From 0 to 99: Bridging the Generational Divide
How many generations of worshippers do you see in your church on Sunday morning?
You may not realize it, but most ministries serve individuals from six different generations. Think about it: The GI Generation, the Silent Generation, Baby Boomers, Generation X, Millennials, and Generation Z. Each generation of worshippers comes to church with its own unique attitudes, behaviors, expectations, and identities.
In recent years, many ministries have attempted to create programs and opportunities specifically for each of these six diverse groups - mommy-and-me classes, seniors’ breakfasts, dads’ retreats, teen nights, and so on. On the surface, grouping peers together for faith formation seems like a good idea. And, it is - to an extent. However, many churches are seeing strong divisions grow in the place of strong connections.
Intergenerational ministry is the antidote. As one article puts it: “Intergenerational Ministry encompasses intentional interaction between the generations that promotes the faith and spiritual development of all ages. . . . It is not just another program. It goes beyond programs to a form of being.”
It’s a form of being, a way that God intends for his church to share the Gospel. In Psalm 145:3 - 4 (NLT), we hear this: “Great is the LORD! He is most worthy of praise! No one can measure his greatness. Let each generation tell its children of your mighty acts; let them proclaim your power.”
Generations must interact - from newborn babies to 99-year-olds - encouraging one another and sharing faith. There are other benefits of intergenerational ministry, too:
- Fostering a stronger sense of community within the church
- Learning and teaching that goes both ways between generations
- Building self-esteem and confidence in younger generations
- Lessening isolation and loneliness in older generations
- Establishing connections between generations that can take the place of absent parents or estranged children
- Building empathy and understanding in people of all ages
Now that you know the benefits of intergenerational ministry, the next logical question is “How do I do it?” There are many ways to emphasize intergenerational ministry, but the most important factor was mentioned in the quote above - it has to become a form of being. It won’t work if you simply label current programs “intergenerational” or if you create 10 new programs at once. A better way to start is to take the programs you already have and make small - but meaningful - changes. These changes will flow into future ministry opportunities and intergenerational strategies will eventually become second nature to your church.
Consider starting with something like this:
- Make a slight change in your youth group by having teens join in adult worship on Sunday morning. Then, follow the service with a teens-only discussion of the Bible readings and sermon. This combines peer-to-peer and intergenerational opportunities.
- Change up the babysitting volunteers for your MOPS (mothers of preschoolers) group. According to a report from the Pew Research Center, older adults highly value spending time with children. Make a point to ask retirees to volunteer for childcare.
- Anytime you have a service project, bring generations together. Keep an eye out for service projects that have a wide variety of tasks - things that kids, teens, parents, and grandparents can do. When picking leaders for these projects, choose people from different generations.
- Blend Sunday school and Bible study classes to form mentoring relationships between generations. “Research shows children need four to six involved, caring adults in their lives to fully develop emotionally and socially” and “Elders can help socialize children, teach them empathy and character, and give them an unconditional form of love they can’t find elsewhere. Children, in turn, can be an endless source of joy for elders, share affection and play, and provide assistance with many simple tasks.”
This can be as simple as studying the same topic during class and bringing the two groups together for discussion during the last 15 minutes. Start by pairing the kids with the adults and keep those partners for at least six months. These relationships may even grow so much that the partners meet during the week, too.
As you explore intergenerational ministry and what it means for your church, be purposeful in emphasizing interactions. It’s more than just gathering several generations in the same room. Encourage open dialogue, relationship building, and Christian teaching that can deepen each individual’s faith in Jesus.
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