where parents can allow their children to sit and color or otherwise process the service physically. At the same time, many parents are welcoming the opportunity to sit in chairs with the children in a more traditional manner.
We are also introducing our children to communion. Just as in the ancient church, we practice communion every time we meet. In the past, we did little to encourage the presence of children during this time. We are changing that by purposefully encouraging parents to take their children out of the classroom and up to the communion table. This is proving to be a beautiful picture of the body of Christ coming together.
2. Realigning our expectations for those working with children.
Many churches see those leading children as teachers, with the job of passing on knowledge to children. We’re realigning this by teaching those who spend the 40 minutes with our children to be story tellers. They tell the stories of the gospel and tell their stories of how God has used the gospel in their lives. Children then become witnesses of God’s hand of reconciliation.
3. Developing connections between church and home.
We are beginning to create a new link between the time our children are at church and the rest of the week by creating information sheets that help parents continue to tell the gospel story. These sheets will inform parents of the story their children heard in their time at church and give creative ideas for applying the story in their time together. We cannot assume that all parents will uses these ideas, but our hope is that many will, and our early results show that parents are excited to have this sort of help. They want to be a part of discipling their kids, but often feel unequipped to do so.
Other posts on this topic include Practical ideas for making your church a non-consumable, How does the missional family look at relationships, and A family model of ministry.