Let me make it clear at the beginning that our not having an age-segregated Sunday School is not stating that churches that do are not right with God. They may or may not be, depending on the real reason why they do and how they do it.
We are instructed by 1 Thessalonians 5:21 to “Prove all things; hold fast that which is good.” In so doing it is important that we look past the immediate gratification of the short term seeming benefits towards the long term effects that could result over time. Having spent many years in children's ministry both Age-segregated Sunday School and Junior church programs, I am very well aware of the supposed benefits of such programs. However, I am also not unfamiliar with some of the long-term effects that these and other programs can have. Modern Christianity has replaced Christians actually living and serving as ministers of reconciliation with programs that are designed to do what they were not doing without the program.
Let me share some of the issues that I have seen with the Age-segregated Sunday School program that make me doubtful as to it's long-term effectiveness.
The scripture is silent regarding Age-segregated Sunday School. You will not find Age-segregated Sunday School mentioned in the scriptures. There is plenty of support for Bible teaching, yet there is no specific example or pattern of this Age-segregated Sunday School program or other programs. The scripture being silent on a matter however does not necessarily indicate that it is wrong, as it makes no mention of cars, planes, trains, etc., or even church buildings. But again the admonition is to prove all things.
I mention the silence of the scripture regarding Age-segregated Sunday School and other programs because of the idolatrous attitude towards them displayed by many of their supporters. In talking with preachers and lay people, I have found this attitude that if you don't have Age-segregated Sunday School then you're church is not right with God. I have spoken with parents who insist that their child needs a Age-segregated Sunday School and they wouldn't consider a church that didn't provide one. Children's ministries seem to be a sacred cow amongst their proponents, even though the scripture makes no specific mention of them. Historically, Age-segregated Sunday School is of relatively recent origins, yet it is adhered to as if it came down on golden plates or were part of the Ten Commandments. Age-segregated Sunday School is not the only program that churches have adopted which seems to bring about this same idolatrous attitude. I question the validity of any program that produces such an idolatrous attitude amongst it's proponents especially when the scripture itself provides no specific revelation regarding it.
Many who promote Age-segregated Sunday School do so merely as an exercise of tradition. As far as they are concerned there has always been Age-segregated Sunday School, or we have always done it this way. For pastors, it can merely be that the church that they came from had Age-segregated Sunday School so we must have it also, it is just what we do and we must maintain the status quo. Little time, if any is spent seeking God's leadership, as to having one. It is simply done because that is what churches are supposed to do.
Age-segregated Sunday School advocates appeal to statistics to bolster their position. It is not uncommon to hear that statistically more people accept Christ as a child and as they get older it becomes harder to reach them for Christ. This has caused what I believe to be an over emphasis on children's ministries. There is a prevalent worldly philosophy that is used to get laws passed which seemingly go relatively unchallenged when they are put forth as "we have to do it for the children." It is frightening to see this same philosophical underpinning behind children's ministries.
However, again the scriptural examples reveal what appears to be a primarily adult ministry. We don't see Paul emphasizing children's ministries because adults are too hard to win. The reality is it is easier to get children to do just about anything given the right motivation or manipulation, however with no guarantee of any sincerity in what they do. Children are much easier to manipulate into compliance to which any pedophile can attest. The fact that you can get a child to agree with you at least outwardly easier than you can an adult does not necessarily equate to salvation, but compliance to the will of an adult or someone they are wanting to please. Children can be just as disingenuous as adults. As salvation is a work of the Holy Spirit, who is fully capable of bringing conviction to the heart of adults as well as children as we see in the scripture, we need to be careful that we are not merely employing sales tactics that serve only to illicit a verbal agreement, but lack a heart moved decision based on Holy Spirit conviction. It is not our job to manipulate them into making a false profession that they neither understand nor mean.
Age-segregated Sunday School can also indirectly support the worldly concept of a generation gap between children and their parents. I realize that this is not intended, but Age-segregated Sunday School can exacerbate the attitude amongst young people where they would prefer being with people their own age than spending time with their families. As the world already separates children into pier groups, I see no reason for the church to follow suit, especially in the teen age years. It is important that our children be with adults and especially parents so they can learn what being an adult is rather than to be with their piers who think that they know better than the adults. God forbid that Christian teens would rather be at youth group than with mom and dad.
The end result of this philosophy produces immature self-centered adults which is the current plague in professing Christianity. Is it any wonder that so many of the adults that grew up in Age-segregated Sunday School's that were geared to give them what they wanted so that it would be fun, now want adult church to be conducted the same way? The church may simply be reaping what it sowed in the hearts of these young people: church that is geared for them, where they are the focus.
Another issue that arises from Age-segregated Sunday School is the result of creating a machine that must be manned and managed. Age-segregated Sunday School is very demanding; requiring a number of qualified teachers. However, the demand of the machine at many times has resulted in an unqualified person being used to fill a vacancy.; the only ability required being availability as the class must go on. I have heard of cases were persons saved for less than a month were placed in as a Age-segregated Sunday School teacher. With the promotion of canned Sunday School curriculums, a personal walk with God and personal Bible understanding are no longer necessary. The necessity to have a teacher in a class has resulted in far too many unqualified people being used and too many pastors making a poor choice because of the lack of sufficient qualified people.
Paul had told Timothy to commit the things that he had learned to faithful men who would be able to teach others also. However, it is not surprising to see the vast majority of Age-segregated Sunday School teachers being women and not men at all. Again, we are not dismissing the importance of women in teaching their own children and grandchildren in the home as Timothy had learned the scriptures at an early age from his mother and grandmother. Yet, the scriptural emphasis on male leadership and teaching cannot simply be ignored because it doesn't fit the demands of modern culture.
The Christian home is suffering because of the lack of fathers taking their responsibility to bring their children up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord, but rather defaulting to the Age-segregated Sunday School program to take care of it. I find it far more important to place the burden of training up children in the way they should go on the parents exactly where God has placed it. As the church cannot be expected to fulfill the other duties that a man has to his wife or to his family, it is wrong to expect that it should fulfill this responsibility simply because the parents have opted out. We preach against the welfare mentality of shirking responsibility, yet Age-segregated Sunday School may very well lend it self to that same spirit.
One of the few benefits of having spent a number of years teaching Age-segregated Sunday School was that as a teacher you find yourself in a position that you had to study to prepare a lesson to give to the children every week. This got me into the word on a regular basis and was helpful to me at the time. Although, I don't believe that is a reason we ought to have Age-segregated Sunday School, I do think that it shows that when a responsibility is laid upon someone shoulders, it helps them to also grow spiritually. Have our fathers been done a dis-service by the church carrying this responsibility for them? Have they missed out on having to seek out of the book of the Lord to provide for their own children? We stress that if a man doesn't provide for his own household that he is worse than an infidel when it comes to physical things. Why is this emphasis not placed more importantly on providing the spiritual things?
Having said all that, I hope you can see some of the reason that we do not have an Age-segregated Sunday School and have chosen rather to help our families by putting the responsibility upon them where it belongs. Again, I am not saying that a church that has a Age-segregated Sunday School is not right with God, it could be they have found a solution to the pitfalls that I have seen. If so, then God bless them as they follow the Lord in how He would lead them.