by Liz Perraud
The church has long been a bastion of age-segregated programming and activities. We have youth mission trips and the adult choir, Bible studies for women and Sunday school for children. The activities for the “men of the church” usually don’t include the boys unless it’s a father-son program. And often congregational services are touted as open and welcoming to all even though we excuse the children to go do something else while the youth and adults worship.
Can a church gather people of all ages in the same room and call it intergenerational ministry? Is it enough to have adults as teachers and children or youth as students and say we have cross-generational educational programming? Perhaps it’s more than that.
Intergenerational ministry includes…?
- Teens and retirees
- Empty nesters and young parents
- Children and twentysomethings
- Some of the above
- All of the above
Intergenerational ministry means we are…?
- Mutually engaged
- Sharing faith stories
- Investing in one another
- Contributing to the wider community
- Intentional about relationships
Intergenerational ministry is difficult because of…?
- Different energy levels
- Different interests
- Different schedules
- Different ways of thinking
Intergenerational ministry is beneficial when…?
- We all learn
- We all grow
- We are the body of Christ together
It doesn’t matter the size of our church or the location of our community. It doesn’t matter where our church falls on the theological spectrum from conservative to progressive. All faith communities can be intergenerational. Unless we are purposeful though, most of us fall short.
At the church-wide potluck, note who gravitates to whom. After worship at the coffee and cookies hour, what do the conversation clusters look like? Unless we are worshipping as a family, who are we most likely to seek out to sit with in the pews? Roll out a ball, and people will usually play with those closest to their age—or stand on the sideline looking on while others of a different age play. Our natural tendency is to seek out those most like us, and that often means those of a similar age. There is nothing wrong with friendships based on common stages of life, but to quote John Westerhoff, “Without interaction between and among the generations, each making its own unique contribution, Christian community is difficult to maintain.”
Holly Allen and Christine Ross, authors of “Intergenerational Christian Formation” make the case that “for intergenerational Christian formation to happen, the generations must be together; they must know each other; and they must experience life in the body of Christ together.”
Incorporating all (or multiple) ages takes intention. In planning, we may simply ask how we can do something a bit differently so that more generations are together. We can look at our current activities and ministries for children and youth and create ways to incorporate more adults. We can find ways to include younger people in areas of the church more traditionally for older folks (and not just by offering childcare).
Here are some ideas to get you started:
Leading worship together:
- A mixed age group presents a series of frozen tableaux depicting Scripture;
- Children and teens form a choir to sing a benediction for Advent;
- Retirees and middle schoolers learn drumming as a call to worship.
- Friday night board games with mixed ages at each table;
- Bowling with young parents and empty nesters in each lane;
- A kite fly where mixed generation teams are formed to create fancy tails before the launch.
- A gathering of all ages hears the creation story from Genesis and then paints a mural that represents the reading;
- Bible study on Wednesday evenings uses Godly Play “wondering” questions for circles of five representing a balance of generations.
Sharing a meal together:
- College age youth and tweens prepare and eat lunch together after worship;
- Midweek family style dinners mix ages at each table — and keep those tables together for a series of weeks.
- Food packing events with the whole church, followed by prayer led by the youngest at each work station.
- High schoolers and their parents create care boxes for students away at college.
At GenOn Ministries, we teach LOGOS as one excellent way to be intentional about intergenerational ministry. Many know LOGOS as a midweek program but churches apply the approach in other creative ways. The integral key practices are:
- Balanced ministry: nurturing and engaging the body, mind and soul;
- Christian relationships: how we are to treat one another;
- Process of call: an intentional method of staffing the ministry matching gifts and interests of adults of all ages to the leadership needed.
These key practices may take the shape of weekly midweek gatherings or they may be Sunday evening youth group, an all-church retreat, summer Thursday evenings or 4-to-6 week gatherings during Lent. I am convinced that bringing the generations together is the way to do church again. Back to the beginning … “One generation shall commend your works to another, and shall declare your mighty acts” (Psalm 145:5).
LIZ PERRAUD is the executive director of GenOn Ministries. Learn more at genonministries.org.