Recent decades have seen a growing interest among churches for bringing the generations (different age groups) together for worship, learning, and ministry. This phenomenon, what I and others call “intergenerational ministry,” is actually a resurgence of the way things typically happened in the church in the past. The move toward highly age-segmented ministries at church is relatively new in church history. In their comprehensive book, Intergenerational Christian Formation, Holly Allen and Christine Ross make a case for bringing varying age groups back together… again. They point to the following reasons for this historical (and likely more biblical) approach.
Bringing multiple generations together in various ways give participants a sense of belonging as they have the opportunity to form relationships with other members of the church, especially those of other age groups. Interestingly, research is demonstrating that this sense of belonging occurs for all of the participants regardless of age. This isn’t a strategy that benefits just kids.
Support for Troubled Families
As children, youth, and adults come together in a way that fosters relationship, they begin to feel they are each a part of a family that can meet significant needs when the traditional, nuclear family may not be able to do so. This kind of family functions best when multiple generations are present. Children often need adults to serve as “parents” when their own homes become dysfunctional. Adults can benefit from the love and acceptance of a child when life becomes lonely.
Age-segregated ministries and programs often work quite well precisely because they are focused exclusively on the needs of the target group. Unfortunately, this can foster an ego-centric culture that produces participants who never think of anyone other than themselves. Intergenerational gatherings quite naturally remind all of the participants that the world doesn’t revolve around them. Now THERE’S a concept!
Learning and Spiritual Formation
The reality is that a sense of belonging, crisis support, and character growth are all part of the learning and spiritual formation process. I list this here as a separate benefit simply to drive home the point that the very practical and immediate demand of “teaching” children the Bible is also enhanced by an intergenerational approach. Teaching kids the Bible is a primary concern for Sunday School Zone users. As you think about your teaching responsibilities, you may want to consider the value of bringing the generations together for your own children. Intergenerational Christian Formation will be a great resource for you as you consider the best way to do that.