Is your church intentionally intergenerational?
I have the privilege to be teaching a BGST course on “Spiritual Adulting: Nurturing Emerging Adults in an Intergenerational Context” together with my Graceworks colleague, Wei Hao. This is a course that started life as one on ministry to young adults. However, as we reflected further, we realised that we needed to help all the generations understand each other in order to minimise conflict and to help them contribute their unique strengths and insights to the ministry of the church. This is such a critical subject but it seems that it is not near getting the attention it deserves. Maybe it would help to have some clarity as to the what and why.
What is intergenerational ministry? Here are the definitions of a number of similar-sounding phenomena:
1. Multigenerational — there is tolerance living alongside, with superficial and polite interaction;
2. Cross-generational — there is some sharing, listening, and learning, but little individual or collective transformation;
3. Intergenerational — there is comprehensive mutuality, equality, and reciprocity that makes individual or collective transformation more likely.
Intergenerational ministry occurs when a congregation intentionally combines the generations together in mutual serving, sharing, or learning within the core activities of the church in order to live out being the body of Christ to each other and the greater community.
(Holly Catterton Allen and Chris Barnett)
But why should we bother with intergenerational ministry? Moving in the direction of intergenerational ministry will take a lot of work. We need to be clear as to why we need to take it seriously. I am grateful for this article by Alissa Ellett and suggest you read it in full. She gives five reasons why we need to take intergenerational ministry seriously. Here are some excerpts:
1. Intergenerational Ministry Provides Varied Leadership Perspectives
When your group of leaders has a diverse range of background and context, the same will be true of the wider church. And, as a result, your church will meet the needs of more demographics by way of intergenerational ministry.
2. Intergenerational Ministry Offers Fresh Ideas
Intergenerational ministry gives space for members of all ages to share what they hope for and imagine. First, when one age group is privileged over all others, things remain relatively constant. This is lovely and comfortable and nostalgic for that group. However, what has always been done is often not best for progress and church growth.
3. Intergenerational Ministry Includes the Marginalized
Many times, those not catered to in ministry have lost their voices. As a result, they don’t have a platform for sharing their hopes and needs. Therefore, the church isn’t able to see and hear the marginalized. This means they likely won’t stick around. And who can blame them for leaving?
4. Intergenerational Ministry Creates Connections
We are communal creatures who have spent almost our entire history living in multigenerational groups. We thrive in this environment as we hear stories of where we’ve come from and who we are. Especially as families spread around the country and globe we lose this connection.
5. Intergenerational Ministry Fosters Spiritual Formation
Throughout scripture, faith is an intergenerational reality. The young and old learn from and care for each other. They challenge one another to release their assumptions, think differently, and to practice compassion. Even today, thousands of years later, we read the scriptures told and retold by our spiritual ancestors. It turns out that Bible reading itself is intergenerational.
Ellett’s reasons are very compelling.
We live in a unique time in history where at least five generations are living and needing to work together.
Silent (Born 1928–45)
Baby boomer (Born 1946–64)
Generation X (Born 1965–1980)
Millennials (Born 1981–1996)
Generation Z (Born 1997–2012)
Each generation has been shaped by different formative forces and this has resulted in a situation where each generation views life and faith somewhat differently. While we don’t want to over-exaggerate the differences between the different generations, neither do we want to ignore them. Indeed, we need to go beyond seeing the generational differences as a problem but as a strength. Intergenerational ministry, if handled well, holds the promise of a church more mature than at any other point in history. We will give updates on intergenerational ministry in subsequent articles.