Monday, January 9, 2017

Churches Separated by Age

I skipped church the other day, but this isn’t about that. Instead it is about age group separation. I read an article that suggested that maybe the reason young people leave the church is because they were never a part of the church in the first place. We start them out in the nursery because who wants to hear crying babies in a worship service. Then we move them into Children’s Church because they would just be bored in worship. Then they go into the Youth Group. So when they reach adulthood “church” is very different from what they are familiar with. I can buy into that as being a problem, but what do we do about it and what does that have to do with me skipping church?

On Wednesday night our church is broken into several different groups. I am one of the Awana leaders, but because of Christmas break, Awana and Fear One (youth) weren’t meeting. That left one available activity, the Wednesday evening prayer meeting. Because the young people meet in other groups the Wednesday night prayer meeting is primarily a meeting of the Senior Citizens. (Shh! Don’t tell anyone I said that.) It isn’t like we want to label it that because we want to tell people that we have a place for everyone, but it is what it is. They seem to enjoy it, but I struggle with it because after nine hours of sitting at a desk my sitting ability is shot. The very thought of sitting in a meeting listening to an hour long lecture is about like fingernails on a chalkboard. I literally dread the summer months when Awana doesn’t meet.

When we consider a solution to the problem of separating age groups our natural tendency is to think that we just need to bring the young people into the worship service. We have this idea that we have “church” and then we have these groups of young people that are meeting separately. But that’s not the case. Instead of church and two ministries what we actually have are three age separated ministries. Just because one of those ministries is meeting in the auditorium, singing songs and hearing a sermon doesn’t mean they are “church” and the other are not. It isn’t reasonable to expect that we can combine the children’s ministry and the youth ministry with the senior adult ministry and just keep doing what the senior adult ministry does each week.

Visually I saw a representation of the situation when our church did Lifeword Sunday. We met outside one Sunday evening and had a 5k walk/run. The young people were running and participating in various activities, but most of the senior citizens had arranged their chairs in rows like they were ready to have church. I didn’t spend much time over there. I’m sure they did a lot of talking and had a good time, but there was no mutual interaction. If there young people had been forced to sit in those chairs they would’ve been miserable. If the older people had been forced to participate in the activities they would’ve been miserable.

One of the things that happens when we separate by age group is that the younger groups tend to play games and the older groups tend to be spectators. There is something to be said for young people having time in which they sit and learn, but also something to be said for older people becoming more physically active. I could see both of these occurring if we could find ways to merge the age groups, even if occasionally.

What that might look like is this: For a game at a church picnic people are split into teams. Each team is made up of one child, one teenager, one senior citizen, and someone who is in between. The teams are given a challenge to complete that involves runners retrieving balls with Bible questions on them. These questions would be things that most children would not know the answer to and might require looking them up in the Bible to get the correct answer. The team that answers the most questions in the shortest amount of time would win. The key thing here is that each team member would have strengths that would benefit the team, but weaknesses that would require them to rely on team members in a different age group.

But it’s not just about playing games. Why can’t we do something similar with our worship services and ministries? Why don’t we give children and teen church members responsibilities that are suitable to their development level? I don’t mean having them shadow adults as they do ministry (though that’s not a bad thing). I mean give them real responsibility. Maybe put a child in charge of making sure that the offering plates are where they need to be every Sunday morning and evening. Maybe find one who shows up early and make them responsible for making sure the hymnals are straight and there are offering envelopes in every rack before the service. As for teenagers, a lot of the stuff adults do could be done by teenagers if we would just let them. There are other things that they can’t do yet, but we can teach them now so that they are ready to take on those tasks when they are old enough.