Sunday, January 22, 2012

You do not belong...

In my city, Sunday morning is one of the most segregated times of the week.  Sure, it involves Blacks going to primarily Black churches, Koreans to Korean congregations, etc... but, more than this, it is the segregation of people by age, marital status, and interest.  Many of the congregations (and most of the larger ones -- of which none is Lutheran where I live) offer children's church so that worship is primarily an adult gathering.  Some have multi site venues which further segregate by age and interest.  Some segregate by preference (contemporary Christian music or old time Gospel songs, for example).  Some segregate by marital status (having special Bible study and cell groups just for twenty-somethings not married, twenty-somethings married without kids, twenty-somethings with small children, etc...).

Many Lutherans have jumped on this bandwagon as well.  They cater to personal taste and status as if they were on Facebook.  In fact, I have worshiped in Lutheran congregations with my three small children only to look around and see that we were the only family with small children among the hundreds of folks gathered there.  We are severely tempted to follow this model even in smaller congregations where the numbers that would be divided up are sparse.  We have been told over and over again, starting with the Church Growth Movement, that the greatest success is when people share the most commonality of backgrounds, status and traits.

As Lutherans, we, too, have bought into the idea that only women can minister to women, only young people to young people, etc... In other words, people need groups and leaders who mirror back to them their own status, preferences, and "felt needs."  We do this almost without thinking when it comes to youth.  We have youth groups and youth ministries and youth ministers.  Even when Sunday morning is not segregated, the rest of their life together in the church is.  We have child care so that adults are free to participate without also juggling parental responsibility.  We are starting to have senior citizen ministries for folks who share the common defect of being old (at least as seen in a culture that idolizes youth even among the graying).  We don't really think about it.  It seems logical.  Everyone with their own kind.  Once I sat in a congregation that actually announced a schedule change that had the college singles meeting with the twenty-somethings that Sunday due to a special program!  How odd?!?

My point?  I am not so sure that all of this segregation is either wise or beneficial.  The Church of Christ is not a mirror reflection of me (as if we needed a class or fellowship group for grumpy old men with gray beards who wear reading glasses and like to tell other people their meandering thoughts).  The Church works best when this segregation is kept to a minimum.  Yeah, I can see some of the wisdom in Sunday classes aimed at folks with the same reading and comprehension levels and so you are probably going to have to keep that... but... the rest of it?  Is it wise for us to expect or label people by age or marital status or other criteria and then presume that their wants, needs, and interests are the same because of those criteria?  Are we shortchanging worship and the rest of the life of the church by presuming that we should all be with our own kind instead of being together in the nave, classroom, and fellowship hall?

I have tried some "intergenerational" stuff and found it as palatable as pablum.  The surprise is that starting about a dozen years ago I began having some high school age youth in my "adult" study because they got tired of talking about the typical youth subjects of sex, video games, movies, drugs, tattoos and piercings.  They have stayed and they keep up just fine.  What are some of your experiences and what do you think about this kind of segregation on Sunday mornings?

Once a young family told me about their visit to a small Lutheran congregation made up mostly of those over 65.  They had two squirmy children who were vocal and one began to sing when nobody else was singing and the other began to cry (babies do that).  They apologized profusely after the service but one older woman said to her, "Oh, don't apologize.  I have been waiting years to hear the sound of a baby's cry in Church on Sunday morning -- it was wonderful.  I sure hope you will be back!"  Actually I can think of nothing sadder than to look around on Sunday morning and see people just like me....


Anonymous said...

The LCMS was a leader in social
segregation within the local parish.
We had the LLL for men. We had the
LWML for women. We had the Walther
League for youth. Obviously, this was
not segregated on Sunday Morning
Worship, but it encouraged fellowship
during the week.

It will never change, men like to
share with men, women enjoy sharing
with women, and the same with youth.

John said...

Many young teens are going through a time when they see all adults, especially their parents as the most stupid beings to inhabit the planet. They gravitate to their peers in school, extra curricular activities, sports programs, and socially.

These teens have rightly grown up in Sunday School and Confirmation while the adults were in their own classes during education hour.

Should these teens continue to be segregated from their parents after Confirmation? There are certainly folks who are not ready to join an adult class. Maybe we should be sure to tell the newly confirmed that they are welcome to attend either the youth or adult classes, as they wish. They have a choice.

Birkholz said...

My current congregation is rather small, so we really can't afford to do much segregation and still have viable groups.

The congregation I was a member of growing up was much larger. I didn't like attending the "youth" Bible Classes, because they were all about sex, drugs, and rock and roll (i.e. moralism). I much preferred to go to the "adult" Bible Class, which simply read and discussed portions of Scripture.

Anonymous said...

Suburban churches seem to grow since
they attract young suburban families.
That is not Church Growth dogma, that
is common sense. Suburban families
are usually transplants due to job
transfers of the husbands. They
gravitate toward families in similar
situations. Young families attract
other young families. That fact is
not going to change. Hopefully the
LCMS has plenty of good suburban
parishes across our nation.

Mark Beitz said...

Pastor - Excellent post! We are very blessed to be reminded all God's people should gather and encourage one other to stay focused on Christ.

My congregation has been blessed with enough numerical growth that the Board of Elders listed adding a contemporary worship service as one of a list of potential long range plans for ministry improvements. I objected to the CW service proposal at a Voter's Meeting on the grounds that we would be stronger as a congregation if 1) we would hear the same, consistent Law and Gospel message at all services, 2) our pastors could use material appropriate to correct preaching and teaching in services without being restricted to use only songs written in the last 25-40 years, and 3) that we as a congregation would be able to encourage one another in one gathering whether our ages were below 2, above 92, or anywhere in between.

Anonymous said...

I loved reading this post because it rings all too true. I currently serve as Kantor and organist for a parish of about 300 in Texas. We have a wide variety of bible studies. However, I must say that they are rather mixed. I myself teach a class I have called "The Lutheran Heritage Series." We are making our way through the Book of Concord, currently studying the catechisms, both small and large. I have such a mix of people that it always fascinates me! Word has gotten out that it is high octane orthodoxy, so some avoid it, but by and large, I can always expect to see a wide variety of people.

I do not understand this idea of "children's church". While I grew up in a small parish, we did not even consider such a thing! I had to wear a suit and tie, sit up straight (otherwise grandma would hit me across the back of the head with her fan), and I had to sing all the hymns and follow every part of the service! I am only 24 years old so this was not so long ago but I speak of it as ancient history! And we wonder why children grow up and demand church change to suit their needs!? We have already told them that church, bible study, etc is not for them! I digress but this "segregation" albeit from good intentions really does more detriment to the Church.

What is even worse is how we segregate families! When we go to visit our family in Austin, we all attend the same church but not the same service. My father and I are confessional, orthodox Lutherans who worship like Lutherans so we attend the 8:00 "traditional service" whereas my aunt, uncle, and cousins attend the "praise" service. How weird is that?!

Anonymous said...

"Should these teens continue to be segregated from their parents after Confirmation?"

Great question. I lean towards no.

There are certainly folks who are not ready to join an adult class.

Perhaps we over estimate the adults.

"Maybe we should be sure to tell the newly confirmed that they are welcome to attend either the youth or adult classes, as they wish. They have a choice."

This is probably not a good idea, as a paid DCE is going to make sure they attend his class because if they all go to the adult class, it will make him look bad through no fault of his own.

John said...

Not all congregations have DCE's.

The point has been made that some youth Bible classes are not Bible classes at all, but lessons on how to live life. How do these classes prepare youth to transition into adult Bible classes?

Make youth Bible classes truly Bible classes, and save the lessons on how to lead life for the teens' social meetings.

Anonymous said...

I will continue to sit up front with my three little girls. There is a great lesson for them sitting still for a few hours on Sunday morning seeing what goes on behind the altar as well as beside them as their mother and father take part in worship. The earlier they can learn to appreciate, the earlier they can hold the hymnal for me and take part in worship as well.

Anonymous said...

Let people of all ages be together in as many church-life venues as possible. Children become rounder and fuller given this opportunity . I don't mean "fat" from many potlucks.

One of the things my daughters and I loathed the most at our baptist church was the forced segregation. My children wanted to be in the adult service with me, and they were entirely capable of sitting that long, being quiet and LEARNING, but every Sunday there were people trying to get them to the basement for a meal of youth drivel. They told me that's what it was. I believed them.

Now we are ecstatically confirmed Lutherans. What a HAVEN! The Lutheran church we now call home is a small congregation, but quite varied in ages. It's true that a few of the teens look only vaguely interested in the Bible studies their parents bring them to, but it's important that they are there with their folks, with the rest of us. It is a fading dynamic only if we let it become that.

I have seen "age segregating" primarily as a family divider in church. It seems to make kids think they don't need to think (dumbing down through youth groups) and it may well increase the tensions they might be having at home with their folks.

Frankly, I loathe "women's" meetings. We really aren't all that interesting left to ourselves. Give me a a varied group please.

Lutherans, Lets be different from the current trendy non-Lutheran churches out there. Your offering of the simplicity of the very rich orthodox faith, the beautiful liturgy and solid confessions, and most of all, the Christ-centeredness, is what drew us to you at a time when we thought serious faith must be dead in America. We were NOT looking for small groups, rather we were trying to escape them! Little did we know that (some) Lutherans had held on tightly to the Faith once given. We are home now. I intend to keep watch at the door.

Hear Hear "Kantor from Texas" I think you are wise for age 24.

(age 52)