Six years ago, Community Christian Reformed Church in Kitchener, Ont., began a new adventure.
With a vision for cradle-to-grave ministry for each member, they focused their energy on creating intergenerational communities within the larger church body so that serving and learning could happen between age groups. Already at the launch they had five years of planning and praying behind the process.
A number of factors influenced the decision to rethink how the church would do pastoral care and community, said Amanda Bakale, a pastor at Community CRC. One factor was the size of the congregation.
“We’re kind of a larger church — we have about 900 baptized and professing members — so you can kind of get lost,” she said.
To mitigate the large feeling of the church, the congregation, “split off into a ‘community’ model. Each community has an elder and a deacon assigned to it, and small groups form and shape within it.”
Each of these groups does ministry together in their geographical community.
“It’s not only about going to downtown Kitchener and serving at the soup kitchen. If you’re out in the suburbs ... it’s about serving where you’re placed,” said Bakale.
The organizers also hoped to shift away from a focus on demographic-based or age-based programs and ministries to create an intergenerational focus in which people of different ages can share stories, learn from each other, and do life together.
While retaining strong ministries such as Cadets, GEMS, Coffee Break, senior ministry, and Friendship, they also wanted people of all ages and abilities to be in each other’s homes, serving together, eating together, and worshiping together — not just on Sunday mornings but also in everyday community.
To help reimagine how this type of church would look, the council and church leadership created a team that “figures out how to do ministry together.”
Each of the 12 communities within the congregation is a bit like a mini-church, said Bakale, having an elder and a deacon assigned to help lead the community.
The three pastors leading the congregation have different responsibilities based on focus rather than on demographics. While they share all responsibilities for preaching, visiting, and faith formation, Rev. Carel Geleynse focuses on pastoral care and community, Rev. Amanda Bakale concentrates on faith formation, and Rev. John C. Medendorp attends to preaching and worship.
While they are beginning to see the fruit of this new approach, the pastors point out that Community CRC does not pretend to have all the answers when it comes to intergenerational ministry.
“It’s a constant challenge in our wider community and in our community care groups to work out how we do this intergenerationally,” Geleynse noted.
For example, when a church is working to create an environment of intergenerational learning and sharing, what happens when the youth are invited to a youth service or when resources are directed toward the youth pastor? At Community CRC, there isn’t a “youth pastor” to pass these opportunities along to.
“All our youth have three pastors at this point, and they have expressed that they like that — it’s been something they have appreciated,” said Geleynse.
Despite the challenges that come with the seeming newness of this type of ministry, though, many of the activities at Community CRC would be familiar to most CRC members across the continent. They simply come with a twist.
Catechism, for example, is a five- to seven-week program each spring, to which all members from grade six and up are invited. The classes take place on Wednesday nights, with one class for adults and one for youth. Sometimes these classes are also combined.
In doing this, said Bakale, “it’s about teaching [adults and children] the same thing so that they can have better conversations together. We teach our entire congregation every spring one of our confessions, but it’s a whole experience across the church.”
Bakale said that this approach helps to emphasize that you are never done learning. Even if you’ve already studied the confessions, you can still have more to learn.
“We’re all learners together ... It’s always lifelong learning that we now try to do here,” she said.
Other intergenerational activities include a new members/profession of faith kind of class open to all ages, a World Renew DRS trip including people of different ages and abilities (see story), community care group Sundays that happen every other week, and the beginnings of a focus on sharing faith stories.
“There’s no single way to do intergenerational engagement. There’s no hard and fast rule or one silver bullet. It’s all about experimentation and failure, even,” Bakale said. “I’ve found that you just kind of have to embrace the messiness. You’re not going to get it right right away, and you can’t be driven by fear.”
To draw support and help along the way, Community CRC has joined the 2017-2018 cohort of churches working with Faith Formation Ministries of the Christian Reformed Church in North America.
Bakale said that Community CRC is still learning, so they appreciate being able to partner with the denomination’s agencies and ministries.
“We’re in this together. Someone like Karen [DeBoer of FFM] can come sit with us, and we can say, ‘Okay, here’s what we’ve been doing. Help us deepen this,’” she said.
Geleynse agrees. He also sees other churches benefiting from this denominational support.
“There seems to be a real desire among other churches for this kind of thing,” said Geleynse. “But it’s not a quick fix. It takes a long time to put together ... It’s a cultural shift.”
Additional Faith Formation resources can be found below: