Mary Leigh and I hosted a small group in our home before coming to Cincinnati. It was fully age-diverse. We had kids in elementary school sitting beside recent retirees. We also had a teen couple that was dating and got married after high school. We were part of a church plant that couldn’t afford much meeting space to rent, but we prioritized disciple-making above all other obstacles or challenges. We were family-integrated in all we did.
Family Integrated Churches as a movement holds the keys to discipleship, especially during COVID-19. The Barna Group’s annual report on the state of the church usually points to declining Sunday School attendance that stretches prior to the pandemic and social distancing guidelines. In 2015, even USA Today carried an article titled, “Has the sun set on Sunday School?” Barna’s study showed the Sunday School couldn’t compete with “fun” options, competed with what little time families had to be together, and even cited racial divisions interfering at church.
Many Sunday School workers spend so much time on their one hour on Sunday morning that they forego disciple-making outside of church walls. Meanwhile, the family’s Dad is not being the spiritual leader of his family. “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:4 ESV). The CSB says the responsibility is to “parents.”
Moms and Dads can be encouraged, guided, and provided for as spiritual leaders for their children. What does it take for Dad to lead worship and become a protector against predators? How can families become stronger in the Lord? How can FIC’s prevent teen exodus in high school?
FIC’s are not creating bunkers. Dad becoming a spiritual leader doesn’t replace his church’s pastor. Socialization of children in a healthy church context is important. Yet, age-graded programs don’t have to continue being the status quo. What if Sunday School workers were freed up to become disciple-makers in their home and community?
In this unusual time of potential pandemics ripping across our churches, helping parents become active disciplers must be intentional. Church leaders must not just provide activity sheets for elementary-age kids or books for teens to review, but active times of spiritual growth with parents tracking spiritual progress in key areas – worship, prayer, devotions, Bible study (including dialog on key points), fellowship, ministry inside and outside the church family, evangelizing, and being on mission. The church cannot easily do that right now. Families can.
Red Door Church in Fairfield is one church that is excelling as a family-integrated church. They were a church plant in 2010 and are now in CABA’s top five in AM Worship attendance. Discipleship started and stayed in the family. Explore their model and then accept their offer to help your church strengthen disciple-making in the home.
“Taking Kids’ Ministry Home” is scheduled for 11:00 a.m. and repeat the session live at 7:00 p.m. on Tuesday, September 1. My special guests: Joshua Lenon, Pastor, and Ben Eckstein, Family Pastor, Red Door Church, in Fairfield, Oh. We plan to meet via Zoom. Join the Zoom meeting:
-- Mark Snowden is the Director of Missional Leadership, Cincinnati Area Baptist Association. He and his wife, Mary Leigh, have been part of two church plants and one re-plant.