An introduction to intergenerational ministry

 
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The Christian Church is a remarkable entity. It is the only agency in Western civilisation which has all the members of the family as part of its clientele from birth to death[1]. On any given weekend I can look around my local church and see babies, Generation X, Y and Z, Boomers and the Builders gathered to worship Jesus Christ as King. Each generation is a gift to the others. The young bring their energy and questions; the mature model endurance and share their experience. All generations stand before Christ as equal recipients of God’s grace and valuable members of God’s household.

Surprisingly in our modern churches, many young people never experience the gift of engaging with the older generations. Children and Youth are often siloed into specialised programs with their peers with age specific teaching, with little engagement with the wider church. As a young believer I enjoyed a church community of people 5 years older and younger than me. It was highly relevant and engaging, yet in many ways was narrow in its discipleship. The generational structures limited my opportunity to engage and grow with Christians off different stages. Mark DeVries agrees, “We have isolated young people from the very relationships that are most likely to lead them to maturity”[2].

Intergenerational ministry seeks to embrace and capitalise on the gift each generation provides to the other in God’s church.

What is intergenerational ministry?

Intergenerational ministry is difficult to define because it is a philosophy of ministry rather than a program[3]. Its goal is to strategically build significant and purposeful interactions between the generations within the structures of a church. The key components of intergenerational ministry are interaction and intentionality. Intergenerational ministry is more than bringing the generations into proximity with one another. It is intentionally building mutual and influential relationships with a degree of regularity between the various generations.

What is the Biblical basis?

Intergenerational ministry celebrates the wonderful Biblical truth that all people, and especially young people, are valuable and important members of the Body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:12-14, Matthew 19:14). Moreover intergenerational ministry’s motivation for interaction and intentionality arises from the challenging truth that each member of the body needs each other (1 Corinthians 12:21-26). Children need the adult members of the Body of Christ to grow as fruitful, persevering members. Likewise, the elderly and adults need youth to grow as fruitful, courageous members. Chad Hall remarks, “When generations collide, the ensuing conflict reminds everyone that the Church is not just about me. Who knew the church could be the cure to narcissism?”[4]

Intergenerational ministry embraces and enacts the command to older generations to have a significant role in partnering parents in the growth and development of young believers. Titus 2:1-2 calls older men and women to intentionally build relationships with the younger generation. Psalm 78:4 calls the whole people of God to tell the next generation the praiseworthy deeds of the Lord.

How does Intergenerational ministry work?

Intergenerational ministry calls for a culture change and begins with Churches making intentional intergenerational relationships a core value of their church. This is a value that is taught, prayed for and celebrated. Moreover, intentional Intergenerational relationships become a key goal for different ministry gatherings.

The second step is to assess all current individual ministry programs and groups through the lens of intergenerational ministry, identifying opportunities for engagement and storytelling. Every ministry program, from the Sunday service to a home group, kid’s church to youth group, provides an opportunity to intentionally bring generations together. Remember our goal is not proximity but engagement.

Intergenerational ministry is further developed by creating new opportunities for the generations to serve together. My first ever mission trip was with in an intergenerational team. This pushed an overconfident 19 year old out of his comfort zone. Yet it was one of the most formative times in my early discipleship as I did life with Christians of all ages for 2 weeks. There are so many opportunities for generations to serve together, from youth leadership teams, to intergenerational music teams to special projects the church undertakes. Serving together levels the ground for intergenerational relationships to grow[5].

Intergenerational ministry seeks to embrace and capitalise on the gift each generation provides to the other in God’s church. There are so many opportunities to build intentional interactions between the generations in our churches. What are the opportunities in your Church?[6]


Notes

[1] Margaret Sawin, Family enrichment with family clusters, (Valley Forge, PA: Judson, 1979)

[2] Mark DeVries, Family-based Youth ministry, rev. ed. (Downer Grove IL: InterVarsity Press, 2004),  p.36.

[3] Please see this article on Intergenerational ministry which highlights the difference between multigenerational and intergenerational ministry and explores what intergenerational ministry looks like.

[4] Chad Hall, “All in the Family Is Now Grey’s Anatomy” sited in Allen, Holly Catterton; Lawton, Christine (2012-08-28). Intergenerational Christian Formation: Bringing the Whole Church Together in Ministry, Community and Worship (p. 47). InterVarsity Press.

[5] Kara Powell, “Is The Era Of Age Segmentation Over?”  (Leadership Journal, Sept. 2009).

“I don’t meet any adults who want nothing to do with kids, but I meet a lot of adults who are intimidated by teenagers and don’t know how to talk with them. Serving together levels the ground. When we’ve got a hammer in one hand and a paintbrush in the other, all of a sudden we’ve created a shared experience, and age is irrelevant”

[6] For an analysis of the need and opportunity for Intergenerational Ministry in our churches, see Effective Ministry’s Intergenerational Ministry Research Paper.