In our first blog in the series , EM proposed 8 core suggestions on how a church might begin to rethink and redress this important but neglected area of church life, growth and health, and begin to re-strategise this ministry to the greater spiritual health and benefit of all believers, both young and old. The following is core suggestion 6 in the series: Rethink the Place of Church Wide Services…
“Those who have been sitting at the youth ministry ‘kids table’ don’t know church. They know youth group, not church” 
“Teenagers don’t leave the church; the church and teens were never introduced!” 
“In a culture that has severed ties between the generations, we need to include meaningful and intentional co-mingling of the generations at church” 
Research found that although the answer to the problem of youth drop out and retention was clearly multifaceted, the element that came closest to any definitive ‘silver bullet’ in acting to help youth grow and retain their faith was discovering an important relationship between attendance at church wide services and having ‘stickier faith.’
Several contemporary authors and researchers have asserted that children and teenagers need to have meaningful participation with adults in their worship for them to feel connected to the church.
In his ‘Growing Faith’ article – ‘Should Your Kids Stay in the Church Service? Six Reasons Why Being Present for the Full Service Can Be Good For Children?’, Helopoulos notes:
“As the church, let’s be open to the idea of inviting our children into worship again. Let’s be patient, deliberate, and wise, but let’s encourage families to have their children in worship as soon as they are able…Even if our children cannot understand all that is happening, struggle to sit still, and even are bored at times during the service they are still benefiting from being in the midst of this divine meeting between God and His people (Mk 10:13-16)” 
Helopoulos proceeds to outline six reasons why he believes that children should attend worship services:
- Children are members of the covenant community (the church):
Corporate Worship on Sunday morning is the primary activity the covenant community engages in together (Acts 2:42; Eph 10:24-25). Therefore, our children as members of this community should be included in this crucial aspect of covenantal life.
- Children will be present in the midst of the means of grace:
Children benefit by being where the Word is preached (Rom 10:14), the sacraments are administered (Matt 28:19-20), and corporate prayer is practiced (Acts 2:42-47). These are the chief means by which God pours out grace upon His people. Why knowingly rob our children of this blessing?
- Children will be present in the midst of the entire congregation:
Children benefit greatly by being in the presence of Christians of various ages. They are able to see that the faith of their parents is not a faith that they own alone, but is a faith that is important to all of these people who are gathered around them on Sunday morning. This only reinforces what Mom and Dad are modeling and teaching when they see this incredible gathering of people reading the Word together, praying together, confessing together, and singing together (Deut 31:9-13). They need to see the body in action.
- Children will be present with their parents:
Worshipping together as a family helps to counter the current trend in our society of fragmenting our families. If our children join us in worship from four years of age until they are eighteen they will worship with their parents in 780 Sunday morning worship services! Think about the cumulative effect of a family worshipping together, in the midst of the means of grace, meeting with God for 780 Sundays in a row.
- Children will witness their parents worshipping:
It is the Biblical role of parents to disciple their children in the faith (Deut. 6; Ps 78; Eph. 6). What a benefit there is when children witnesses their mother or father singing with conviction, praying in reverence, listening intently to the sermon, or receiving the Lord’s Supper in joy. In these moments a child witnesses the importance of faith and worship. There are few greater encouragements to a child’s faith then seeing their parents worship God with reverence and joy (Ex 12:1-28; Deut. 4:9-11; 6; Ps 78; Ez 10:1; Neh 12:43; Joel 2:12-17; Acts 16:33).
- Children will learn the rhythms of church life:
Teenagers in our culture often balk at attending corporate worship. But how many of our teenagers have we setup for this reaction, because we did not consistently include them in worship until they were a teenager? If attending church for years has always meant coloring Bible pictures, singing songs to a cd, playing games, and doing crafts—then we should not be surprised that our young people find worship to be odd, uncomfortable, and even boring.
I love good children’s songs—they ring through my house. I love good children’s Christian crafts—they decorate my study. But if this alone is the rhythm of church life we have set up for our children week in and week out, we have done them a great disservice. They must see, know, and learn that the singing of the great hymns of the faith, the preaching of the Word, reading of confessions, corporate prayers, etc. is anything but boring. It is the gathered life of the community of faith. It is our weekly rhythm—appointed by God, designed by Him, established for the ages—this is what we want them to know, because we want them to know and worship Him.
Similarly, the Australian research piece – ‘Lost in Transition: Addressing The Problem Of Children Leaving Church As They Make The Transition From Childhood To Youth’ makes this sobering point for consideration:
“The church is raising a generation of potential church dropouts. Most children in children’s church have never experienced a multi-generational worship service. They have not had opportunity to become acculturated to the adult worship mode. All elements of a children’s ministry program should be working toward the day when a child graduates into sixty or seventy years of adult worship. Children need to be encouraged to minister and participate” 
Affirming the belief that children benefit significantly from participating in adult church early, the Francis and Richter’s study found:
* Allowing children in the church to see adults practising their faith to be a preventative to attendance drop out, with 39% of church leavers considering church to be a “childhood activity” which they outgrew 
And again, the 2007 FYI study:
* A factor causing kids to shelve their faith is – the segregation of kids and adults in church. Kids who attend church-wide services were more likely to keep their faith 
Further, Allen and Ross note:
“Embracing intergenerational worship is more complex than simply including the children…Being intergenerational in outlook means that all generations, from toddlers to seniors, will feel welcome and included when the body of Christ gathers together; they will be intentionally received; they will belong” 
Interestingly, Allen and Ross note that one of the attitudinal barriers often preventing churches from fully embracing the possibility of church wide services has been the cultural rise of ‘consumerist individualism’ and the generational ‘stylistic worship wars’ that have resulted:
“As churches have faced increasingly unpleasant generational conflict, one solution that seems to ameliorate the problem is to offer separate-but-equal opportunities. For example, in regard to the worship wars, churches might provide separate worship hours, encouraging each generation to shape it’s own worship to shape its own worship tastes.
Thus the youth group can enjoy loud music, flashing lights and cool videos; the Millennials can pull into their intimate settings, Gen X’ers can have the contemplative yet technologically savvy style; Boomers can choose old-rock-style praise tunes using guitars and drums; the older generation can sing traditional hymns; and the children get to sing “Father Abraham” as often as they wish.
All in all, a very amenable solution- except it is a perfect recipe for generational isolation. This solution arises from an individualistic outlook that emphasises personal needs, rather than communal needs. And “when the needs of the individual are preeminent, generational fragmentation is inevitable” 
Sadly, a major obstacle in attempting to include or integrate children back into adult church is often the adults themselves who’ve gotten used to children no longer being present:
“They prefer, in many cases, to being able to worship without the distractions children bring. There are instances where adults deliberately arrive at church late in order to avoid being there while children are present. It seems that many have forgotten what church is meant to be” 
We must ask ourselves, is this the message we want the smallest and most vulnerable in the faith to receive? It appears that older church members may not be aware of the impact, for both good and bad, they can have on children and young people in the church. More training and input needs to be given to the adults on the significance of how they relate to young people and children in the church and the enormous opportunity there is to influence their faith development and understanding of their place and importance within the body of Christ.
NEXT POST: The next post in the series will be –‘Make a Philosophical Shift in Core Values’.
Other blogs in this series:
* Intergenerational Ministry Part 1: ‘Why Intergenerational Ministry’
* Intergenerational Ministry Part 2: ‘Carefully Manage Age Segregation’
* Intergenerational Ministry Part 3: ‘Build Social Capital’
* Intergenerational Ministry Part 4: ‘Create Structures that Span Life Stages’
* Intergenerational Ministry Part 5: ‘Develop Intergenerational Serving Ministries’
* To download a full copy of E.M’s research on this topic head to the ‘Intergenerational Ministry’ page on this website.
 Dr. K.E. Powell and Dr. C. Clark: Sticky Faith.
 J. Roberto: ‘The Importance of Intergenerational Community For Faith Formation’.
 T. P. Jones: Perspectives on Family Ministry.
 J. Helopoulos: ‘Should Your Kids Stay in the Church Service? Six Reasons Why Being Present for the Full Service Can Be Good For Children’.
 D. Goodwin: Lost in Transition –or Not: ‘Addressing the Problem of Children Leaving the Church as they Make the Transition from Childhood to Youth’.
 L. Francis and P. Richter: Gone for Good?.
 Sticky Faith.
 H. C. Allen and C.L. Ross: Intergenerational Christian Formation: ‘Bringing the Whole Church Together in Ministry, Community and Worship’
 H. C. Allen and C. L. Ross: ‘Why Churches Tend To Separate Generations’.
 Lost in Transition.