Scripture is clear that the primary facilitator of the Christian faith in the life of the child is the parent. In Deuteronomy 6:6-9, God reveals His design for the propagation of His divine revelation to be from parent to child. However, according to a survey compiled in 2008, over 50 percent of Christian parents in North America never or rarely spend time together in any consistent family devotions. Furthermore, 40 percent stated that they seldom discuss matters of faith with their children. What was most alarming about this survey is that 50 percent of the same group stated that they either never, rarely or occasionally prayed with their children.
It is tempting when confronted with these statistics to assume that parents do not care about the spiritual formation of their children, which is not the case. The problem is not apathy, but an inability to know where to begin. As Timothy Paul Jones observes, “Many parents have no clue how to engage in their children’s Christian formation.” Often such desperation is easily remedied by handing over the spiritual shepherding of their children to ministry professionals such as youth pastors and children’s workers in the church. Authors Todd Hillard, Britt Beemer and Ken Hamm researched why young adults ages 20-30 were no longer involved in the local church. Their findings were that “almost 90 percent of them were lost in middle school and high school…About 40 percent are leaving the Church during elementary and middle school years!” Included in the reasons for such an early age to exit the church, these authors point out the existence of age-segregation ministries such as Sunday school and youth groups which allow “parents to shrug off their responsibilities as the primary teachers, mentors, and pastors to their family.”
So how can the pastors and teachers in the local church begin assisting parents in engaging their children’s spiritual growth without taking the job from their hands? If the design of God is for parents to teach the next generation the ways of the Lord, then what can be done to encourage and enable parents to do so? A part of the reason for such disconnects between what God intends and with what actually occurs is the fragmentation of today’s family. As Patricia Ann Meyers reveals, “In 1930 the average child spent three to four hours [a day] with an adult member of the family. In the 1990s, that time shrunk to roughly fourteen minutes.” Couple this alarming statistic with what many local churches do by developing age-segregated ministries at every service, and today’s Christian families are hindered in their opportunity to pass their faith on to the next generation. Local churches can assist parents in creating a culture of proactive discipleship with their children through at least one weekly intergenerational service that brings parents and youth together, allowing parents to know what their children learn about God and children to see what their parents truly believe about God.
When the family worships together, parents are more aware of what their children learn about God. A weekly intergenerational service allows for teaching moments that may not arise otherwise. A common opposition to such an inclusion is that since children and teens would not be able to understand the teaching in the main service, therefore, they should be taught a more age-appropriate lesson elsewhere. However, according to Diana R. Garland, “Children will not understand everything, just as they do not understand all the adult conversation during a family supper, but they are learning.” Imagine the dinner setting. When a child is lacking in understanding, what do they do? They ask questions of their parents in order to gain the understanding they lack.
The same is true for an intergenerational service: learning occurs primarily through questioning. During a service where the entire family worships together, the parent has the ability to check for understanding in his or her child immediately. Such an opportunity would not exist if the family was consistently segregated by age. For example, a father is able to watch as their child sings along with hymn or praise chorus and gently ask, “Do you know what that word means?” or “Do you know what this song is about?” Or, during a sermon when a pastor uses the word justification, a mother can explain the meaning of this word to her child quietly, increasing the understanding of her child and without being a distraction to the rest of the congregation.
In other cases, an immediate discussion might be inadequate or out-of-place. Parents may see that their child is having difficulty understanding a truth taught during the service and realize that a satisfactory explanation would be better to take place later. In these instances, the parent now has an opportunity to initiate family discussions based on these truths and facilitate deeper learning in his/her children that may not have existed in the age-segregation model. One parent interviewed for this paper stated how having his children with him during the service leads to deeper discussion later: “When I look at the notes my kids have taken during the service, it gives us a talking point, a place to start.” Regardless of the method or timing of clarifying instruction, an intergenerational service allows for parents to shift from being simply a spectator to being a purposeful instructor in the spiritual life of their children by simply being present when the instruction is received.
Also, when the family worships together, young people can be made more aware of what their parent(s) believe about God through observation. Imagine a child who not only hears about the greatness of God but also witnesses his or her parent frequently worshipping Him as such. Or consider a child who regularly observes his or her parent, with Bible in hand, listening attentively to Scripture as it is taught. In answering the question as to the possible benefits of an intergenerational service, one parent responded:
One benefit that I think of often is the opportunity to see/hear some of our modern “heroes of the faith.” I wish my kids were with me the night that Karen [a missionary of the church] presented her orphan ministry in the evening service–her valor and tenderness brought me to tears that night. The power of God in her life brought me to tears that night. I wish they had been exposed to her and to me, wish they had seen how the Holy Spirit had worked in my heart and leaked out my eyes.
Rather than removing the children at every church worship service, churches that employ a weekly intergenerational service allow for young people to witness their parents in worship and encountering of the Holy Spirit through the spoken Word of God.
Reggie Osbourne recounts an event which paints this truth clearly:
I turn to my left, where two smaller children rest, not yet ready to drink of the Lord’s cup. I hold up the empty cups and ask, “Do you remember what this represents, son?”
“Jesus’s blood?” he whispers back, with only the slightest hint of a question. I nod. He smiles. He has remembered Jesus too.
Which, of course, is the point. “Do this in remembrance of me” (Luke 22:19). Too often we sit distracted and disinterested in our corporate gatherings. We sing with little enthusiasm. We pray with little heart. We treat the privileges of God’s family as if they were mere little obligations. All the while, little eyes are watching us.
But when those eyes see in the adults around them a passion for Jesus that seems at once both unreasonable and yet remarkably genuine, then the doorway to their hearts might be cracked open by the Holy Spirit. A little light might begin to shine through as they struggle to understand this great power that holds sway over mom and dad and the rest of the grownups.
An intergenerational service ingrained into the DNA of the local church brings parents and children together, allowing the parents to better know what their children learn about God and for the children to see what their parents truly believe about God. The parents now become the chief facilitator of the spiritual development of their children through means of questioning and clarification.
Grace and peace,
 Timothy P. Jones, Family Ministry Field Guide: How Your Church Can Equip Parents to Make Disciples (Indianapolis, Ind.: Wesleyan Pub. House, 2011), 27-28.
 Jones, Family Ministry Field Guide, 34.
 Hillard, Todd; Britt Beemer; Ken Ham. Already Gone (Kindle Locations 313-316). Master Books. Kindle Edition.
 Hillard, Already Gone (Kindle Locations 506-508).
 Patricia Ann Meyers, Live, Learn, Pass It On! The Practical Benefits of Generations Growing Together in Faith (Nashville, TN: Discipleship Resources, 2006), 20.
 Diana S Richmond Garland, Family Ministry: A Comprehensive Guide, 2nd ed. (Downers Grove, Ill.: IVP Academic, 2012), 454.
 Dr. Shean Phillips, interview by author, Winston-Salem, NC, August 11, 2016.
 Mark Jones, email message to the author, August 11, 2016.
 Osbourne II, Reggie. “Little Eyes Are Watching in Worship.” Desiring God, http://www.desiringgod.org/articles/little-eyes-are-watching-in-worship, (accessed June 12, 2016).