Creating groups in church that are separated by age and interest makes some sense. Young marrieds typically have different interests than couples whose kids are in their teens. Many churches target worship experiences for particular ages and interests, such as “childrens’ worship.” This approach allows church leaders to tailor their planning to the developmental stage, knowledge, and interests of the target group.
However, this approach also isolates the parts of Christ’s body from one another, and has the unintended side-effect of weakening a church’s hospitality and welcome. It embraces similarity and dislikes difference. If you like pizza, giggle a lot, are awakening to your sexuality, are starting to use make-up, and are developing abstract reasoning ability, then you probably will fit fairly well in a group for 13-year-old girls. But the 13-year-old girl who does not fit this stereotype feels left out. Hospitality and welcome are sacrificed on the altar of a specific pedagogy.
Instead of targeting developmental stage and interest, the book of Deuteronomy describes a pedagogy that weaves education and community into one fabric. “Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.” (Deut. 6:6,7) Jesus took the same approach with his disciples as they shared life together.
For most people in most churches, this fabric-of-life pedagogy is not possible, because we don’t have enough regular contact with one another. However, churches can create experiences in which community and education fit together better than the slice and dice approach.
The people at Faith Alive Christian Resources have produced a new curriculum called WE that helps churches engage in a series of intergenerational events that keep education and community together. According to a WE website, WE is “an intergenerational adventure designed to gather your whole church around God’s whole story.”
Besides the wonderful prospect of a ten-year-old and an 80-year-old enjoying a meal, a laugh, and a biblical insight together, WE provides chairs at the table for the girl who feels like she doesn’t fit in with her peers and middle-aged woman with schizophrenia, for the young man with an intellectual disability and the older man who has been recently widowed.
I hope and pray that many churches use WE. The authors and editors worked hard at making the materials inclusive of various ages as well as people of various ethnicities and abilities. I’d love to hear your WE stories. What has been your WE experience?