In their very helpful Sticky Faith books, Kara Powell and Chap Clark of the Fuller Youth Institute recommend that parents identify at least five non-family adults who will support their children’s faith in a “sticky web” of caring relationships. Creepy spider imagery aside, our family has learned the inestimable value of this “sticky web” practice firsthand.
Many years before this book was published, my husband and I and our toddler son joined a new group at our church that was designed to help young married people support each other. It was an oasis of friendship for years. But the church was large, and the group grew in size until birthing a new group was necessary. We ended up in a smaller group with three other young families, and eventually added a fourth family to our group.
That was almost 20 years ago. Since then we have celebrated births together, held each other’s children as baptism sponsors, shared the joys and sorrows of parenting, grieved as some of our parents became ill or died, and counseled each other during major life decisions.
As adults trying to live in Christian community, our small group has been a bedrock. But even more important than that is the fact that each of our children has grown up with eight non-parent men and women of faith who love them, share their life honestly with them, and support them unconditionally.
And here’s the almost shocking thing: when we gather for our annual Christmas brunch and summer cottage day, our kids, who range from ages 5 to 22, WANT to be there. They actually look forward to spending time with a gang of nerdy middle-aged folks. Sometimes they even change their work schedule to make sure they can join us. They initiate conversations with us. When we do our annual “highs and lows of the year” roundtable, they share what’s on their hearts honestly and deeply. They see themselves as equal members of our little community, not just as “the kids.”
When we tell people that our intergenerational small group has been together for more than 20 years, they’re astonished. They ask if we’ve hit on some magic formula for staying together that long. Well, we have. It’s not the books we study together. It’s not a small group curriculum. It’s not even a church program, since the majority of us now attend different churches. It’s simply the fact that we have intentionally decided, as adults and kids, to share our daily lives together for the long haul.
Do we get on each other’s nerves sometimes? Yep. Do we sometimes strongly disagree? Uh huh. But that’s true of every relationship worth having. It keeps us real. And for our kids, keeping it real has given them the chance to experience and be part of a community where people of God stick together—for better, for worse; for richer, for poorer; in sickness and in health; to love and to cherish.
You’ll find more stories of intergenerational small groups and ideas for how to start your own in Faith Formation Ministries’ Intergenerational Church toolkit.