Liz Perraud says bringing generations together is a key aspect of Christian community. She suggests church leaders might approach the need to strengthen intergenerational connections as a child might, by asking “why” a lot.
Our granddaughter is nearly four and asks “why?” a lot. We take walks on the path through the woods near our home, which is often when the questions arise. “Why is this called ‘the woods’ and not ‘a forest’?” “Why aren’t there wolves here?” “Why are mushrooms growing at the playground?” “Why is your kitty in heaven?” I usually respond in one of three ways: “Because…” (when I’m fairly certain of the answer); “I think…” (when I can make a good guess); or “I don’t know…” (when I haven’t a clue).
When I’m really on the ball, though, I answer with “What do you think?” Her answers are always more interesting than mine. She has an inherent curiosity to learn more and to not settle for surface observations. Though it feels like an endless loop sometimes, unless it’s naptime, I welcome the intellectual exchange. It reinforces my own learning and understanding and opens me to something new. (What is the difference between woods and forest? It’s actually rather complicated.)
Exploring the “why” of intergenerational ministry
“Why might all ages benefit from knowing each other?” “Why should we all worship together?” “Why is an intergenerational church different from a multigenerational one?” “Why might relationships between and among generations be particularly important in these physically distanced times?” Understanding the reason “why” sustains any ministry for the long run.
What experts tells us
Researching what experts say about intergenerational community helps us uncover the “why.”
- “Without interaction between and among the generations, each making its own unique contribution, Christian community is difficult to maintain.” John Westerhoff
- “For intergenerational formation to happen, the generations must be together; they must know each other; and they must experience life in the Body of Christ together.” Holly Allen and Christine Lawton
- “Bringing generations together within the church affirms each person’s value in the total community, regardless of age.” John Roberto
- “Intergenerational culture building is more than a new program; it doesn’t happen without a vision beyond one piece or part of the church.” Melissa Cooper
- “Intergenerational formation is not only about bringing children and youth back into ‘big church’; it’s about all of us being formed together as the church. It’s essential to our identity as followers of Christ.” Jason Brian Santos
What Scriptures tell us
Exploring what’s written in Scriptures about reaching all generations points toward the importance, too.
- “Keep these words that I am commanding you today in your heart. Recite them to your children and talk about them when you are at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you rise.” Deuteronomy 6:6-7
- “There was not a word of all that Moses commanded that Joshua did not read before all the assembly of Israel, and the women, and the little ones, and the aliens who resided among them.” Joshua 8:35
- “For the promise is for you, for your children, and for all who are far away, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to him.” Acts 2:39
What do you think?
Now is a good time to have those “What do you think?” conversations with people in your congregation. Why wait until the pandemic is over? This could be your in-between time to plan what’s next and begin to put into place new ideas that will stay around long after we’ve trashed our masks. In conditions of such social isolation that we are now experiencing, the church can be the catalyst for welcoming (and including) people of all ages — if we do so intentionally and safely. Now is not the time to scurry into our age-segregated corners but to come together in new and creative ways.
After building the foundation of understanding whether and why your church is being called to more intergenerational community, it’s time to experiment. How can you bring more generations together in a way that feels manageable by building on current strengths? Can you experience short-term successes that will put your new direction into practice? What can you do through virtual platforms now for intergenerational Bible study, worship, play, and even a shared meal?
As generations mutually invest in one another, relationships will deepen, transforming the church from doing intergenerational programming to thriving as an intergenerational community. Christ-centered community draws us all closer to God. What do you think?
GenOn Ministry’s Visioning Tool for Intergenerational Ministry can help explore the characteristics that underlie a church’s ability to build disciples through intergenerational relationships. It uses specific factors to (1) take a picture of a church’s current setting for intergenerational ministry and (2) create a plan for becoming a more intergenerational church. It’s a free and downloadable resource as a springboard to become intentionally intergenerational.
- “What is Messy Church?”, a Leading Ideas Talks podcast episode featuring Johannah Myers
- Are You Teaching People about Faith? Or How to Practice It? by Johannah Myers
- The New Church Family by Ann A. Michel
- Intergenerational Ministry and the Small Church by Brandon J. O’Brien