Much is being written and discussed on the topic of creating intergenerational churches. Many churches know they should probably want this but there seem to be barriers to moving in this direction. The following are 4 commonly expressed misgivings about moving toward a more comprehensive and multi-age approach to sharing life in the community of faith along with some suggestions for overcoming them:
- We can hardly manage our present programming. At first blush, this is an understandable obstacle. In recent years many churches have experienced a shift in volunteerism and congregational participation. People are busy. They aren’t necessarily looking for a new place to volunteer, or lead or plug in. The challenge here is to see that this is a movement toward a culture shift not as the addition of new programming. It is a re-visioning of present ministry to incorporate the possibility of embracing multiple age groups both as participants and contributors. I would encourage churches to start small and see where they have natural traction for I-Gen experiences. For example: what if your GEMS or Cadets regularly included badge work that invited seniors to partner with them? What if coffee volunteers included a cross section of the congregation for every service? Do you have youth who might be willing to plan an event or a worship service alongside present leaders? Gathered worship is one natural place where congregations can take small steps to be more intergenerational. This could include anything from worship apprenticeships in sound/tech or worship musician to removing a couple pews, making room for young worshipers to worship with flags or rhythm instruments perhaps while being coached by junior high students. Or maybe that space could be used for young musicians to play along with worship un-miced, until they feel confident enough to lead with the worship band.
- This requires too much (fill in the blank) change, accommodation, cooperation, risk. All I can say is yes it will require all of these and more. How this looks is up to each congregation. Intergenerational ministry may stretch the boundaries of what is efficient to become something that is more lastingly effective. We may have to learn to live with messy for awhile. Again consider gathered worship because many recent studies on youth stay engagement in the life of faith all point to the importance of intergenerational worship. Put plainly, we need to worship together and doing so will require work, really hearing each other and yes, at times mutual submission, but the fruit of that labour will be closer to a picture of heaven than each of us doing our own thing.
- (Fill in the blank) people aren’t interested. Whether young, old, single, married, a new believer or mature one, Syd Hielema reminded us in his recent webinar on Intergenerational Faith Formation that our fundamental spiritual needs are the same for all ages and stages of life. If we share the same longings -- to belong to Jesus and each other, to know him and his word more deeply, to understand our calling and be equipped in it, and to experience hope that comes from life in Christ, then we do have places of common interest. Where these longings intersect is where the dreaming can begin. Since it is most often assumed that youth would not be interested in stepping out of their ministry silo, I believe that the best place to begin finding these intersections is to have youth themselves lead by inviting their congregations to explore these longings with them.
- This is just another ministry trend. North Americans know about trend-setting and trend-spotting and we are right to be wary, but every bit of data from recent studies like Sticky Faith and Hemorrhaging Faith point to the positive effects that intergenerational ministry has on the faith formation of our youth. I-Gen ministry harkens back to a time when communal life was more tightly woven together, but it is not nostalgic. It is actually quite counter-cultural and looks forward to the shalom of seemingly disparate people living in the unity of the Spirit, while attempting to make space for that joyful co-existence now. I believe that the world longs to see glimpses of this type of life together-today.
Join Syd for Part II of his webinar on January 19, 2016 where we will explore more concrete ways to shepherd youth ministry within an intergenerational faith formation culture.