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Intergenerational Christian Formation: Bringing the Whole Church Together in Ministry, Community, and Worship

"The book first examines the biblical and theological reasons to place intergenerational ministry at the forefront of every church," writes Thom Cunningham.

Holly Catterton Allen, Christine Lawton and Cory L. Seibel
InterVarsity Press, 336 pages | Published June 13, 2023

Following the pandemic, we seek connection and belonging. At a time when the church could foster this environment, congregations see a decline in membership and engagement, leaving many pastors and educators to wonder: How do we cultivate a congregation of engaged faithful believers?

More than a decade ago, Holly Allen and Christian Lawton recorded the beginnings of this issue in the first edition of Intergenerational Christian Formation: Bringing the Whole Church Together in Ministry, Community, and Worship, which received widespread recognition as a fundamental guide to intergenerational ministry. Post-pandemic, they partnered with Corey Seibel to better explain the why and how of multigenerational ministry. The result is a gold mine of practical examples for our current environment.

The book first examines the biblical and theological reasons to place intergenerational ministry at the forefront of every church. For example, the authors lift up Moses’ farewell address, where people of all ages gathered to enter into a covenant with God. Biblical stories like this remind us that our origins included intergenerational engagement; only in recent history have we siloed our communities by age. A fascinating historical overview briefly spans the first century through the Reformation, explaining that the shift to an age and stage ministry model was a consequence of the Reformers’ emphasis on teaching everyone to read scripture for themselves.

The authors explore how churches can incorporate multigenerational programming into worship, Bible study, mission and service, and other existing programs. One church brought together members from age six to 80 for a time of Lectio Divina, journaling and imaginative prayer. Practicing spiritual disciplines intergenerationally created a deep sense of community and belonging, as participants heard the different perspectives of other age groups. An 80-year-old reported that one of his most memorable moments was having an 11-year-old girl pray for him. “It was probably the sweetest prayer I have [ever] had prayed over me,” he recalled.

Since reading the first edition, I have implemented many of their suggestions, such as an intergenerational Advent workshop and evening vacation Bible school, as well as engaging children and youth in worship leadership. This second edition includes new approaches for churches struggling to redefine themselves after COVID. Faith formation committees, Sunday school teachers and other volunteers can benefit from Intergenerational Christian Formation’s practical examples and appendix — rich with ideas that are simple, approachable and designed to embrace an intergenerational strategy. The theoretical background of the book’s first half may be most beneficial to church educators and pastors.

We often hesitate to try something new. Rather than call for an end to age-and-stage education, the authors encourage churches to embrace additional ways of forming our congregations. Churches of all sizes should try this approach — especially small congregations who may not be able to fill out classrooms. If we are looking to cultivate congregations of engaged believers, as well as meeting people’s needs for community and belonging, multigenerational ministry could be the answer.

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