What Is Family Integrated Church?
At the most basic level, the family integrated church is one intentionally designed to eliminate unnecessary age-segregated structures from the church’s ministry. Children typically attend all of the corporate worship gatherings with their parents rather than attending a separate children’s ministry or, in some cases, even a nursery.
Intergenerational discipleship is a core value of the movement. The movement seeks to put the responsibility for disciple-making within the family primarily upon the parents (and particularly fathers), rather than relying on church programs. In fact, the movements tends to elevate family, making church extension of the family.
That said, within the movement there is a fair bit of diversity. Some are very strict about the no age/stage segregation, some are more flexible. Jim Hamilton provides a very helpful description of this range:
…At the strictest end of the spectrum would be a church whose mission statement would be along the lines of “discipling dads to disciple families.” Such a church might not have Sunday School classes divided by ages–so the children and the teens and the adults might all be in the same Sunday School class together. Churches on this stricter end might lean toward having fathers leading their own families in taking communion as families.
At the looser end of the spectrum are those who would say that the mission of the church is not simply to “disciple dads” but to “make disciples.” These churches would probably have “age-appropriate” instruction, and they would probably take communion as a whole church and avoid breaking the church up into family units at communion (I hope I’m not misrepresenting the more strict versions of FIC groups here). Those who are much more Family Integrated might not regard these “looser” groups as being Family Integrated at all, but what would put them on the spectrum would be that they are much more intentional about encouraging fathers to lead their families in family worship and disciple their children, much more intentional about protecting and cultivating biblical gender roles (no embarrassment here about 1 Timothy 2:12 and Ephesians 5:22-33), and there will be a more “family-friendly” culture at such churches.
NCFIC, the National Center for Family-Integrated Churches, in their critique of Kostenberger’s critique, defines the movement as follows:
The FIC movement is part of a determined attempt by certain men of God to recover for the family the ground that has been taken over by the church and the state. In this regard, we call both church and state to repent of their sin of trespassing on the roles and duties that God has given to the family. We seek to restore the family to its rightful place in God’s economy—no more and no less. Because the family has been pushed aside for so long, our attempt is seen as the undue exaltation of the family by those who have been doing the trespassing. However, our goal is not to exalt the family, but to articulate a biblically balanced view where the importance and necessity of the family, the church, and the state are recognized.
There are several passages of Scripture typically used to support the family integrated church approach:
- Ephesians 6:1-3, where Paul addresses children is usually appealed to as it appears to assume that children are part of the intended audience (or so argues Paul Renfro in B&H’s book Perspectives on Family Ministry: Three Views). Renfro also suggests children are a part of the assembly of God’s people in Deut. 31:12.
- Deuteronomy 6:4-9 is another text often appealed to, notably verse 7: “You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.”
Other Scripture used to support this methodology include 1 Timothy 5:8,16 and Galatians 6:9,10.
Prominent Advocates of the Movement
Scott Brown is Director of the National Center for Family-Integrated Churches. This organization produces books, DVDs and other media defending FIC. It also organizes conferences and is present at many events, particularly those associated with homeschooling. The documentary film Divided is perhaps their most prominent product.
Voddie Baucham may well be the highest profile Christian leader within the movement. Baucham’s Family Driven Faith is an apologetic on the need for family integration—that children are not fully part of the church in the segregated view. Here’s how he puts it in a Boundless interview from 2005:
…in Family Driven Faith, I’m dealing with the front end of the problem. Why are these people leaving in the first place? And one reason that they’re leaving is because they’re not part of the church. They’re part of a systematically segregated subculture in the church. And when they graduate from the high school ministry, where do they go now? Do you go to the big church? “I’ve never been a part of big church. You know, it’s never been real to me before.” They’ve got nothing, you know.
Paul Washer, Joel Beeke and Jeff Pollard are regular speakers at NCFIC events.
Common critiques suggest that the FIC movement puts too high an emphasis on the father; some have called it a patriocentricity that elevates the father above all others in the discipleship model. This critique, though, seems to be based on a hyper sensitivity to anything that smacks of patriarchy, rather than a sound biblical argument.
Kostenberger’s update to God, Marriage and Family contains a chapter which raises concerns about Family Integrated Church. The core of his critique is that FIC gives “the family an unduly high status that is unwarranted in light of the biblical teaching on the subject.”
Why does it matter?
The issue comes down to who is responsible for discipling children and what role should the institutional church play—a primary or supporting role. The FIC strongly supports the family unit as the context of discipleship (which is a good thing—I doubt many would disagree). However, they seem to risk undervaluing the benefits that age-specific ministry can provide alongside family discipleship. This seems more than anything else to be a matter of conscience and preference, rather than a black and white biblical methodology issue.