Early on, when we had first been involved with the first family integrated church and the church planter had been invited to assist us, Clay and I wanted to visit his church for a morning worship service. We had previously attended a hymn sing there and enjoyed it immensely but we hoped to attend a service where family integrated principles had been incorporated for several years. Providentially, we were given an opportunity, though it happened most unexpectedly.

My sister-in-law, who lived in Michigan, wanted to give our daughter the grand piano that had belonged to her great grandmother and so we arranged to drive to her house and bring the piano back in a U-Haul rental truck. As our family drove back through northern Illinois on a Saturday afternoon, warning lights on the dashboard indicated engine trouble and since we were near an exit, we were able to pull-off the interstate and call for assistance. The company told us that no one would be available to help us until sometime the next day so our only option was to stay overnight. Clay and I remembered that the church planter’s church was located near the town we were in and after looking at the map, realized we were only 2 or 3 miles from the church building. So we made plans to attend worship services the next day.

As soon as we walked in the door, the church planter recognized us, introduced us to many families and, upon hearing about what had happened with our truck, quickly put together a group who would be available to help us reload the piano if we needed to do so later that day.

The worship service included many of the elements we had expected to see: a couple families sharing passages of Scripture as they had done at the hymn sing, a children’s orchestra, many children in worship service, the singing of praise music and hymns, instruction in singing 4 parts of the hymn of the month after the morning service, a solid, theologically sound and edifying sermon. All of us thought it was just the type of service we would love all the time and we were warmly welcome by more faces than we could ever remember.

Immediately after worship, one of the elders approached us and said that they had invited several families to their home for dinner and would love to have us join them. (In fact, we left the church that day having received several more invitations to various homes for dinner.) Clay was concerned about the truck repairs but when he called the company was told that it would be later in the afternoon before it was finished and since we didn’t need to transfer the piano, we had several hours that we could spend in fellowship. So we followed the elder and his family to their home, which ended up being about twenty minutes away in rural northern Indiana. 4 or 5 other families all appeared with casserole dishes and crock pots, including the church planter and his family.

There were children of all ages everywhere and our boys joined in with the rest of the teens, all of them quickly acting like long-lost friends. I was amazed at the strategy for welcoming a new family and it was obvious that there had been significant planning involved in order to be able to pull all of this off at the last minute with such efficiency. The hostess had several large quantity items she pulled out of the freezer, frozen fruits, breads, and the largest bag of chicken breasts I had ever seen. Other women produced a variety of side dishes and made fresh salads while the men grilled the chicken. I was welcomed into the kitchen, given a job to do, and we were all such kindred spirits that our exchange was warm and pleasant, as though I had known these ladies forever.

The older children each took their filled plates to various spots, inside and out, some of the oldest helping with the younger ones around the kitchen table. The adults went to the dining room where our lively conversation continued, turning to a discussion of raising older teens, courtship, the logistics of a family integrated church, and the new church plant in our area.

Even though the fellowship had the same sweetness as we experienced in our home church, there were two differences in the relationships that all of us noticed. The first was that there was no awkwardness between the young men and the young women. As Scripture admonishes, they all treated each other as brothers and sisters in Christ. And the second thing was that the women around that dining room table were all included in the discussions about theology, church polity, and raising children. It was refreshing, since we were used to the men and women separating for fellowship on Sunday afternoons.

After the meal, all the families gathered in the family room where several of them quoted Scripture together from memory, testimonies were shared, and we sang hymns. We had a time of prayer together, too, and all too quickly the truck company called to tell us they were finished so one of the men had us follow him through the winding back roads to get to the exit where we had turned off. Soon we were back on our way home, still talking about what a great day we had shared with our new friends.

In retrospect, I am so glad that we had had that day’s experience because it showed us some very positive things that can be done in the body of Christ to minister to one another and to facilitate times of genuine fellowship for all ages as well as to welcome new visitors into your group. I remember asking myself why the idea of a traditional youth group had been so troubling to us while this time of fellowship for teenagers was so positive and, again, the key factor was that parents with compatible goals were there with their children and that any stifling, adversarial gender issues, either for the young women or the mothers, were absent.

We also observed that while we were likeminded in the essentials of the faith and even in some of the nonessentials, there was no pressure to conform to a certain paradigm or a specific agenda that made everyone feel like they all had to do everything in the same way. One example of this was the large cardboard tree that had been mounted on the back wall of the sanctuary over the doorway. Along the branches of the tree were leaves with family names on them and when your family memorized a passage of Scripture, you could place your leaf on that tree. The branches were nearly full and nearly every book of the Bible was represented. It was a great encouragement to see that this was a church that was determined to memorize God’s word without everyone having to do the same thing and if you chose to not participate, it was your choice. In other words, memorizing Scripture was established as the norm but families felt free to do so according to their own needs, ages of children, and at their own pace.

On the downside, we did ask how many of the families were homeschoolers and were told that only a handful did not homeschool. While there were a few older couples, most of them seemed to be the grandparents of children in the church and there was one, dear single man who, each time we were there, stood up and shared the Scripture he was memorizing. We were also told that anyone who doesn’t homeschool quickly realizes that home discipleship, to be done properly, needs to be done within a homeschooling setting, that all the outside activities always interfered with the time needed to properly disciple children. While we are obviously huge advocates of homeschooling, we do believe that is an overstatement.

A couple years later when we were with the second family integrated church, the daughter church of the one I just described, we realized that our church had a much different flavor and tone than the mother church did, which was somewhat of a disappointment to us. In assessing why this was, again, the mother church was, at that time, a church that was welcoming children into the service but was not centering everything around them and, in our opinion, it made a huge difference is how worship was conducted, how inclusive or exclusive we appeared to be, and how welcome nonhomeschoolers might feel if they visited.