If there's one buzz word about what our churches deeply desire to be, it's "intergenerational." We all know what it means, right? And we all know when we've achieved it, right? Right?
As a youth pastor, as an advocate for children, youth, and young adult integration into the full life of the church, I have been asked how exactly a church becomes intergenerational. And, as with most changes, there is no simple 4 step process, no quick fix. You won't come out of an evening meeting and declare that "NOW we are an intergenerational church!"
(For the sake of this discussion, I'm focusing on integrating youth into the church, which is typically the way "being intergenerational churches" discussions go. But the point that "intergenerational" is about all generations - young and old - being a valued part of the body of Christ needs to be discussed. That's for another time.)
I have heard it said (and I wish I could remember who said it) that "Intergenerational" needs to be something that the church values, and is not a church event. I have fallen into this trap many times. While there is no harm in putting your youth group and elderly in the same room with a heap of board games, it is an intergenerational event. Young and old eat together, converse together, laugh together. What a great intergenerational night. And I can now check it off of my programming to-do list.
Being a church that values intergenerational relationships sure sounds nice, but I think that we miss the mark when we reduce something we ought to value to a few gatherings on the annual calendar. It's a great first step, but it is far from the final goal.
So, what are some concrete, practical steps that your church can take to get past your well-intentioned intergenerational events and become a church that values the whole body of Christ?
One thing that I have challenged churches in my region to do is to have at least two youth actively and visibly involved in the Sunday morning service. While this may seem artificial, seeing our youth involved combats the stereotypes of youth that many of our congregants hold. Let's be clear, though. Our youth can (and should) get involved in babysitting, teaching Sunday School, and other "unseen" areas. But what about:
- on the adult church worship team?
- read scripture (or even memorize and present scripture dramatically)?
- serve coffee (not just clean up crew)?
- assist in the collection?
- serve communion?
What about having two younger children? What about two young adults? Why not push that number up to three? Why not keep the ball rolling? Oh, and once you've got that 15 year old on the guitar almost every week for a few months, she doesn't count anymore. She's involved. You have to find another.
Another way in which I have been challenging our churches is to consider the primary "segregating" factor for each committee, group, or team. Each of these is geared toward a specific type of person or group of people. The rule goes like this: If age is not the primary segregating factor, then you need to include a wider sample of age groups.
For example, the primary segregating factor for, let's say, your youth group, is that it is primarily for those who are in the 13-18 year bracket. Obviously the segregating factor is age-specific. If you are 37 years old, this group is not for you (unless you're a leader, which makes you awesome, but that topic is also for another time). Being an intergenerational church does not mean you have to eliminate age-specific programs or events. Far from it. There is something of immense worth when people of the same age gather together and explore faith in their age demographic.
Let's continue with other examples. Your primary segregating factor for your worship team should be those who are gifted with musical ability and willing to use them to lead others in musical worship. Regardless of age! Why do we still have "youth praise teams" leading our churches when there's a 5th Sunday in a month? What about your committees? The primary segregating factor to sit on a committee should be those who are gifted in leadership and desire to serve the church by leading. But somehow 24 year old single men don't qualify for sitting on council because they don't fit the "responsible mature married adult" mold.
For this particular challenge, there are two issues to be addressed. First, the primary segregating factor for your group or committee. And second, the matter of competence. I don't want a 14 year old who has been playing guitar for 2 weeks on the stage on Sunday morning any more than you do. But there are those that show competence, maturity and initiative to contribute and learn in so many areas that can be cultivated within our church - music, leadership, giving, hospitality, serving, visioning - the list can go on. We miss a valuable resource when we reject a young person's involvement on a team simply because of their age. And, to clarify, having a "youth advisor" position is a cop-out. Everyone who comes to the table at a meeting comes with a certain vantage point. The young mom on the worship committee does consider her family and children when making song selections. That just goes without saying. The elderly gentleman on council chooses his words carefully while he considers how those in his demographic will respond to decisions made. A young person will, by virtue of who she is will come with that vantage point. Having a stated "youth advisor" position on a committee or team only stresses the stereotype that your team doesn't really value a young person's opinion as a mature, competent follower of Christ, unless it specifically pertains to matters of youth. Many are capable of offering valuable input simply based on their own merit, and we miss that far too often.
That's my short list of practical ways in which we can evaluate how we value our youth and young adults, and begin moving in a direction in which we show that they are valued.
What are some things that your church has done?