I was staggered, recently, when someone quoted to me that 70% of â€śChristianâ€ť youth leave the Church between ages 18 - 24. If the number is true, then thatâ€™s horrific. In fact, it is unchristian. Whatâ€™s going on? Does God expect such failure?
But it is not as though the Church has not given children time and attention. The Evangelical Church has now offered â€śyouth-orientedâ€ť programs to families for over two decades, yet what can be shown from it? If todayâ€™s Evangelical Church is only seeing godly fruit in 30% of its children, or said differently, if only 30% of its children recognize the value of Church attendance, then we must ask ourselves, â€śIs the Church barking up the wrong â€śfaith impartingâ€ť tree when it comes to youth?â€ť
Fifteen years ago, while teaching in a Christian school, I realized just how incapable our school was at producing godly children. It wasnâ€™t for a lack of desire or lack of effort, but it was for lack of jurisdiction. You see God intended for fathers to lead their children. God gave children to fathers and fathers to children. And no matter how hard we tried to lead children into Christian maturity, our hands were tied. It was pretty much a done deal. Children were going to follow Dad. What was important to him was important to them. He held the trump card.
Similarly, the answer to the problem of youth leaving the Church is found, not in the Church, but in the home. Indeed, if the Church wishes to produce godly children, then it must focus its efforts on producing godly fathers.
And this brings me to the topic of "Family-Integrated Churches.â€ť I will take just a moment to describe in my terms, what is meant by â€śFamily-Integrated Churches.â€ť I will offer you a flavor. But please realize that I will not be submitting anything knew, for you will recognize the principles of Family-Integrated Churches as principles that existed just two generations ago, at a healthier time. I do contend that Family-Integrated Churches are turning the hearts of fathers to their children and as a result are providing the only answer to keeping youth from leaving the faith. So here we go.
Family-integrated Churches, (in contrast to Churches that divide the family into age groups for Christian instruction and worship) are Churches that consciously attempt to push the responsibility for training youth back under the umbrella of the family, with fathers being recognized as the heads of their homes. Too often the Church, in an attempt to assist the family, assumes jurisdiction. The Church may not wish to proclaim control, but practically speaking, she has taken the reins. And when we structure programs around the spiritual training of our youth, we unwittingly dig our own grave.
Family-integrated Churches understand that God has not only provided the goal of the godly training of our children, but that he has also mandated the "means" by which we are supposed to meet that "end," namely the Christian home.
Family-integrated Churches recognize their inability to effectively train youth in the Church. They decline efforts to create "programs" which confuse the role relationship between the Church and the Home. They would rather unplug those activities that cultivate the abdication of fathers, and alternatively allow men to feel the weight of their neglect. Children are expected to learn from their fathers at the kitchen table, in the backyard, in the living room and at the foot of their beds. (Deut. 6)
Family-integrated Churches also seek to provide an environment where families worship God as family units, and multi-generationally. In other words, kids don't head in a different direction to worship God. They worship God with their father and mother, brothers and sisters, aunts, uncles and cousins, Grandpa and Grandma. The covenant community worships her One true God and that worship is actually demonstrated to tender young children from the moment they are brought into it. Children see and learn how important the covenant community is to their father and then mother, sisters, brothers, etc.
This may seem like something that won't work in today's environment. With school, soccer practice, forensics, 4-H, solo/ensemble competitions, two income homes, homework, Church activities, etc. Many have determined that the Church must shoulder a greater burden of child training. Family-integrated Churches on the other hand, believe that â€śdeterminationâ€ť to be a recipe for disaster. For God did not assign the task to the Church, but to the family, with fathers being held specifically accountable for success. And when the confines of Godâ€™s covenantal institutions are not respected but usurped, we can never expect success. We are refusing Godâ€™s remedy and yet we think we can find health again.