Question: "What is a Family-Integrated Church, and is it biblical?"
Answer: A Family-Integrated Church (FIC) is a church where families attend services together rather than children or teens attending their own Sunday school, children’s church, or youth group separate from their parents.
The movement toward Family-Integrated Churches began with the idea that Sunday services were adding to the separation of families already fragmented by school and work schedules. In an effort to bring the family back together during some of the most significant hours of the week, children were brought back into the service with their parents.
The scriptural foundation for this concept is Deuteronomy 31:12–13; and Joshua 8:34–35. In these passages, children were part of the “gathered assembly of God’s people.” The presence of children in first-century churches is also implied in Paul’s direct address to children in Ephesians 6:1–3.
Some Family-Integrated Churches provide special services for specific age ranges or interests at other times throughout the week. Other churches offer only family-integrated services.
The National Center for Family-Integrated Churches (NCFIC) represents churches that desire to “unite church and home.” The NCFIC claims a membership of 800 churches. Not all churches who subscribe to the family-integrated church model are associated with the NCFIC, however.
The NCFIC believes that programs that separate families by age or gender are unbiblical and not found in historical Christianity. The leaders take exception to the typical program-oriented church model prevalent today, citing it as weakening the family structure and offering little to no scriptural foundation.
The NCFIC promotes a strict standard of holiness. They believe that children should be homeschooled, that women should not work outside the home, that daughters should be kept at home until marriage, that courtship should replace modern dating practices, and that the size of the family should be decided by God (the “Quiverfull” teaching). The film documentary Divided made by the NCFIC promotes Family-Integrated thinking and warns of the dangers of modern youth ministry.
Some other points of biblical information and church history need to be examined. A precedent for age- or interest-related groups may be found in Titus 2:3–5, which exhorts “older women . . . to train the younger women.” The passage goes on to address the needs of young men and slaves. Acts 6:1 mentions the daily distribution to the widows, a group with specific needs. This group was identified in the early church, and a specific plan for meeting their needs was developed.
Historically, Jesus and the apostles attended segregated synagogues. The temple layout segregated families, having a court for the men and a court for the women and children. Young Jewish boys attended age-segregated day schools.
The early church addressed the needs of varying sub-groups within the Body of Christ from a cultural model not present today. While it may be, for some, a model to return to, that is not likely for the masses of people living in the modern world. Not everyone can join the ranks of the home educators, nor are they called to do so. Yet they still take seriously the command to guide their families in godly ways (Deuteronomy 6:4–7).
The challenge to the church today is to find workable solutions that will bring about the desired outcomes of strong families, engaged and loving parents, and children who love God and live for Him. How to reach those goals is a decision that should be left to the family unit itself, with God’s guidance and direction.