people of different ages and ethnicities in a group

Intergenerational: The Ministry Shift That Changes Everything

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Now, more than ever before, congregations are expressing interest in deeper intergenerational ministry, in which people of all ages learn and grow, serve, and worship together. There are many benefits to intergenerational engagement in all facets of the life of a congregation. Here are just a few: 

  • When congregations become less age-and-stage or program focused, intergenerational ministry allows for the possibility of mentoring relationships because volunteer time can be refocused on relationship building. Relational ministry conveys the congregational warmth that Millennials and Gen Zs are searching for. 

  • Intergenerational ministry tends to see families as whole units. This perspective invites families to reflect together on shared Bible themes, serve together in missional engagements, and worship together. Parents who tire of carting children to various programs that meet on different evenings find that an intergenerational ministry approach protects and enriches their time together as a family.

  • Intergenerational ministry supports a healthy pattern of faith formation that is lifelong and life-giving, no matter the age of the congregant. It also invites all members of the congregation to become partners in ministry at their own pace. As the Ladder of Engagement illustrates, the hope of most congregations is to invite all members to share in the mission of their community. Intergenerational ministry creates an ecosystem where that can happen, both organically and intentionally.

There are more benefits of intergenerational ministry, but let’s focus on how intergenerational ministry supports the shift from ministry that is done to or for people to ministry that is done with and by people. 

Ministry “With” and “By”

A “ministry with” perspective invites collaboration and mutual engagement and allows for apprenticing opportunities from various segments of the congregation. 

For example, a young person who is well versed in social media could invite a seniors’ group member to collaborate on a seniors’ Facebook Page so that the seniors can manage the group on their own. Or what if volunteer youth leaders invited the youth themselves to outline and eventually lead discussion topics and Bible studies and then invite other members of the congregation to join them in their exploration. This gives members of other age groups a glimpse into what teenagers are wondering about and offers all age groups a chance to learn from each other.

A great example of “ministry with” comes out of Water Street CRC in Guelph, ON. A member of their children’s message team, Sean (Xiudon) He, invited a younger member of the congregation, Rebekah Zhou, to narrate a children’s message. In this brilliant but simple move, Sean accomplished three significant things:

  1. He enabled younger children to hear wise teaching from someone nearer their own age and begin to reflect on the idea that folks of all ages can share Bible truths, even the youngest among them. I am guessing that this idea impacted the adults as well.

  2. He allowed younger children to imagine that they too could participate in worship in this way. I am guessing that some older members might also have thought, “If a child can participate in worship, maybe I can too….”

  3. Finally, he mentored a younger member of the congregation, allowing his ministry with her to become ministry by her. 

Intergenerational Ministry Tools

Here are some useful tools for thinking about strengthening intergenerational ministry in your congregation:

What steps might your congregation take toward more robust intergenerational ministry? For coaching support, reach out to one of Faith Formation Ministries’ Regional Catalyzers—we’d be glad to help you! Also feel free to email me at [email protected] if you have any questions.

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