We at West Oaks practice a form of church structure called 'family-integration' (sometimes also termed 'age-integration'). These terms are starting to be used by more and more churches so we want to help you understand what we mean when we say West Oaks is a family-integrated church.
In many churches today the primary model by which church activities are structured is one of age-grading. This is seen in most churches in the fact that the sunday school is divided into classes based on age and stage of life. Typical sunday school classes for kids follow the divisions of modern day schools from 'elementary' to 'junior high' and 'highschool' classes. Adults are similarly divided up according to age/stage of life. Hence, many churches will have classes for 'singles', 'young marrieds', 'young professionals', 'adults', and 'seniors'. This age-grading does not always end at the doors of the sunday school. Many churches even have separate worship services. Typical divisions during worship include 'children's church', 'youth group', 'traditional service', and 'contemporary service'.
We at West Oaks do not primarily structure ourselves according to age or stage of life. This affects both the way we worship together as well as the way we structure our discipleship and evangelism ministries.
When we gather for our weekly worship service Sunday mornings we gather everyone from the oldest to the youngest. We do not have a separate "children's church". Nor do we have separate worship services to appeal to different ages or cultural groups within the congregation. The Bible describes the church as a gathering of all of God's redeemed coming together to worship our Savior Jesus Christ. This gathering involves people from all different backgrounds, ethnicilties, social status, age, and levels of Christian maturity. All the membersof God's church are to be gathered together for the purposes of glorifying God and building up one another in the faith. In the early church Jew and Gentile, slave and free, young and old all gathered together as a single body for worship (Eph 2:16, Eph 6:5-9, 1 Pet 5:5). Even children joined their parents in the meeting of the church (Eph 6:1). We seek to follow this biblical model for worship.
Our discipleship and evangelism ministries at West Oaks are also structured primarily around a family-integrated or age-integrated model. We do this for a number of reasons. One is that it encourages the strengthening of the discipleship functions that are to be occuring in families in the church. Children learn alongside their parents. Parents are directly aware of what their children are being taught and can more easily supplement and apply these teachings throughout the week. This also gives parents the ability to more easily carry out their duties to discipline their children as instructed in scripture.
Not only is the discipleship of children benefitted by family-integration but believers of all ages and backgrounds are benefitted by learning alongside their brothers and sisters in the faith. This encourages the continuation of Titus 2 ministries by the older members with those who are younger. It also creates unity between husbands and wives as they encounter God's Word together.
While we primarily seek to organize our ministries along family-integrated lines we do believe that there are certain times and situations where focused discipleship on certain members of the church is both wise and beneficial for the edification of the body. This includes directed classes for those who are pursuing baptism or joining the church. This also may include both men's and women's ministries. There may be times when we offer directed instruction for children of certain age groups.
We see the family-integrated model as a beneficial guide but not a strict rule that binds us.
While we have chosen this model for our own church and her ministries we do not seek division with other churches of the Body of Christ who choose to do things differently. We would encourage a spirit of love and charity over this issue of church structure.