Understanding intergenerational ministry

 
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There is no silver bullet in Children’s and Youth ministry. There is no one program, strategy or conference that will ensure a growing, faithful and fruitful tribe of young Jesus followers. Ministries will look different from church to church as they seek to grow disciples of Jesus, in their local contexts, with their available resources and in deep prayer. However, there are five core principles that will directly impact the effectiveness of our ministries to young people:

  1. Equipped and supported leaders

  2. Careful engagement with God’s word

  3. An engaging, loving and intentional discipleship community

  4. Active partnership with the home.

The fifth is one we often miss. It is intergenerational ministry. For the past 40 years, our focus has been on generational ministry. We have become experts at running contextualised, relevant and effective word-based discipleship programs. Often our Children’s and Youth programs are the jewels in the crown that attract families to our churches. However, our narrow focus on these siloed programs has resulted in us neglecting the benefits and essential need of the wider church in growing the next generation. Mark Devries reflects, “In typical youth ministries, youth have been systematically separated from adults, isolating them “from the very relationships that are most likely to lead them to maturity.” Intergenerational ministry seeks to remove this isolation.

Intergenerational Ministry is not …

We are often scared away from intergenerational ministry because we are confused about what it is. Intergenerational ministry is not founded on the belief that all activities and programs in a church must be conducted with all ages present. There are powerful, valid and important reasons to gather by age or stage (eg. Youth Group). However, there are equally powerful, valid and important reasons to gather the generations together. Intergenerational ministry is a both/and rather than an either/or proposition. In addition, intergenerational ministry is not multigenerational ministry.  While a multigenerational church honours all generations and provides programs for them, intergenerational ministry intentionally brings these generations together.

Intergenerational Ministry is …

Intergenerational ministry is a mindset and action. Firstly, Intergenerational ministry begins with the church acknowledging the gifts that every generation bring to the spiritual formation of the other generations. Secondly, the church creates frequent opportunities for various generations to communicate in meaningful ways, to interact on a regular basis, and to minister, worship and serve together regularly. Our goal is to ensure that every person is part of a ‘web’ of relationships including peers and members of other generations.  

Why consider intergenerational ministry?

Our young people need it. They need to know they belong to the Body of Christ, not just to their generational community. They need a network of caring believers who pray for, mentor and share their lives with the next generation. They need the stories and experiences of other generations to put flesh on their faith.

In their analysis of why young adult Christians give up their faith, Clark and Powell argue strongly for the need for intergenerational ministry. They suggest a radical mind shift. Instead of the common thinking that allocates 1 leader for every 5 young people, we need think in terms of “5 adults to every 1 young person, adults of all ages whom we recruit to invest in each child in little, medium or big ways, building a ‘sticky web of relationships’ for our children.”

What is the next step?

It is not to panic nor close down all our ministries. The next step is to take one concrete action to bring the next generation together with other generations in a meaningful, intentional way. It may be that you invite some adults into your programs to share their story. It may be that you change how you arrange service teams (music, welcoming) so that multiple generations serve together. It may mean carefully adjusting your church services so that all generations can participate and contribute together (i.e. more than a kids talk or a church lunch). The options are endless and exciting.

There is no silver bullet in Children’s and Youth ministry. However intergenerational ministry is often a gap in our discipleship process. Our young people need the whole body of Christ to develop deep, robust faith.